by STIRworldJul 13, 2023
Domain Architects impress with their first completed project, by adorning the mostly minimal, plain white Sky Yards Hotel with lifted balconies that frame views to the sky and the scenic Taihang Mountains that spread leisurely at a 15-minute driving distance. The distinct facade is designed as a bid to rectify the project’s unpleasant surrounding, which includes an unfinished construction site, waste, and sparse industrial lands – instead of the guests looking directly below or outward, the views are directed upwards and beyond. Located in China’s Henan province, the 48-room hotel is governed by simplicity and comprises an independent restaurant, a banquet hall, swimming pools, underground parking and spaces reserved for future phase developments.
“Usually, a hotel room would be designed as an outward box to maximise the view. Consequently, a typical hotel building would be a collection of these opened boxes. We rejected this conventional model and went back to the starting point of design - the room's experience. We reinvented the actual experience in a typical unit: first, the exterior view below eye-level is blocked, while the view above is left wide open; then the opening is “lifted” or enlarged to invite more light and air,” explains Xiaomeng Xu, the founder of the studio based in Shanghai, China. The project is also a clear manifestation of Domain Architect’s methodology of putting away conventionally accepted design models to reinvent the actual user experience.
The hotel design emerges as a visually continuous experience, due to its imperceptible boundaries and the pulled balconies that seem like half-opened milk cartons, framing the distant scenery in a “beautiful, scroll-like view of the sky and the mountain”. Throughout the day, sunlight hits the distinct facades in various ways, producing dramatic, moving shadows that lend the Sky Yards Hotel rhythmical dynamism.
These projected balconies form “micro yards”, where the exterior wall seems to be intermittently pinched by an invisible, godly hand and frozen in time, creating a distinctive façade that succeeds in concealing the landscape below. This also provides the roomy balconies with enough privacy to host outdoor bathtubs. Xu explains that this would make a new type of hotel experience, where spaces are enclosed and private as well as wide open and out-reaching – “it is a room with a balcony, but it feels like a micro courtyard; it is far away from the mountain but the framed view somehow makes the mountain seem much closer. This fresh and nuanced spatial experience leads to a very poetic and pacifying atmosphere,” adds Xu. The views of the sky and the formations of these ‘yards’ became the reasoning behind the hotel’s name.
The simplicity of the compact hotel is very much intended – the generated design looks consistent and modern. “Although there are lots of elements I like, my favourite part is that there is no feature that stands out by itself, to demand attention. Everything attaches and flows into everything,” he says.
Xu also explains that the primary focus was to make sure the view of the sky and the mountain became the sole focus of the hotel rooms. “I think the best way was to avoid distracting elements such as clashing colours, and instead, let the rich and changing colours of nature occupy the stage. So, we decided to render the hotel in just white paint, concrete finishes and wood.”
'Lifting' is applied to the landscape as well - the building sits elevated by half a concrete floor, for the complex’s demands of pedestrian and car circulation, and the underground parking. The lawn at the hotel’s front is also 'lifted', providing sloped paths into the entrance which is flanked with a 20 x 12 meters pool, framed by the hotel in its plan and surrounded by bamboos on its two sides. Guests can follow the sloped paths to either the restaurant or the hotel lobby, where there are private dining rooms with raw, gorgeous views of the mountains.
The motion of lifting is also followed inside the unembellished, principally functional interior design - from the circulation routes in the first-floor public area to the signage of room numbers on guest floors. Even the counter at the restaurant and the drawer handles in the rooms carry a similar, pulled form and aesthetic. The smaller rooms face the swimming pool below and feature metal rails or frosted glass balconies. Floor to ceiling sliding glass doors with thin frames lightly divides the rooms and the exterior micro courtyards, with fair wood floors and furniture decorating the former.
The interior ceiling height is the same as the inner edge of the exterior features clad in wood so that a flow is maintained between the micro yards and the rooms. The rooms have a Scandinavian aesthetic with their bare furnishings and furniture; they are also fitted with electric blinds that fold up into a narrow socket into the ceiling, instead of the usual draped curtains that make a space seem bulkier.
Most of the rooms are about 4-5 meters wide, and the façade openings always occupy the entire width. “Therefore, the exterior wall blocks the view below 1.8m (higher than most people’s eye level) in each room,” says the Chinese practice. The guest floors are penetrated and lit by a vertical atrium with a skylight while the walls of the corridors “peel off” to show the room numbers.
“Using a very simple and consistent method, we invented a “room + micro-yard” model for hotel design and transformed the disadvantage of the site into a pleasantly unfamiliar and distinctive experience. Devoid of superficial visual elements of the Chinese or local culture, Sky Yards Hotel evokes the traditional Chinese garden making methodology of concealing and revealing,” concludes Xu.
Name: Sky Yards Hotel
Location: Xiuwu County, Henan Province, China
Area: 4,900 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Architect: Domain Architects
Lead Architect: Xiaomeng Xu
Design Team: Xiaomeng Xu, Chun Wang
Interior Design: Xiaomeng Xu, Hannah Wang
Landscape Design: Xiaomeng Xu
Graphic Design: Xiaomeng Xu, Hannah Wang
Structural Consultant: AND Office
Construction Document: Henan Urban & Rural Design Institute
Contractor (Structure): Local Team
Contractor (Architecture and Landscape): Henan Jutailong Decoration and Construction Co., Ltd.