Architecture is proving to be a common language across cultures for Nic Brunsdon, who has designed a boutique resort to be built in China’s ancient and historic Anji bamboo forest.
Prior to landing in the People’s Republic for the first time, Perth-based architect Nic Brunsdon’s idea of China was closely tied to the bright lights and bustling boulevards of Beijing.
But after visiting the site of a proposed boutique hotel in China’s historic Anji county in Zhejiang Province, a region made internationally-famous by the 2000 Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Mr Brunsdon’s impression of China could not be further removed.
“It was just mind-blowing, it’s so beautiful there,” Mr Brunsdon told Australia China Business Review.
“I’d always had an idea of China in my mind, and it wasn’t this.
“It’s beautiful, quiet and untouched nature. It’s just wonderful.”
Mr Brunsdon, who has visited Anji county five times in the last two years, considers the opportunity to design a boutique hotel in such a location more of a privilege than simply just another commercial opportunity.
The chance to design the natural spa-based resort for a consortium of Shanghai-based private investors arose after Mr Brunsdon’s firm – POST- Architecture – won an international design competition for a boutique development in Tedjakula, on the northern coast of Bali, Indonesia.
One of the owners of that development is part of the consortium delivering the Anji hotel, a 50-room resort to be built in the remnants of a village built around natural springs, which is estimated to have stood for thousands of years.
“Our role has been going back over the site and working out how to integrate the existing built heritage and cultural heritage into a modern or contemporary hospitality context,” Mr Brunsdon said.
“It’s super exciting, and it really is a feather in our cap.”
Mr Brunsdon said the appointment of Post Architecture was indicative of resort development in modern China, with local developers or syndicates seeking international input to create unique experiences to capture a new generation of Chinese tourists, who are travelling in record numbers.
“It was a nice congruence of a good client who had a good understanding of the market but wanted a fresh set of eyes,” he said.
“China is looking to the world to bring expertise, innovation or novel thought around different ways of doing things architecturally.
“Our role was to come in with some fresh eyes, bring in a global perspective, but really tease out what’s special about this place and this culture.”
Mr Brunsdon said POST- Architecture’s approach to the resort tied in closely to the firm’s architectural philosophy, which is closely tied to the notion that human perspectives, responses and experiences can be quite universal, even across broadly disparate cultures.
“There is a cultural layer that sits on top of it, but that’s a much more minor consideration when you are talking about things like comfort, relaxation and calming and integration with nature, that’s prevalent across everyone,” Mr Brunsdon said.
“It’s an approach that we take with every project, we try not to be specialists.
“We love a challenge and we think it’s the most honest and respectful thing you can do for the client is to treat each brief as new and unique and deserving of deep interrogation.
“We really try to not provide cookie cutter responses or a thin line of specialisation that we then apply across everything. Each place we look at we say: ‘what is this about and how do we tease out its own special opportunities’?”
The special opportunities at the Anji resort include incorporating the natural springs at the site to become a featured part of the hotel’s design, while the rooms themselves have been spaced out in clusters to take advantage of unique topography and to provide uninterrupted views of the surrounding bamboo forests.
Other facilities on offer at the resort, where construction is expected to start next year, on schedule for a 2020 opening, include events spaces for weddings and conferences, a restaurant, office space and a library.
Mr Brunsdon said the aim of the resort was to create something that would not only appeal to Chinese domestic tourists, but also international travellers seeking new experiences.
“We hope it will open up new China opportunities if we do it well,” he said.
“There’s a big market there, especially in domestic tourism, but potentially international tourism as well.
“We want to pitch this at an international level, so domestically in China it is seen and known as desirable, but it also starts placing places like this on a global map.
“This will be something for those international experiential tourists that are seeking special, unique, high-end, one-off experiences that you can’t find elsewhere.”