It takes an architect like Andre Fu to transform a two-word brief of “calm” and “comfort,” into the pristine The Upper House in Hong Kong. Just three years after graduating with a Master’s Degree in Architecture from Cambridge University and with only three staff members, Fu was given the hotel assignment in 2009 that would catapult him to fame and begin his lifelong mission to redefine traditional conceptions of luxury and hospitality.
Occupying levels 38-49 of a tower in Hong Kong, The Upper House was designed to take guests on an upward journey from the hurried streets of the city to a tranquil refuge. Upon arrival, guests check themselves in with iPads and are greeted by a long, ascending escalator. Eventually they land at their ultimate destination- the guest room, not unlike a small apartment, which has been strategically designed with their needs in mind. Out of the 117 rooms in the hotel, the smallest checks in at 730 square feet; the equivalent of approximately two standard hotel rooms in Hong Kong. With over 300 pieces of artwork, the use of natural bamboo materials and lacquer accents, Fu has crafted a simple yet elegant hotel environment that feels uniquely oriental while still remaining distinctly international.
Fu’s multi-cultural palate and experiential approach to design are inspired by his experience growing up between Hong Kong and England. Motivated by the surrounding environment rather than aesthetic, Fu’s designs are driven by the narrative of a place. With thoughtful consideration of movement in a space, his objective is to create designs that incite emotions in the guest. Rather than conventional notions of luxury that are overly formal and impersonal, he strives for a relaxed luxury that translates to pure indulgence in the moment. In a time where technology has seemed to manifest a preference for the instantaneous, Fu appreciates that quality design takes persistence and purposely seeks materials that will evoke a sense of timelessness.
Fu tends to avoid designing to fit an image. It is this genuine commitment to the experience of a space that has resulted in such distinct, immersive projects for the young architect. Projects like the Pop-up apartment that he constructed for Louis Vuitton in Hong Kong, or the library, salon and bar he designed at the Chateau La Coste; a winery set against the Luberon Mountains in France.
We caught up with Fu to discuss his how he created experience through The Upper House Hong Kong, as well as some of the inspirations behind his creative practice.
What first drew you to become an architect?
I have always been fascinated by the impact of space on one’s behavior and the way spatial design provokes an emotional dimension.
How does your personal background influence your design ideas?
I was born in Hong Kong but spent over 14 years in the United Kingdom for my higher education. My exposure to both cultures has empowered me with an appreciation of different lifestyles.
Tell us about The Upper House and your experience designing this luxury hotel.
The Upper House was conceived as a small intimate hotel reminiscent of a private residence. There is an understated sense of luxury throughout the design. The hotel is perceived by many as a place that evokes a new level of modern Asian sensibility. It is inspired by the notion of an upward poetic journey. The hotel is set within the hub of Hong Kong’s buzzing backdrop and the concept is for the guests to embark on a journey into a world of tranquility.
What inspires your material choices?
There is a strong use of timber–bamboo and oak–as well as honed limestone in the hotel. We also introduced anodized bronze to evoke a quality of depth in the materials. Palette-wise, there is use of green tea, mauve purple and mineral blue.
Previously you’ve said, “It’s very easy to create designs that are purely driven on aesthetics. But good design actually communicates experiences.” How do you strategically elevate your work beyond aesthetics to communicate an experience?
Design for me is a very organic process – it is like creating a collage out of fragmented elements. In some ways, creating a hospitality experience evokes the notion of creating a journey–a journey that is made up of many layers, be it the restaurants or the room experience. I guess as a designer, my role is to curate each layer to make them sing, yet when viewed as a whole, they evoke a strong design narrative.
What has been your most memorable experience as a hotel guest?
I appreciate thoughtfulness in design and in the context of our times, that is heavily driven by social media, I am particularly keen to create works that are about the experience, rather than a mere visual stunt.
Most of your projects have been in East Asia, are you interested in designing in other regions of the world? If so, where and how do you think that location would impact your aesthetic?
I am heavily inspired by the context of each location. Asia is heavily rooted in its cultural diversity and I find that to be genuinely fascinating in my conceptualization of each property. For example, I shall be unveiling a project in Singapore for the Andaz brand. The hotel will embrace the shop house spirit of its local neighborhood. We are also working on a brand-new hotel in Bangkok for the Waldorf Astoria brand that celebrates a modern Thai heritage.
How would you describe your own home?
A place of calm and rejuvenation.