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Beijing Brilliance

Design

Hilton’s latest hotel in Beijing combines old world grace, Chinese traditions and contemporary design elements. James Boley takes a closer look

Hilton Beijing Wangfujing is the Hilton Group’s second property in the capital of the People’s Republic and is set in the popular shopping district of Wangfujing, ten minutes from the world-famous Tiananmen Square.

Given the property’s location, Wilson Associates, the designer appointed on the project, drew its inspiration from one of the greatest architectural treasures in the world, Beijing’s Forbidden City.

Indeed, it was China’s history and resources that provided the entire palette for the project – a standard procedure for the firm. “Research is an important part of the design process. Before beginning a project, the design team researches the art and cultural influences, topography, building materials and construction capabilities that are unique to the project location,” says Trisha Wilson, founder and CEO of Wilson Associates .

“This process provides inspiration and broadens the design perspective. Designers also incorporate a geographical influence through the use of local craftsmen, artisans and artists.
“The design strategy was twofold: to shape the interior architectural space into a modern, quasi-classical style, while placing emphasis on the furniture, furnishings and equipment,” explains
Dan Kwan, design director of Wilson
Associates Singapore.

A HOME FROM HOME
The project itself was a conversion from a multi-use complex containing an office tower, apartments and shopping centre. From this, the Singapore arm of Wilson Associates was tasked with creating a hotel that would have very different feel from Hilton’s already established property in Beijing. “Being the second property in Beijing, it was imagined by the team that the original property was the ‘uptown residence’, while the Wangfujing was more of the ‘second home villa’; thus the design was infused with a very strong residential feel,” says Kwan.

The intimate, cosy feel of the ‘second home villa’ begins in the lobby and reception areas. In these locations, Wilson Associates selected warm, dark colours. Fireplaces were also included to create a warm and inviting entrance.

The colour scheme is continued throughout the hotel, with contemporary-styled furnishings in dark rich leathers juxtaposed and softened by suede fabrics in a quiet palette of beige and bronze, with dramatic accents of cream and white. Firmly planting the hotel within its local context are a range of friezes and objects d’art by acclaimed Beijing artists. Complementing the warm, darker décor scheme is an understated but striking lighting scheme from Guava, the Hong Kong-based lighting consultant. “Guava was an integral part of the process,” explains Kwan.

Accent lighting draws attention to the artwork in the hotel, and individual pieces such as the chandelier in the hotel’s Chynna restaurant create a real sense of grandeur.
As a hotel catering to both business and leisure guests, a range of meeting rooms were also included in the floor plan. These rooms feature floor to ceiling windows, increasing the amount of natural light entering the space, in addition to providing occupants with a host of inspiring views across Beijing.
With the owners giving the team full latitude to select materials, Wilson Associates elected to maximise the use of Cathayan materials. “Our focus was to use materials found in China, to highlight the vast resources of the country,” says Kwan.

This was particularly apparent in the Chynna restaurant. “[We wanted to] reinforce the ‘made in China’ idea of this Chinese restaurant concept,” he says.
This was achieved by using a range of materials from across the country, such as Chinese black lacquer for the millwork, and marble sourced from the Fujian province on China’s south-east coast.

CHINESE CHALLENGES
The central challenge facing the design team was the structure of the building. As mentioned, the building which now houses the Hilton Wangfujing was originally constructed to act as an apartment block, offices and a mall, creating an internal shape that deviated somewhat from a traditional hotel interior.

Converting this former mixed-use building into a 255-room hotel – which also required a 257m² penthouse suite and four restaurants – required careful planning in the designing of rooms, since the original internal structure was not conducive to a hotel experience.

“This created very unusual column and bay sizes that were deep and fairly narrow, with shafts not in the best position for a hotel,” explains Kwan.

The team overcame this challenge with some skilful readaptation. “We solved this by ‘exploding’ the areas in pre-synched units. For example, the bathrooms were exploded and planned into different
components for different zones.

 “A linear strategy was also used, with the space leading from one area to another, like a gallery. So, spaces are presented along an axis, room by room, rather than connected via a corridor.” This transformed the unusually shaped interior into desirable hotel accommodation.

A further challenge was created by the timescale given for the project. The hotel owners wanted to ensure that the property would be ready for guests in time to capitalise on the key business opportunity presented by the Beijing Olympics.

As a result, the hotel had to be opened within a year, from design to completion, according to Kwan, which resulted in an incredibly intensive design-build process. “[It was done] through good old hard work,” comments Kwan.

As with so many projects taking place today, sustainability was also a key consideration. In addition to the use of local materials, the team selected carbon-
neutral or recycled products where possible, along with energy efficient fittings.

SETTING THE TREND
In addition to being in keeping with Hilton’s luxury ethos, the high-end design of the hotel was a direct response to the expectations of consumers, Kwan explained. “So-called ‘design’ is now accessible to all, from designer kitchen utensils to designer iPods. A few years ago, boutique hotels were unique, but now they’re expected.”

As a result, Wilson Associates had to ensure that the interior design exceeded public expectations. “In the past, a hotel was theatre. Now it has to contain drama. Where it was a country palace, it is now a chic mansion in a capital city. Wilson Associates has redefined the idea of an urban hotel to one of serene sophistication,” says Kwan.

According to Kwan, the hotel is at the “leading edge of hospitality design”. Noteable design features include dual fireplaces in the lobby, which create the theatrical element that Kwan speaks of, while a 4m sculpture of dowagers create drama. “The hotel makes ‘über-design’ accessible to all.” 

High quality and appealing interior design is critical to the prestige of any hotel, Kwan points out. “The design of any hotel is integral to its appeal, especially at this price point,” he says.

As a result, the design for the Hilton was pitched in a way that made it familiar and accessible, but also generated a sense of exclusivity and a unique ‘feel’, depending on the nature of the traveller.

“The residential approach is universal and, furthermore, familiar to all,” says Kwan. “The positioning of the hotel as a high-end, luxurious yet serene hotel gives the business traveller his own ‘mansion’ to come home to after a long day of meetings, like a lord. For the leisure traveller, the hotel gives him a beautiful ‘villa’ from which he can explore the city. This appeal is priceless.” 

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