Sugar mill resort in China features underground spa with walls of volcanic rock

by Jane Kitchen | 24 Jul 2017

Hospitality group Alila has opened a second location in China, converting a historic sugar mill into a 117-bedroom “modern retro” resort in Guilin, overlooking the Li River.

Designed by Dong Gong of Vector Architects with interiors by Ju Bin of Horizontal Space Design, the vision of the Alila Yangshuo resort is to integrate the new with the old, and the designers have incorporated elements of the 1960s sugar mill architecture in a bid to bring the story of the historical mill to life. The complex was first opened in the 1920s, and was successful for some years, before economic crisis forced it to close down and become a weapons factory.

The design team and five tradespeople produced more than 60,000 hollow bricks for the resort's exterior walls – inspired by the sugar blocks produced in the 1920s – with the help of a specially-designed machine that formed the material from local sandstone.

“We contemplated how to give the building facade an airy sense of lightness, especially at night, with subtle lighting beaming through the walls,” said Dong Gong. “The building within made of concrete, but visually it possesses the quality of lattice work, with light and air.

“Alila Yangshuo, as in many of our recent projects, is located in a natural site, so I have the opportunity to think of how the environment can impact and influence the architecture and its function. I believe that an architect should be in awe of what is called ‘Tian’ in Chinese, or ‘nature’ in Western culture. This means that when you are on site, you see with your heart and invoke the energy of the site environs to define the form and meaning for your architecture.”

Red volcanic rock was discovered during the construction phase, and was incorporated in the building by being ground and mixed into the terrazzo floors and used to create pottery for the guestrooms. Slabs of local clay with etched motifs are used on the bathroom walls, and clay etchings of local tradesmen in the 1960s are used to decorate the headboards.

The region of Guilin is famous for its limestone hills, tunnels and caves, and Dong Gong’s design concept used caves and passageways built with surprising ups and downs, and some corridors leading to nowhere.

A Spa Alila is housed in an underground location that guests access through a modern spiral entry. Walls and floors are made from underground volcanic rocks, which produced jewelled hues in the cave-like interiors. The spa includes five treatment rooms, and outdoor treatments are also available in the Villa garden.

Other wellness facilities include a dramatic outdoor swimming pool, a gym with cardio theatre and a Kinesis wall.

The resort's interiors incorporate elements of the original sugar mill, and designer Ju Bin said the decision not to be too modern in his approach was an intentional one.

“The Chinese aesthetic concept of ‘beauty is in the old and the turbid’ means that the space must contain a touch of rusticity and must not be too refined,” he said.

After a big opening ceremony 1 July, heavy rainfalls caused the Li River to swell to unprecedented levels and flood area roads, including part of the hotel grounds, delaying the opening until Q1 2018.

Alila's first Chinese property, Alila Anji, opened in 2016. It also plans to open locations in Bintan and Cambodia.

Last year, Alila's parent company, Commune Hotels, merged with Destination Hotels, forming the new Two Roads Hospitality.

Alila  China  Yangshuo  spa  architecture  hotel  travel 
Related stories

Alila bringing ‘Villas’ eco-resort to Cambodian island

Museum, organic farm and comprehensive spa to feature at Alila Villas Bintan

Commune and Destination Hotels to merge

Alila opening contemporary property next to Indonesia Stock Exchange

Stunning 230-year-old hilltop Rajasthan Fort to become Alila heritage resort

Pristine bamboo groves, white-tea plantations and plum tree groves to surround Alila’s first Chinese resort

