While in Shanghai I stayed at The (elegantly raw) Waterhouse Hotel; designed by Shanghai founded Neri & Hu Design and Research Office (NHDRP).
The Waterhouse affords a unique vantage point in time and of place. The hotel is located on the banks of the Hungpu River in South Bund, and with the constant cycle of ships passing, one is reminded of South Bund’s history as a dockland and Shanghai’s role as a major port. The Hotel acts as a frame for both South Bund and Shanghai; with their momentum of change and future potential revealed at an important moment between its present and past.
Physically the design preserves the language, materiality and scale of the original warehouse in which the hotel is housed. The story of the building’s previous life remains within the marks, layers of paint and imperfections preserved everywhere in its walls, surfaces and apertures. Patches of raw concrete and brickwork are uncovered with pulleys, brackets, machinery and floors removed. The new function of ‘residing’ is interlaced in this context along with a carefully considered palette of glass, mirror, Corten steel, light timber, smooth unfinished concrete and text.
The saying ‘No-thing is New’ reverberates through my head as I look at the interiors furnished with designer sofas, lights and seats all sitting so comfortably within this context. This is because their own design and materiality are informed by the language and process of the industrial.
The Waterhouse was truly Shanghai cool and I felt relaxed, comfortable and connected during my stay. It was a joy to come home to this counterpoint each night after intense days at the Shanghai Museum.
One wonders how much of the history of Shanghai will still be evident within its city fabric, once the latest cycle of development has occurred. And how comfortably will it sit with new China and modern demands? The Waterhouse at least is a benchmark that shows the unique opportunity and potential of local design and understanding at this moment.