Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

The Yule Mountain Boutique Hotel

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In the Chinese province of Hangzhou, a modest farmhouse went through a complex transformation over two years to become a contemporary boutique hotel.

In the small village of Baisha, by the Taihuyuan creek surrounded by Tianmu Mountains, the original 4-storey was facing south and against the mountains. The building was using an imitation of blue brick veneers, flush gable roofs and exquisitely carved timber doors and windows, forming the 'traditional Chinese' farmhouse style. The night was at 200 Yuan per person. The courtyard was located at the north side of the main with a bamboo forest separating it from the neighbours.

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The development of tourism has pushed the owners of this humble farmhouse to totally transform the property into the Yule Mountain Boutique Hotel.

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Continuation Studio was asked to renovate the site with architecture and interior design. The first challenge was “reunite with landscape” by combining an exclusive location with the benefits of the surrounding nature and avoid somehow the very noisy road just nearby. 

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Landscape, as spiritual and physical sustenance of Chinese people, is the everlasting spatial subject for space creators to borrow ideas from. Gardens located in the southern urban realm, always have sublime landscape inside, separating itself with the exterior carnal world. 

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Therefore, it was needed to build the boutique hotel into a "small universe" which is independent of external world. Guests need to walk through a deep entrance to get there, after which landscape would be the only thing you live with.

Following the existing height of the terrain, the studio divided the original external space into three parts: the external provincial road, the inner courtyard and the mountains on the slope.

The outermost part includes provincial road, the entrance and parking lot. The raised terrace, as the guiding space for entering the site, isolated site with external world. The inner courtyard which faces the main building is the significant place for creating the living atmosphere.

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The circulation of the original entrance was very straight. Guests would cross the provincial road directly to the inner courtyard, piercing the main landscape of the lobby. The process of entering the inner space from the external noisy highway is lack of buffering as well, making it is difficult to quickly involve into the peaceful atmosphere of the boutique hotel.

The shallow pool in front of the lobby forms the main part of the inner courtyard. It explains the 'Emptiness’, meaning Close to nothing in Zenism, and also reflects the mountain and sky in distance. 

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The circulation in the inner courtyard is set around the pool. The bluestone paved platform is set below the porch of the main building, where the circulation starts and enters the rightward to the tea pavilion which has fine wood grille façade and sloping eaves. 

 The tea pavilion on the waterfront, the veranda, the sky and mountains are reflected in the water. The horizontal volume obstructs the external interference and cooperates with the view of the distant forest.

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The number of rooms reduced from 30 to 15 and the reconfiguration of the plan makes each bathroom has landscape viewing. 


The renovation of Yule mountain boutique hotel took more than 2 years from the design to the formal operation. 


Pictures by Yilong Zhao, Jiujiang Fan, Hongfei Zhao

The Xing Kiln Museum


In the Northen Chinese county of Neiqiu, the Xing Kiln Museum pays tribute to an ancestral craft developed as refined art: white porcelain.

The white wares launched the country’s reputation as a center of porcelain. As hard, dense, and durable as their southern green counterparts, but more immediately appealing due to their sparkling, glossy, clean-looking material, white wares became the envy and aspiration of potters worldwide. Porcelain clays are naturally available in north China, and some rare examples of white wares—made of a pure, white clay, unglazed, but fired at temperatures just high enough to qualify as stonewares—have been discovered at sites of the late Shang dynasty (circa 1600–circa 1050 BCE) at Anyang in Henan province. 


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In 2012, the local government acknowledged this prestigious legacy by opening the Xing Kiln Ruins and decided to build a museum. 


YCA was commissioned to work on the project and their first mission was to separate the site from a busy environment. 


The top of the building acts like an open gallery that surrounds a pool elevated from the ground. Seven pieces of rustic porcelain are floating above the water; below the pool is a continuous space containing the entrance and main exhibition hall; symmetrical but plausible wide steps connect the ring gallery, pool and square on the north side.

The seven bowl-shaped structures offer a picturesque feature in the summer with the ripples of light reflected from the clear water at the bottom of the curved outer wall but also  in the winter when the scenery is turning white of frost.

Porcelain showrooms and corresponding ancillary facilities vary in size. In order to bring them together as a whole, circle-packing algorithm is used in the design as geometric control diagrams.


Xing Porcelain originated in Sui dynasty, and flourished in Tang dynasty. The Great Tang Empire’s vigour and the simplicity of the square and the circle must be related somehow. How to use square and circle in contemporary times? This is our thinking and answer.


Photographs by He Chen

A Huizhou retreat

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A couple based in Shanghai used their life savings to purchase a property and became its custodians more than hoteliers.

For your next trip to China, escape the buzzing cities and find refuge in a rural retreat deep in Jiangxi Province (East China). Wuyuan Skywells has recently finished the modernisation of a 300 year-old Huizhou-style property and turned it into a hotel.

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The owners captured the essence of a bygone era in the millennium-old Yan village. The Skywells project focused on the preservation rather than the modernization, something that has not gone unnoticed as the project continues its winning streak in this year’s design awards circuit. The hotel is named after the English translation of “Tian Jing”—a regional architectural feature comprising of narrow courtyards that let daylight into surrounding rooms.

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The building was once used as an inn for merchants before being neglecting during the 20th century. It was also used by Chinese soldiers during the Japanese invasion of the mainland. One of the key requirements was to preserve not only the recoverable artefacts but to also recreate the elegance associated with the mansion. Original and traditional elements in public areas were retained while the more private spaces for guests were contemporized with playful fittings and modern-day amenities, with the interior design of the 14 suites dominated by cool neutrals interspersed with occasional bright accent colours.

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A unique aspect of the property was the internal timber frame, ornately carved in public areas. Since large parts of the frame had been destroyed, the team searched for and engaged Yuzong, a talented local artisan with the requisite skill and experience. Though the building features skywells, the rooms and suites themselves do not feature generous windows. To avoid polluting the external appearance and original architecture, the team introduced latticed panels on walls facing the skywells. Brick and clay walls were restored and rebuilt according to local tradition and keep the structure cool during hot summers. In terms of energy use, the hotel has a better level of thermal insulation and waste water management than the local standard.

Honours won so far include an ICONIC award, a RED DOT award, and an ABB LEAF award. The project has also been shortlisted by the INSIDE Awards being held in late November in Amsterdam.

Pictures courtesy of Marc Goodwin and Xia Zhi.

A Sensorial Experience in Hunan

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SenseLab has designed a 1,500 sqm retail experience focuses on senses and time inside one of the most important baijiu factories.

In the Hunan province, Xiangjiao Liquor Factory has commissioned SenseLab to work on a full customer experience for their flagship store of baijiu, a typical Chinese liquor.

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Various parts of the factory were designed in order to create a series of educational and retail services in which the constant flow of tourists doesn’t disturb the production. The project was made in collaboration with Shanzhen Backyard Art & Decoration Co., Ltd.

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Inside the retail space, the product is exhibited not merely as a bottled liquor, but as a mix of culture, rituals, expertise, economy... poetry. 

In the factory, visitors will discover olfactive walls made of sorghum waste (baijiu raw material) and music “rounding” and “softening” the liquor taste inside the cellars where giant terracotta jars help the liquor grow old. Throughout the design SenseLab tried to reinvent colour palettes inspired by the historical wood and ceramic traditions and in the same time lean towards the contemporary China.