Renaissance Xi’an Hotel is now open. Located in the ancient city of Xi’an, China, the luxury hotel offers guests the opportunity to experience the birthplace of Chinese culture through modern interior spaces. The design team drew inspiration from the geometric configurations of the classic Chinese game—Tangram, which consists of seven varied geometric shapes forming various patterns. This motif is carried throughout from the architecture, furniture pieces, and art in the public spaces to guest accommodations and F&B outlets.
Here, Aldwin Ong, design principal of Wilson Associates’ Singapore studio, shares insight on the project’s inspiration and process.
The inspiration came from Tangram. How did you first learn of the game and why was it important to build on this idea for the design?
The spirit of the brand represents a spirit of re-inventiveness. It has three pillars that acts as its foundation—individual, intriguing and indigenous. Hence, when we started with the conceptualization of the project, we need to dig deep and find a contextual cornerstone that shall pave the way for the rest of the narrative.
There is a saying that truly represents the history of the entire journey towards this concept: ‘Have the courage to stand alone when you must. No matter how sparse your branches, no matter how dark the night, stand tall and damn the rest.’—Tyler Knott Gregson, poet.
The entire hotel is the story of the Chairman himself. He is a concept. He is a self-made conservative entrepreneur and has a deep respect and cultural connection to his hometown. An honest man who wants to create a hotel that represents his city. However, he is constantly struggling with an important question: does he keep to his comfort level and build a traditional conservative hotel or do something a bit avant garde as the brand represents and yet subject himself to scrutiny or possible criticism from his peers?
The key milestone for this project is when we successfully created the narrative of his personal courtyard. The hotel is a modern representation of his home. The individual spaces in the hotel such as the lobby, guestroom, restaurants all symbolize different spaces in his house. He is the persona behind the entire hotel. However, it is a modern re-interpretation as that is what we believe is the future of this emerging city and himself as a person, we challenge him to go out of his comfort zone and embrace the growth and progress of the city. And yet, a key thing behind this challenge is to yet retain a sense of respect to the past—it has to make sense. The success of the re-invention lies in the balance between the nostalgic and the provocative. We challenge him to be the Renaissance man.
He had a team of consultants and peers advising him against the latter. They said the task is impossible. However, they forgot one important factor. We love making the impossible possible.
We were then challenged to come up with an important symbolism to tie the entire concept together. In my mind, it needs to be a vernacular object and yet embodies the entire spirit of what I am trying to create for the Chairman. Most importantly, it has to be fun.
I stumbled across this game while I was playing with my daughter. It was a seven-piece puzzle universally called Tangram, and it hit me.
The Tangram is a game that is deeply vernacular in China. Its pieces are versatile to be able to create recognizable shapes (conservative) and yet create abstraction (provocative). It is the perfect symbolism and through our creative process. We successfully reinterpreted this in various forms and shapes to holistically complete the entire hotel aesthetic. It’s an abstract representation that the pieces are various aspects in his life and is perhaps fragmented sometimes, but once they are merged together, they create a unique harmonic synergy.
Tell me about the inspiration behind the figurines in the guestroom design concept?
As mentioned earlier, our challenge was how to steer the Chairman’s conservative perception of the vernacular or question the notion of what is really perceived as authentic in Xian or China today. Every restaurant, hotel, store in Xian has a replica of the terracotta warrior. In the world’s mindset, Is it authentic? The world sees Xian as the terracotta warrior. Do we still need to have these all along the hotel?
The hotel needs to represent the city, an ambassador to the city and have the guests explore the city and see the true warrior sculptures. Hence, what we did is to recreate various interpretations of the warriors in various forms in terms of the artwork and accessories. They are interpreted as mosaic art, abstract warriors, and accessories to add some color and fun to the room and spaces.
What three words would you use to describe the hotel’s aesthetic?
What do you hope guests will take away from their experience with the interiors you’ve created?
We want the guests to be able to walk up to the hotel and leave with an impression of a historical reverence to the city as it should be, and yet feel the energy representing where the city is heading. Its curated warmth makes them feel that they are in a familiar environment. We want the guest to breathe in the city’s frenzy and yet comfortable inside somebody’s home.
Everybody can perhaps design a Renaissance, but designing one with these goals? We had made the impossible possible and having fun doing it.