Alila opens fifth Bali property

Hospitality group Alila has opened a second location in China, converting a historic sugar mill into a 117-bedroom “modern retro” resort in Guilin, overlooking the Li River. Designed by Dong Gong of Vector Architects with interiors by Ju Bin of Horizontal Space Design, the vision of the Alila Yangshuo resort is to integrate the new with the old, and the designers have incorporated elements of the 1960s sugar mill architecture
'When you are on site, you see with your heart and invoke the energy of the site environs,' says architect Dong Gong
More news
News stories: 1 - 30 of 7015     
News stories: 1 - 30 of 7015     
company profile
Company profile: Willmott Dixon
Willmott Dixon delivers the social infrastructure that people depend on in their daily lives. We partner with our customers to focus on the services they want to provide, not just the building we construct, and we are committed to achieving a higher social purpose through our work.
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
The 27-storey hotel opened in March
Fu has a masters in architecture from Cambridge University
"I wanted to go deeper than the stereotypical concept of lanterns, junks and temples"

Drawing on his childhood memories for the St Regis Hong Kong

Solomeo’s medieval squares and roads have been repaved and restored, with a range 
of new amenties added
"It would be great if today’s men left as a legacy for the future some architectural and humanistic monuments for the next hundred, three hundred, one thousand years"

BrunelloCucinelli has madehisfortune from cashmere and has used hiswealthto restoreandrevive theItalian hamlet he callshome. Wefindout more

Mikyoung Kim created a sculptural fog fountain for Chapel Hill
Mikyoung Kim
"Nature isn’t rigid. It’s open-ended; that’s its beauty"

The Boston-based landscape architect on blending art and science to design creative spaces that bring communities closer

The steel ‘veil’ of the stadium’s facade is lifted to reveal the various entrances
Populous’ Christopher Lee has designed more than 30 stadia across five continents
"Our new stadium and wider scheme has been developed to deliver an unrivalled fan experience and significant benefits to our local community. We want to make this venue a world class sports and entertainment destination for everyone, in our birthplace of Tottenham - Daniel Levy, Tottenham Hotspur FC chair "

Tom Walker exploresthe storybehind TottenhamHotspur’sgroundbreakingnew footballstadium

"Infrastructure is the manifestation of our collective investment in the functioning of our urban places"

FromLA'sRiver Projectto thetransformationof NewYork’s Erie CanalBuro Happold'sAliceShay explores some of the world's mostinnovativeadaptivereuseprojects

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. ...
BD Barcelona Design reveals Cristallo by the late Alessandro Mendini
Cristallo was the last design from acclaimed designer and architect Alessandro Mendini
Lauren Heath-Jones
Design Studio BD Barcelona Design has released Cristallo, a limited-edition cabinet designed by the late architect and designer Alessandro Mendini, ...
cladkit product news
Tom Dixon Studio to relaunch iconic Pylon chair
Pylon was first designed more than 20 years ago
Lauren Heath-Jones
Originally conceived in his metal workshop in the early 90's, the Pylon chair was Dixon's attempt to create the world's ...
Paul Kelley pushes 'technical boundaries' with modular furniture cube system
The system is designed to enable users to create multifunctional, adaptable pieces, where they are in complete control of the design and function of their furniture
Lauren Heath-Jones
British designer Paul Kelley has created a modular magnetic cube furniture system that enables users to create multifunctional, adaptable pieces, ...
Duravit launches Tempano shower trays
The Tempano trays feature a state-of-the-art design that combines a linear slope with a high drainage rate
Lauren Heath-Jones
Duravit, a Germany-based bathroom fixtures company, has launched Tempano, a series of easy-to-install shower trays for the home. Available in ...
cladkit product news
Alusid's Sequel collection combines craftsmanship and sustainability says founder
The Sequel collection is billed as the 'most waste-efficient and sustainable' on the market
Lauren Heath-Jones
Alusid, a creator of eco-friendly surfaces, has partnered with Parkside to launch the Sequel range, the brand's first collection of ...
Crown overhaul changing rooms at Saunton Sands spa
Crown Sports Lockers installed rain of Nebraska Oak clothes lockers with RFID Digilocks in the changing rooms
Lauren Heath-Jones
Saunton Sands Hotel in Devon, UK, has completed a £2m expansion of its spa and wellness facilities. The upgrade included ...
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 ...
Sign up with CLAD for regular news updates