Architectural Record China
Photo © Patrick Bingham-Hall, InterContinental Hotels Group

InterContinental Sanya Resort

Architects: WOHA and Institute of Architectural Design & Research Taiyuan University of Technology
Client: Sanya Luhuitou Tourist Area Development Company

Hainan Island

Best Commercial Project: Merit Award

By Clifford A. Pearson

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For a site on Xiao Dong Hai Bay that is close to the town of Sanya, the Singapore-based firm WOHA created a project that works as both a resort and a city hotel. For business travelers, the hotel offers guestrooms and meeting spaces in a curving 10-story block. But the sprawling complex also features 20 one-bedroom villas facing the beach and 204 two-story suites wrapping around large water courtyards, so people on vacation can enjoy themselves.

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By placing gardens and reflecting pools on the roofs of the resort rooms, WOHA's partners Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell turned these guest quarters into a living mosaic of green and blue that steps down to the beach. Viewed from the "skyrooms" in the tower block, the rest of the hotel recalls the terraced rice fields found on many parts of Hainan island.

All of the 350 rooms in the hotel face the water, so everyone can appreciate the tropical setting. By limiting the width of the tower block to just one guestroom and placing corridors outdoors on the side away from the beach, the architects ensured that all indoor spaces could be cooled by cross ventilation and illuminated mostly by daylight. While guestrooms are equipped with air conditioning, the architects expect most guests will not need to use it. The villas and water courtyard rooms also enjoy natural ventilation thanks to private outdoor bathrooms and gardens. Likewise, the hotel's lobby, dining spaces, and bars can be opened to the outdoors and used most of the time without air conditioning. Even meeting rooms have their own gardens, so they can be cooled by breezes. Large overhangs, shaded courtyards, and water conservation are other parts of the hotel's sustainable-design strategy.

Throughout the project, Wong, Hassell, and their team tried to modernize traditional design elements. For example, they reinterpreted old Chinese geometries in the precast-concrete screens that protect the tower block and the cast-metal ones that line the interiors of the restaurant and lounge. But instead of traditional patterns, the architects used aperiodic geometries studied by mathematicians only in recent decades. In terms of their material palette, they drew inspiration from oyster shells—rough and natural on the outside, but smooth and lustrous on the inside. So visitors will find gray granite and perforated aluminum on the exteriors of the buildings and shiny bronze and gold surfaces inside.

"We aimed to create a place that a foreigner would think had a Chinese feeling to it, but a Chinese would think had a contemporary feeling," says Wong. "Both of these markets are coming to Sanya," he adds. As a result, the architecture has helped the client draw customers from a broader spectrum of travelers: business people, families, Chinese, and foreigners.

July 2012
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