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Asia's Coolest Design Hotels

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© Michael Weber

Departures checks out the new design hotels in Shanghai, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Since the end of the 19th century, when the hotelier brothers the Sarkies created their pseudo-classical grandes dames, Asia has been inextricably linked to stylish, statement-making hotels. Their properties—Rangoon’s Strand, Singapore’s Raffles and Penang’s Eastern & Oriental, among them—ushered in a new wave of luxury hotel living, where the lobbies were vast and the verandas broad. Like The Metropole in Hanoi or The Oriental in Bangkok, these were gardened, chalk-white sanctuaries from their tough, crowded cities.

Today’s Asian luxury hotels still provide such refuge, only now they’re set in urban thickets of sleek supertowers and seemingly impossible, imagination-defying structures. The hotels, for their part, are doing their best to keep apace, often adapting local traditions to the 21st century. Propelled by stars like Andre Fu from Hong Kong, Jaya Ibrahim from Indonesia and Eugene Yu-Ching Yeh from Taiwan, a quietly contemporary vernacular has emerged of late, embracing cultural and historical contexts rather than relying on more far-flung influences. If anything, says Edwin Heathcote, architectural critic for the Financial Times, “Today, Asian design is influencing Western hotels. Once, it was the opposite.”

Ibrahim confirms this, noting that some designs interpret their locations better than others. The key is in the yin and yang of it, “balancing the essence of the materials—cool and hot, rough and smooth, dark and light, hard and soft. Even more important is the spiritual sense, the symbolism of what each material represents.”

The most significant new hotels to open in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok all remain true to the dynamics of modern Asia—even those that are not the work of homegrown talent. The properties include gleaming skyscrapers defined by spectacular views, of course, but also intimate guesthouses and colonial stalwarts refashioned for the next generation. In some, it’s the restaurant that’s the most memorable; in others, it’s a soaring sky bar or a penthouse suite. In others still, it is the brave new structures themselves that are redefining skylines from Bangkok to Pudong.

Shanghai

A core trend in Shanghai’s hotels has been to go higher: The Grand Hyatt Shanghai (from $300; shanghai.grand.hyatt.com) sits on floors 53 to 87 of the Jin Mao Tower, and the Toni Chi–designed Park Hyatt Shanghai (from $400; parkhyattshanghai.com) perches on the 79th to 93rd stories of Shanghai World Financial Center. And if Chi’s “invisible design”—a focus on the tactile rather than the visual—is a display of his restrained, contemporary aesthetic, then the new Peninsula Shanghai (from $525; peninsula.com) aligns itself with its locale in a more historical way. Located on the Bund, the city’s riverfront promenade, the Peninsula emphasizes the Shanghai of the 1930s (polished-chrome details, Deco motifs) as well as a sense of old China (black lacquering, hand-painted panels). “I dreamed of a 21st-century landmark that would also reflect the Bund’s halcyon days,” says David Wang, the hotel’s co-owner.

Another great Art Deco landmark on the Bund, the Peace Hotel (from $390; fairmont.com), had an upgrade of its own, reopening in July with Fairmont at the helm. And in 2009, Langham opened the 96-room Yangtze Boutique, Shanghai (from $220; langhamhotels.com) in a Deco hotel originally built in 1934. This old-new China has its place at the new PuLi Shanghai (from $510; thepuli.com) as well, which was codesigned by Australia-based Layan Design Group and Indonesia’s Jaya Ibrahim; dragon-inspired screens and cast-bronze basins appear in every room.

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