THE PRICE OF ZEN

TEXT AND PHOTOS: EWA TRZCIONKA

HONG KONG 24.6.2015

ARCHITECTURE DESIGN LIFESTYLE TRAVEL

‘We cannot afford cheap things,’ say the ladies of Milan. ‘We cannot afford cheap architecture,’ they scream in Hong Kong. This scream produced one of the most splendid hotels in the world and number one in Asia, The Upper House.
upper house, Swire, Hotel, Hong Kong

The average population density in People’s Republic of China is 144 residents. In Hong Kong it increases to as many as 6,400. Here, every square metre of land is very precious: it cannot be wasted or developed carelessly. Each patch is like a trophy desired by the biggest players, but is not used to build flats, though they are desperately needed here. It is used to build hotels – lavish buildings with amazing architecture containing surprising local elements and references to the international style. Everything is aimed at making the cosmopolitan guests feel comfortable and giving them a chance to wash away the stress caused by concluding transactions worth millions of dollars and making decisions strategic for the world. Yes, Hong Kong is nowadays one of the most important business cities worldwide.

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The Upper House Hotel was designed by Andre Fu, the founder of AFSO Design. Let us admit the truth: we, the people of the West, like the minimalistic aesthetics of Asia. Is it due to the purist elegance in the designs by Muji, Nendo and Naoto Fukasawa? Is it caused by the similar perception of forms? Or is it the longing for unbreakable rules such as those present in the Eastern culture from the very beginning? Andre Fu is an architect born in Hong Kong. Like many of his compatriots, he studied and served his architectural office apprenticeship in Great Britain – he is a graduate of the University of Cambridge. Maybe this European experience is what helps him gracefully bring the Far East and West together.

upper house, Swire, Hotel, Hong Kong

The Upper House, a luxurious hotel, is one of his flagship designs, appreciated by the Europeans, Americans and Asians alike. Here, the cultural differences complement one another, while the comfortable, functional and indecently exclusive interiors amaze anyone who steps inside.

The facade is made of glass and steel embedded in stone opening the interiors of the hotel. The stone is Bedonia, which comes from Italy and is known for its beautiful shade of grey, as well as durability and application in finishing luxurious constructions. The four-metre stone entrance, prepared in collaboration with the top British designer Thomas Heatherwick, seems a true work of art. It resembles a curtain being drawn – it is heavy and nickelled, but, just like in a theatre, it invites the guest to enter the scenery of the hotel and find peace. Indeed, it is peace that Fu mentions in his philosophy when he calls his design ‘a poetic journey up towards relaxation.’

upper house, Swire, Hotel, Hong Kong

Here, the asceticism of forms meets fancy sculptures and installations. The main role inside is played by lighting: a bit smoky and of a warm yellow colour, it creates an aura of mystery, fairy tales and, indeed, a theatre hidden behind the stone curtain. Only on the sixth floor is the guest flooded by daylight and the vivid green of Hong Kong hills. The hotel has 117 guest rooms, all located on the top floors of Pacific Place – a shopping centre belonging to Swire Properties, a company which also owns the hotel. To ensure an undisturbed rest of wealthy guests (a night here costs over 400 US dollars), there is no direct connection between the hotel and the shopping centre.

Harbour view Upper Suite of The Upper House with man

The architecture of the hotel and its furnishings were all designed by Fu with use of natural materials, mostly local, but also imported, e.g. from Italy (like limestone and the already mentioned Bedonia). Beside them, the interiors are composed of glass, sandstones, ceramics, bronze, whitened oak and bamboo, the latter one used to make floors and fans decorating the walls.

upper house, Swire, Hotel, Hong Kong

The monochromatic appearance is a reference to modern Asia and at the same time commemorates the postcolonial times. The rooms are pure geometry: armchairs, sofas, tables, desks, lamps – each object has sharp edges and corners, which actually contradicts the feng shui philosophy. However, Fu decided that the hotel would be no place for softened forms.
Instead, works created by artists selected by Fu are pure relaxation and a touch of luxury. These include the ‘Rise’ installation by Hiroshiwata Sawada, the ‘Bed of Roses’ sculpture by Gerard Bookle (the guest rooms feature 43 of his works) and ‘Myth of Stars’ by Man Fung Yi. Comfort, peace and care for the environment and the guests’ condition are also visible in various elements of the work system in the hotel. For instance, paper is virtually absent – each check-in is made by touching an iPad, while room service works based on iPod Touch devices. Cosmetics prepared in the bathrooms are highest quality anti-allergy REN products; in Swedish, ‘ren’ means ‘pure,’ while in Chinese – ‘an honourable undertaking.’ Well, one cannot resist an impression that every single element was well thought out here.

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upper house, Swire, Hotel, Hong Kong

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ISLAND, EAST Swire, Hotel

ISLAND, EAST Swire, Hotel

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upper house, Swire, Hotel, Hong Kong

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ISLAND, EAST Swire, Hotel

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