CLAD interview

Lyndon Neri

Neri & Hu’s co-founder on hospitality design and changing attitudes in China


Read on turning pages | Download PDF | sign up to CLAD

How would you sum up Neri & Hu’s philosophy?
We’re interested in being subversive and always questioning things. We deal with the notion of blurring the public and the private, the old and new. We’re constantly challenging the refined and the rough. People need these contrasts to understand and appreciate differences in society.

What are your thoughts on hotel design?
The problem with hotels today is that guests just go into their rooms and close the door. They ask if the light is okay, if the stationery is nice. They crave comfort; there’s no sense of questioning what’s there. It’s all about providing luxury in a decorative way – better wall coverings, a beautiful chair. Those are good, but they’re not enough.

We like to question what’s taken for granted. I often wonder whether the privacy of the hotel bedroom should be truly respected, for example. Could the room be open, so that natural light can filter down from above and hotel guests don’t always have to turn on the light when they are in their rooms?

Hoteliers will tell you that hotel bedrooms need to be totally blacked out. Nowadays, with blackout curtains, we sometimes don’t wake up until 11am; then at night we can’t sleep so we take sleeping pills. We are becoming abnormal beings.

I also think that maybe our notion of personal space should be challenged. We’re trained to think that we need to be separate. For example, when we come home from work, we close our front doors, we make sure we have our privacy. But I think that we need to feel like we’re part of a community. I think sometimes that this celebration of isolation makes us insular – and I think that’s dangerous.

How would you sum up the architectural scene in China?
There’s a growing seriousness. Younger generations are leaving the country earlier. Some parents send their children to prep school abroad because they understand that for China to be a significant player, their children have to be engaged with the world and learn the language and culture.

Simplicity is no longer seen as a bad thing in China. Preserving the old and trying to understand context are no longer seen as negative. It’s not just about building bigger, shinier buildings. Another change is people aren’t just interested in the city now; a lot of people are going back to the provinces.

Le Meridien hotel in Zhengzhou was a major project for you. How did that come about?
We were asked to do the interiors for a building that was, in my opinion, commercial looking and hideous. I respectfully said: ‘If you want us to do that, we’re not the architects for you’.
The client was shocked. He had already poured the foundation. I said, fine, we won’t change the structural formation or the floor area ratio, but allow us to change the way it is seen. The building was so nondescript, it could have been anywhere. We wanted to design something modern but contextual.

We were inspired by the idea of the mountains and the cave people of Zhenzhou. The design of the building features a series of glass boxes; the idea is that they are archival boxes that contain the history of the area. The atrium was inspired by the historic Longmen Caves nearby. We wanted to reflect that history, and that’s how the large, cave-like atrium came about.

Can you tell us about the hotels you are designing for Ian Schrager?
We’re working on three projects for Ian Schrager in China – Edition hotels in Shanghai, Wuhan and Xiamen.

The Shanghai hotel will celebrate the city’s Art Deco history. It’s in a property of that period; Schrager wants to refurbish the building and make sure that the decadence and the play of material will be glorified.

What else are you working on?
We’re working on a Louis Vuitton hotel in Miami’s Design District, Florida. It’s an interesting project because it celebrates the home and questions the notion of domesticity. Each of the rooms is like a little house inserted into the shell of the building.

We’re designing a beautiful 19 room resort in the mountains of Moganshan, not far from Shanghai. We’re also designing a six room villa resort in the mountains of Wenzhou. We’re building the architecture and space out of the local river rocks. We’re working with Alila on the brand’s first city hotel, in Malaysia. And we’re designing a hotel in Shanghai for Thai brand Sukhothai.

What will the next 10 years bring for Neri & Hu?
We’ve been concentrating on designing buildings in the city for a long time, but now people are approaching us to do projects outside the city. We’re exhilarated by this. We currently have five or six projects in the villages or in the mountains.

We’re also international. People are approaching us to do projects in Europe, and we now have a London office. We’re very excited and positive about the future.

Lyndon Neri was interviewed by Magali Robathan. Read the full article in CLADmag issue 2 2017

Selected Projects

New Shanghai Theatre
Completed in November 2016, this project saw Neri & Hu revive an old 1930s Shanghai theatre with bronze and stone details. Neri & Hu sought to restore the original character and grandeur, which had been stripped away by a series of insensitive renovations

Le Meridien Zhengzhou
For this project, Neri & Hu came up with the concept of the building as an ‘archive’ of new and old objects for travellers to discover. Each of the cantilevered stacked boxes that make up the exterior represents an archive, with local history and culture represented internally by artworks, the materials used and the layout of the spaces

Chi-Q, Shanghai
Owned by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the Chi-Q Korean restaurant is in Shanghai’s historic Three on the Bund building. Neri & Hu were responsible for the interiors and used dark colours, charcoal wood slats and dramatic lighting. The atrium houses a communal dining table, with other diners eating in half sunken seating banquettes

The Hub Performance and Exhibition Centre, Shanghai
Completed in 2015, the Performance and Exhibition Centre is part of The Hub mixed-use complex in Shanghai. It was designed by architect Ben Wood, with Neri & Hu responsible for the interiors. The design was influenced by natural landscapes, particularly forest canopies and rock formations

Xi’an Westin Museum Hotel
In China’s ancient capital, Neri & Hu designed a 300-bedroom hotel for Westin that is modern, but references the historic architecture of the area. The exterior is clad in dark stucco and stone; inside wooden slatted canopies allow light into the interiors

The Waterhouse, Shanghai
The Waterhouse is a four-storey boutique hotel built into a Japanese army headquarters building from the 1930s in Shanghai’s South Bund district. The lobby features the original concrete and brickwork, creating a ‘rough and raw’ feel

