The client for InnHouse provided Oval Partnership with an open brief to build a prototype development of eco-boutique residences in the mountainous rural suburbs of Kunming in Yunnan province. The architect’s response to this site of natural beauty was to create an inspiring and exemplary model of responsible tourism, modeled in a small scale eco-luxury hotel of low density, and integrated with the environment to bring guests into closer contact with their natural surroundings.
Designed through intensive group workshops and sketch options for the site, InnHouse produced a new resort hotel business model, created around dual lifestyle choices of guests looking for a different form of luxury retreat. The layout of the hotel is crafted to suit use by groups of friends or family with multiple low volume blocks interspersed through the site, and incorporates active and passive environmental technologies to minimise energy consumption.
The hotel is designed as a collection of ‘loges’; a village of connected dwellings rather than a single mass, with reference to the local architectural vernacular of Yunnan. Guests are accommodated in 17 suites, housed in four volumes, sitting amongst the retained trees at a maximum of 4 storeys, with a supporting hotel service block providing front of house services and welcome area.
The simple arrangement of the blocks is largely devoid of decoration, focussing instead on the quality of the site, natural materials and guests’ enjoyment of the environment. Arranged in two bands of access at the main upper route and lower access to the guest blocks along the nature trail, the layout takes in four viewing axes from the guest blocks across the valley, and is separated into five distinct districts on the site by five courtyards, which also provide points of quiet and social gathering.
Guest house blocks are designed with strong reference to the ‘Yi ke yin’ residential format of Yunnan. Crafted in response to local climatic conditions, this vernacular format has central courtyards providing daily communication between residents, as well as high levels of natural ventilation and lighting to the surrounding rooms. Each L-shaped block is formed of two wings with guest rooms over 3 to 4 storeys, connected by a central volume with vertical circulation and a link bridge. The L-shapes frame courtyards at first floor level, partly enclosed by the existing mature trees at the open sides, and encourage a greater integration of indoor and outdoor for guests.
Each guest suite reads as an extension of the landscape. Integrated with a cantilevered balcony, the living spaces open directly into the surrounding greenery. With subtle lighting through a series of vertical windows, the more private areas are behind a feature partition wall and forms a box within a box.
Oval’s environmental design principles guided the massing, site design, external treatment and materials selection. Following an extensive survey of the site’s existing landscape, eco-system and local weather conditions, the site masterplan was designed to find a sustainable balance of development. Based on a ‘watershed’ approach the hotel has a maximum site coverage of 18%, creating a low density development with minimum impact on the environment.
The weather study and thermal simulation shaped the massing, orientation, cladding and glazing ratio of the guest blocks to optimise heating and cooling loads of the areas exposed to the east and west in summer and winter conditions. The generally cooler mountain conditions also required a well-insulated envelope, with extensive use of locally-sourced reconstituted bamboo and timber facade with cavity wall. The window to wall ratio is about 0.3, with the orientation of the blocks carefully considered to ensure window placement benefits the guests’s views over the landscape whilst reducing solar gain or heat loss, with all windows using low-emission double glazing.
Other primary initiatives include site watershed conservation, solar thermal hot water, rainwater recycling and grey water reuse, a highly insulated envelope, reconstituted bamboo with low embodied energy, habitat preservation and intelligent building control.