The Waterhouse Hotel at South Bund was designed by neri & hu design research office (NHDRO) using an existing but disused 1930s Japanese army headquarters.
The traditional Shanghai nong-tang or “lane-house” was the driving concept but incorporating a 21st-century update in the form of a hotel. The traditional houses are known for blurring the public and private realms and this is translated into the hotel through slim apertures that create unexpected visual connections between the private rooms and the public lobby. Of the 19 rooms within this boutique hotel, only nine offer views of the Bund. The remaining ten rooms all face inwards, giving strategic views into the bar, dining or entrance areas. By creating introspective views, the hotel interiorises the exterior urban condition native to Shanghai – the pockets of activity characteristic to the narrow nong-tang lanes are now transformed into voyeuristic glimpses of movement; fleetingly seen in a room or bathroom from the lobby.
The lobby has an interesting duality with raw, exposed concrete against the soft, luxurious interior furnishings. The old and the new is further emphasised through the use of both contemporary and antique objects to populate the space. NHDRO was careful to restore the original concrete in the lobby, restricting its architectural interventions to the varied apertures between spaces and highlights of Corten steel to underline the industrial heritage of the site. The rawness of the lobby space makes it feel as though it is a transition space from interior to exterior. The ephemeral views that break the divide between public and private spaces, create an innately Shanghainese experience that draws on the communal culture of inhabiting small spaces and appropriating the public space of the street. The palimpsest of both the residential vocabulary of the nong-tang and the materiality of the site’s industrial legacy create an architecture that follows architect's philosophy.