Japanese and Chinese flavors merge at Beijing's Shangri-La Hotel, with its Nishimura restaurant by CL3 Architects
Andrew Yang -- Interior Design, 6/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Japanese restaurants in the U.S. have definitely raised the design bar, with such heavy-hitters as Tadao Ando and Philippe Starck completing commissions in New York (Morimoto) and Los Angeles (Katsuya). At home in Asia, however, Japanese dining hasn't undergone the same reinvention. Interiors largely adhere to a traditional sensibility—shoji screens, tatami mats. Not so at Nishimura, a restaurant at Beijing's Shangri-La Hotel. Here, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts sought to put a unique twist on a time-honored style.
The luxury group, which has frequently entrusted its Nadaman chain of restaurants to Japanese firm Super Potato, turned this time to CL3 Architects, which had designed a Shangri-La Hotel in Shenzhen, China, and restaurants at two Shangri-La properties in Hong Kong—infusing the hospitality brand's polished aesthetic with a youthful energy. "CL3 knows Shanghri-La's DNA, not just the decoration but also the soul and energy of the space," Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts director of development Richard Hatter says.
Recently, the Beijing hotel underwent an expansion in the form of a new tower, the Valley Wing. The project added 142 guest rooms as well as initiating a progressive refurbishment of the entire property, including Nishimura. "The Japanese style is an interesting one, because it can be subjective," Hatter says. "If you do a Japanese restaurant, it's very easy to do it in a contrived way, but that's not possible in Beijing, where we have a broad Japanese clientele staying at the hotel and frequenting the restaurant."
For Nishimura, which is slightly more upscale than Nadaman, CL3 took its design cues from Japanese gardens. "The restaurant symbolizes the four seasons through materials such as elm, oak, travertine, and slate," principal William Lim explains. "We also employed references to the hotel's garden, like pebbles and river rocks."
Nishimura's entry, a soothing, garden-inspired setting, centers on a fountain and reflecting pool. Farther in, one of two private dining rooms features carpet with a pattern resembling Japanese-style raked sand. Contrasting types of wood—blond oak, dark elm veneer—appear throughout the 5,400-square-foot interior.
In addition to open dining areas, the restaurant comprises a series of intimate spaces: private rooms, sake and sushi bars, a teppanyaki grill. "You can experience something different each time," Lim says. Each spot has a distinct identity, yet all are visually connected, a harmony achieved via a variety of organic partitions. The dried branches of a cherry tree, for example, rise from beds of white pebbles at the entry; cane sticks stand between rows of booths and beside the sushi bar. The sushi bar is also screened by partitions built of bent strips of veneered plywood.
Nishimura's most sculptural partition is the one that runs for 30 feet at the center of the space. Lim created ovoid voids in the massive structure by precutting graduated curved shapes into nearly 1,000 plywood sheets, then laminating them to one another to form the openings. After everything was glued together, it was sanded to make sure the surfaces were seamless, then waxed for smoothness.
"Finding the proper material in China is a challenge," Lim notes. "But lower labor costs allow us to have much more handcrafted pieces here in Beijing. In Hong Kong, it would be difficult to do something like that wall." Ditto for a hemisphere of bent plywood strips, protruding from a wall of tinted mirror outside a private room.
Was CL3 cognizant of being a Chinese firm taking liberties with an essentially Japanese style? "Overall, we were inspired by the fact that both the Japanese and Chinese heritages have certain commonalities," Lim says. The two styles can be as complementary as yin and yang.