by Jincy IypeDec 17, 2022
China has been applying a historic strategy of ‘rejuvenating the countryside’ to address the imbalance between its rural and urban development. With this strategy, the aim is to enhance the connection and cooperation between the city and the countryside, and to distribute the financial and human resources between the two.
The Boatyard Hotel, situated at the entrance of Shanwan Village in Zhongjiadang, a marshy area in Suzhou City’s Wujiang District, is the second project by Group of Architects (GOA) in the area, and together with the Restaurant of Metasequoia Grove, it forms an architectural cluster that welcomes tourists and will hopefully serve as a community hub for locals in the future. This cluster is a prime example of the green and integrated ecological development in the Yangtze River Delta Proposal.
GOA undertook a more contextual approach when designing this architectural cluster in the rural setting of Shanwan. The designs reflect the existing features of the surrounding environment. They also establish a visual and conceptual connection between the structures and the surrounding landscape, while respecting the environmental, cultural, and historical aspects of the site. This is evident in the project’s outcome. It is interesting to note that while the architect was inspired by the Metasequoia tree for the Restaurant of Metasequoia Grove, for the Boatyard Hotel they referenced the boats present in the Jiangnan water towns.
At first glance, the Boatyard Hotel appears to be a structure with a series of vaulted roofs of different heights, resembling boats parked on the docks. The arched canopies create a visual connection between the user and the waterbody. They also evoke the image of boat covers, which are very iconic in this context. This is one of the many ways in which The Boatyard Hotel’s architecture blends with its natural surroundings.
The vaulted roofs are made of concrete and have glass windows. The architectural form is recessed by 0.3 meters to create a boat cabin-like experience for the visitors. They can enjoy the view of a small island across from the Boatyard Hotel. One enters the hotel by a long passage leading to the spacious lobby. The sudden openness of the passage accentuates one’s experience with a large volume. The hotel entrance separates the architectural form into two volumes that are arranged side by side.
As one starts approaching the rooms, they are greeted by a curved bridge surrounded by water and a crow-top boat floating. There is a skylight on the vaulted roof above that casts a serene yellow light on the stone walls. This bridge leads to a serene deck space on the backside for people to relax and enjoy a coffee or a book.
The hotel lobby and reception, six guest rooms and the restaurant are located on the first floor. At the backside, there is an equipment room and office as well as an open deck seating. The dining area of the Boatyard Hotel is located on the front of the first floor next to the water. It offers a stunning view of the lake. The architectural volume is made of three bays. Each bay has a central staircase that divides the bay further into two rooms. As a result, all the rooms are long and linear in shape with a landscaped courtyard at its approach and a sunken pool next to the arched openings at the backside.
There is one river-facing room on the first storey right next to the hotel lobby. The fenestration of this room is all along the water’s edge so guests can have a broader view of the waterfront. The long space provides a comfortable spot to watch the sun set behind the trees and the waves in light. In all the other rooms, one can experience and relax in a sunken pool in natural light. The sunken pools are at the backside next to the arched windows. The space flows seamlessly from the courtyard to the bedroom to the pool creating a sense of continuity and harmony. While looking through the window, one sees the circular outline of the arch above which connects to the experience of sitting in a boat and looking out.
On the second storey, there are six rooms arranged under a vaulted roof. The double-height staircase design reveals itself to a big wetland view through the arched windows. The vaults on the rooms on the second floor are matched with those of the guest rooms below, creating a sense of visual harmony. The guest rooms on both floors have wood, glass and natural stones as the material palette. The look and feel is quite minimal. The striking architectural form demands a subtle interior theme that provides comfort as well as keeps the context in focus.
The architect has provided numerous spaces for visitors to interact with the natural surroundings. There is a narrow passage that separates the Boatyard Hotel and the Restaurant of Metasequoia Grave. Visitors walk towards the water and admire the riverbank scenery. There is a viewing bridge which is a part of the Restaurant of Metasequoia Grove that extends into the water, inviting them to witness the sunrise and sunset over the river.
The hospitality design of the Boatyard Hotel is such that it blends a village charm with natural splendour, giving guests a peaceful retreat from the city and a chance to connect with nature. GOA reveals that their mission of ‘Generating a living city’ also attempts to create an unparalleled spatial experience for future cities taking cues from the context itself that makes the public relate to their historic rural towns.