The Hub Performance Centre, Shanghai
The Hub Performance Centre, Shanghai
New Shanghai Theatre, Shanghai
New Shanghai Theatre, Shanghai
Chi-Q restaurant at Three on the Bund, Shanghai
Chi-Q restaurant at Three on the Bund, Shanghai
Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: Matrix Fitness
Unrelenting drive to be the best at what we do underpins activity throughout our vertically integrated business life cycle.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
The facility features green terraces and plant-covered villas
"It’s about tracing the evolution of thermal practices"

Eco architect Vincent Callebaut has won a competition to redesign ancient thermal baths in the Savoyard town of Aix-les-Bains, France

The Tama Art University Library features a series of slender arches
Toyo Ito was born in Seoul in 1941. He studied architecture at the University of Tokyo
"I have one dream with my work. Architecture should equal nature"

The Pritzker Prize-winner talks about inspiration, battling bureaucracy and the Tokyo National Olympic Stadium saga with Kim Megson

CLAD people: Asif Din
Din has worked on a range of sustainability-focused projects
"It’s imperative the architecture profession takes a proactive approach to tackling the realities of climate change"

Perkins+Will’s new sustainability director

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
The curved, “voluptuous” structures were inspired by Hadid’s work
"I fell in love with Zaha Hadid"

Black Panther set designer Hannah Beachler

The Museum at the Obama Presidential Center
Van Valkenburgh studied landscape architecture and fine arts at Cornell University and the University of Illinois
"Building a park is the ultimate act of democracy"

The US landscape architect on why the Obamas are his kind of clients

Community: David Polzin
David Polzin is executive director of design at CannonDesign. He studied at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture
"We were able to create an ‘acoustic shadow’ cutting decibel levels nearly in half"

How to design the perfect community leisure centre 100 13th century pilgrimage The Vietnamese village being created using historic methods

features
West announced the donation to the Roden Crater after a recent visit
"We will all live in Turrell spaces one day"

Musician Kanye West to help fund the still unfinished Roden Crater, designed by American artist James Turrell

Interview: John Rhodes
John Rhodes
"It’s about the celebration of people coming together. If you can manage that well, a venue can become very special"

HOK has been tasked with designing a truly flexible arena for Valencia. John Rhodes is up for the challenge

UNStudio are designing a cultural centre as part of BIG’s EuropaCity development
"I like art that is against the mainstream, slightly off, with a twist"

UNStudio’s co-founder on the unexpected challenges of designing Australia’s tallest skyscraper

featured supplier
Featured Supplier: EXF supports Third Space to create London’s largest functional training space at The Yard
Bespoke fitness manufacturer EXF has extended its relationship with Third Space, by supplying the luxury fitness group with London’s largest functional training rig at its Canary Wharf club.
cladkit product news
Zaha Hadid Design partners with Royal Thai to create carpet collection celebrating Zaha Hadid's legacy
The carpets capture Hadid's notable use of layering and interweaving as well as her use of light and shadow
Lauren Heath-Jones
Zaha Hadid Design has partnered with carpet manufacturer Royal Thai to create a new carpet collection inspired by the work ...
John Pawson reimagines oil lantern for Wästberg
The Holocene No. 4 reflects Pawson's pared-back style and neutral palette
Lauren Heath-Jones
Swedish lighting company Wästberg has expanded its Holocene collection, with a new addition, Holocene No. 4, designed by acclaimed architect ...
Baux creates plant-based acoustic panels
Baux has worked with scientists from the Royal Institute of Technology to create Baux Acoustic Pulp, a plant-derived acoustic solution
Lauren Heath-Jones
Baux, an acoustic products brand based in Sweden, has developed a line of biodegradable acoustic panels, using a plant-based material ...
cladkit product news
Volvo partners with Reef Lab Designs to encourage ocean biodiversity
The tiles are made from marine-grade concrete and recycled plastic fibres
Lauren Heath-Jones
Car manufacturer Volvo has partnered with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and Reef Design Lab to create an environmentally-friendly ...
Mater partners with Ditzel family to create eco-friendly furniture using reclaimed plastic
The furniture uses plastic from recycled fishing nets
Lauren Heath-Jones
Mater, an ethical design brand based in Denmark, has launched a furniture collection made from plastic reclaimed from the ocean. ...
David Rockwell partners with Jim Thompson for dream-inspired fabric collection
Rockwell has designed 12 multi-use fabrics inspired by dreams with long-time collaborator Jim Thompson
Lauren Heath-Jones
Renowned architect David Rockwell has created a collection of fabrics with long-time collaborator Jim Thompson. Called Dreams, the collection was ...
cladkit product news
Tredje Natur launches Climate Tile to bring green spaces to urban settings
Tredje Natur has installed the pilot system of its Climate Tile system in the Nørrebro area of Copenhagen
Lauren Heath-Jones
Danish company Tredje Natur (Third Nature) has recently installed the pilot system of its innovative street paving system in the ...
Water inspires Zaha Hadid Design x Rosenthal collaboration
The collection consists of three smaller collections: Weave, Strip and Lapp. Weave was inspired by 'the fluid lines of Zaha Hadid's sketching hand'
Lauren Heath-Jones
Zaha Hadid Design has partnered with porcelain manufacturer Rosenthal to create a new collection of vases. Called the Lapp collection, ...
Aotta launches sound panels made from hemp husks
The panels are designed to maintain 'healthy spaces' and consist of Hemp husks fashioned into a natural porous membrane that absorbs sound
Lauren Heath-Jones
Russian design studio Aotta has developed a range of eco-friendly, sound-absorbing panels made from the waste products of hemp seeds. ...