The Yihe Mansions, Nanjing, China
BHD Consulting Ltd

The Project involved conservation and revitalization of a cluster of 26 residential mansions of the former Republic Period of China into an urban boutique hotel that retains the sense of place and its history.

The Yihe Mansions are located within the historical fabric of the City of Nanjing, where the transient Republic Government of China established its legation quarter in 1927. The mansions were built as residences for officials who became influential figures. Built in the 1920s, they epitomize the ‘Republic’or ‘National’ Style that was influenced by Western architecture and thus are valuable records of the early probe of a new style in modern Chinese architecture. The Mansions are now subjected to varied degrees of heritage protection.

Each of the 26 mansions are distinctive and without repetition. While it is necessary to maintain a coherency across the development and retain its intimate characteristic, defining the public facilities such as the conference and exhibition centre required adaptive re-configuration of the previous domestic and modest spaces. For example, instead of dismissing them as back-of-house places, the unique but isolated attic spaces were converted into spacious bespoke suites or fine dining areas.

The historical context of the Republic Period presents a unique opportunity to adopt an eclectic approach to the design of the interiors; the juxtapositions of East versus West, old versus new elements such as furniture and decorative elements were employed. However, the design team was more intrigued by the possible differences and effects of the similar but yet distinct perspectives - looking from East to West and vice versa (as it happened with art movements between the Wars).

The design references and experiments were done in a less than overt fashion. Additional minor structures to define entrances and enclosures to conceal modern building services equipment were grafted to the existing structures and spaces carefully so that they appear as natural extensions of the old. Special details like the use of bamboo blinds laminated between glazing, the reproduction of Art Nouveau patterns on Chinese porcelain plates and the traditional Chinese carving on wainscoting panels perpetuate this design principle.

The challenge of the project, which was completed in 2013, is to achieve the balance between the practical requirements of a modern hotel (that could impart a new life to the old mansions) and preserving the historical and cultural imprint and heritage.

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