HBA completes interiors for the recreational centre designed by Ettore Sottsass, within China’s iconic Sifang Collective complex.
The recreational centre within China’s Sifang Collective complex is one of the final architectural ventures designed by famed Italian architect, Ettore Sottsass, and his architectural practice, Sottsass Associati. The opening is due in December this year, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Sottsass’s death. Dubai-based designer and HBA’s partner, David T’Kint, was tasked with completing the project and designing the interiors, which celebrate Sottsass’s strong architectural language and embrace the natural surroundings.
“Ettore Sottsass’s latest architectural venture is a complex architectural masterpiece connecting and disconnecting volumes,” T’Kint tells Commercial Interior Design. “My first challenge was to make this work from an operational point of view as a wellness centre with a few guestrooms, and connect the areas to make this a unified guest experience.”
Sifang is managed by Artyzen Hospitality Group, which boasts an operating philosophy of embracing “art, culture, and emotional wisdom” that echoes throughout the architecture and design of the project.
“Sifang is a one-of-a-kind project, unique in so many different ways. Not just a hotel, an experience – driven by remarkable architecture that is not just about design. All the buildings embrace the natural surroundings, and each unit has its own narrative,” says T’Kint.
“While it was an honour to be part of a select group of designers and architects, part of the challenge was to create a visual identity that didn’t compromise the guests’ experience and expectations.”
As T’Kint explains, the building’s interiors celebrate the architectural language without mimicking it.
“Creating interiors when the architectural envelope is so powerful is a real test for a designer,” he says. “It simply cannot be completely different, as this would not make sense, however copying was not an option either.”
The architect’s enduring legacy is his industrial design work, such as the famous Olivetti Valentine Typewriter and the Carlton Bookcase. His architecture, like his product design, is instantly recognisable by the bold primary colours and prominent geometric structures.
The design team had to analyse Sottsass’s achievements throughout his long career, examining the geometry, shapes, primary colours, black and white that form the main characteristics of his most recognisable work, to create an interior programme that would integrate seamlessly. Taking all of these items into consideration, HBA developed interiors that married with Sottsass’s architecture.
“Everything is based on geometrical volumes, touches of colour, without being overwhelming, and blended with the softness required to make this space the wellness centre it was intended to be,” he says.
The 1,000m2 recreation and culture centre features a spa, an indoor pool, a fitness studio, and 22 uniquely designed rooms, ranging from 43m2 to 79m2.
The balance between hard and soft is studied in every area to avoid the feeling of being in a museum.
“The walls, for example, are divided into an irregular gridline of shapes, whereas their texture is a warm white stucco. The floors are rhythmed by woollen rugs, designed as geometric forms. The furniture is an eclectic mix of bold contemporary items, with the right balance of neutrals and colours. Accessories decorate the spaces and add to the casual feel,” he says.
Beyond the spa facilities, the centre promotes corporate activities and functions, such as arts and crafts, reading, and relaxation, with a focus on harmony with nature. The luxuriant woods and scenery complement one another.
Sifang Collective is part of the China International Practical Exhibition of Architecture (CIPEA), located in the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, Nanjing. The project is comprised of 22 buildings designed by nearly two dozen of the biggest names in international and Chinese architecture, among them New York architect Steven Holl; dissident artist, Ai Wewei; Chinese Pritzker prize-winner, Wang Shu; and UK-based David Adjaye.