The writers Franz Kafka and Italo Calvino were capable of imagining some pretty odd sh*t, but even they might be surprised to see extracts of their work being exploited by a boutique hotel in Shanghai. Quotes from the writers appear randomly stencilled throughout the building. (E.g: Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist – from Calvino’s Invisible Cities). Not that we hold it against them. Our cynical side rolls over and plays dead in the face of ‘onwards-and-upwards’ Shanghai. A spot of esoteric quotation, however gimmicky, is welcome in this robot city where memories are butterflies quickly crushed …
The Waterhouse on the South Bund in Shanghai is a boutique hotel development by Singaporean hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng who is also behind other faves including Hotel 1929 in Singapore and Viajante restaurant in London. Designed by NHDRO, the 19 room establishment is strung across three interconnected 1930′s warehouses situated along the docks of Huangpu River. With its rough, dilapidated exterior and clever re-use of low-rise industrial spaces the hotel gives the big finger to shiny, high-rise Shanghai.
Throughout the hotel are hints – both natural and contrived – of the building’s former life as docks warehouse and interestingly, if more ominously, as a former Japanese Army HQ. Rust, concrete stains, crumbling concrete pillars (augmented by new, structurally sound posts) and aging bricks imprinted with their original manufacturing stamps…all this whispers of the historic hustle and bustle of a trading port city.
Navigation and viewpoints within the hotel reference the interplay between public and private space in China’s maze-like hutong neighbourhoods: a narrow staircase may take you somewhere…or nowhere…while windows enable stolen glimpses on walkways and public spaces. The rooms and communal spaces are decked out in a spare industrial palette of concrete, stainless steel and glass, but the effect is softened with an eclectic collection of iconic chairs (a trick used to effect in previous projects like Hotel 1929) and contemporary art works that give a splash and dash of colour.
Staff quip that the suites here boast Shanghai’s only, ahem, ‘beach views’ – a manmade strip of sand, a volleyball net and other faux seaside hi-jinx lining the river. (It cries out for Martin Parr.) We like the rough luxe mix of lovely linens and spacious digs with utilitarian details, like enamel drinking mugs. The smaller rooms are generous in size with all the usual requirements – desk, reading chair etc and while there is no ‘seaside view’, they are bright, light and cosy.
Pros: Cool design, great rooms. Additionally, the rooftop affords a fabulous view of Shanghai’s sky-scraping skyline (notably the Shanghai Financial Center designed by Kohn Pederson Fox) without having to battle it out with the crowds jostling for a commemorative photograph – subsequently immortalised on a souvenir mug or mouse pad (although this too has a certain eccentric appeal). We also like the bar area where the industrial feel of the space is cut up into convivial sitting areas with lots of interesting chairs.
Cons: While central, the isolated location means you will have to cab everywhere. Tips: Before setting out for the hotel, do print out an address and map with characters in Mandarin or your cab will not understand where to deliver you, this is true of any taxi travel in Shanghai, but particularly in this case where the address is a little odd. There are a few eateries nearby in the self-consciously historic Cool Docks development, it does feel a little bit naff, but it’ll certainly serve you for a quick bite or an evening’s tipple.