Hello Kitty castle

Canadian railroad lodges and Bavarian walled cities inspired the look for this fantastical getaway in China

In 1974, a white cat made her first appearance on a vinyl coin purse created by Sanrio, a Tokyo-based manufacturer. Since then, with her appearances on consumer products, television shows, and even the jets of a Taiwanese airline, Hello Kitty has become a near universal icon. Uniquely for a fictional character, she was named Japan’s ambassador of tourism to China in 2008. In recent years, a dramatic expansion of China’s middle class has fueled the construction of several new theme parks; one built around Hello Kitty herself.


VOA’s design for the hotel adjacent to the park plays into her star status without referencing the kitty directly. Its form is distinctly European against an archetypical Chinese landscape, lending it a regal yet fantastical air that contrasts with the pastel palette and character of the theme park to which it connects. The interior features vaulted arches that would be at home in the Palais des Papes in Avignon, contributing to the whimsical sense that the visitor has stepped out of the mundane world and into a story book. Rick Fawell, Managing Principal of VOA’s Beijing and Shanghai offices, tells us more about this project.


Interview by Tyler Roberts

Where did the team’s design inspiration come from?
The inspiration came mostly from the historic hunting lodges of the Loire Valley and specifically from Chateau de Chenonceau in the way that it crossed the river and thus sat in the reflection of water. This highlighted the detailed masonry façade lit up at night in the hotel’s reflecting pool.

What were the client’s aesthetic goals for the project?
The client quite simply wanted a castle hotel situated across from their new Hello Kitty theme park, connected via a bridge to allow guests and patrons to visit the park effortlessly from the lobby of the hotel.  The client started the project requesting a presentation on the history of castles and historic chateaus and hunting lodges.  Our presentation explored the Loire Valley hunting lodges of the various French kings, Bavarian walled cities and romantic castles of the landed aristocracy in Germany, the Canadian Lodge Hotels built to support the original Canadian Railroad, and the use of castles as romantic imagery in everything from Disney movies to Mad Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.


Were there any design challenges posed by the site?
The site was very small given the large, ambitious program and it had a steep incline. We used the incline to step the hotel three times to help break the large mass down into several pieces tucked into the bamboo hillside. This allowed the hillside to be both the base the building sat on and also the background the building nestled into.


How did the design evolve from the initial stage to the finished product?
We worked carefully with the steep site topography and program to make sure to include all the functional areas including a large ballroom and conference component with adequate drop-off space for patrons and tour groups. The design continued to evolve with the masonry detailing and stone bridge that created the correct proportions of a lodge or castle and still evoked romanticism without developing a clichéd approach to a traditional building type.  As the design evolved the intent was to use the romantic motifs but in a modern and unique manner befitting a contemporary resort hotel featuring an array of functional uses and amenities.


What was unique about this project’s design?
The most unique feature is that it is designed as a romantic building type, a castle, in a bamboo countryside that traditionally didn’t have castles. China is well known for the extravagant cities and plazas and ostentatious buildings of their past rulers but these were primarily located in the cities not in the countryside where they are found in Europe.  So the design is in one sense a foreign element for the Chinese bamboo forest but in another sense the hotel fits into the steep hillside much like its architectural predecessors.


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