01 Hotel ICON is three buildings in one, with the hotel straddling school facilities and a faculty residence; 02 Reception is de-emphasised in the hotel lobby, with an eye-catching wood seating area given pride of place; 03 Patrick Blanc’s green wall covers 230 sqm and includes more than 7,500 individual plants; 04 Green, the lobby café and tapas bar, features design elements inspired by traditional Hong Kong objects like folding metal shop gates; 05 Terence Conran’s design for The Market was inspired by the convivial atmosphere of Hong Kong’s wet markets, right down to the hanging light fixtures, which recall the markets’ red lamps; 06 Barney Cheng cast aside hotel uniform conventions with a collection of mix-and-match uniforms that are smart, casual and individualistic while also maintaining a sense of cohesion
Some of Hong Kong and Europe’s best-known design names come together to create a hotel that’s a tribute to innovation and collective effort.
Hotel ICON certainly lives up to its name. With a striped metallic cladding and unusual blocky form, it is hard to miss. But Hong Kong’s newest hotel is exceptional in ways that go beyond its appearance. Built and operated by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the hotel is a teaching facility that combines the School of Hotel and Tourism Management, a faculty residence and 262 rooms of luxury accommodations in one building. Students are trained in various areas by full-time staff while researchers other university departments use the hotel – very discreetly – as a laboratory for everything from marketing strategies to design practices.
ICON’s openness to innovation extends to its design. General manager Richard Hatter invited some of the world’s most talented designers to work on the hotel, and they have contributed some unusual amenities, including a massive vertical garden, an impressive collection of local art, a wet market-inspired restaurant and uniforms that break hotel conventions. hotel-icon.com
ARCHITECTURE : ROCCO YIM
Rocco Yim has designed countless skyscrapers and hotels over the course of his 34-year career, but Hotel ICON posed a special challenge: how to build three buildings in one on a postage-stamp site next to a noisy tunnel entrance. “All these constraints are also opportunities,” he says. His first idea was to build a simple podium-and-tower structure, like so many other buildings in Hong Kong. “By doing that it didn’t have an external identity or opportunity for exciting space,” he says. So he opted for an unconventional form that incorporates all three uses into a single structure with separate entrances and identities.
Faculty residents are located on the building’s north side, across from a public square. Yim positioned this low-rise section of the building away from direct sunlight to keep the apartments cool. A staggered façade buffers the windows from traffic noise. Most of the hotel, meanwhile, sits on top of the teaching facilities, so that its rooms rise above the rooftops of the surrounding buildings.
Part of Yim’s goal was to create a relationship with the surrounding neighbourhood. At ground level, a large glass atrium provides a visual link from the lobby to the nearby tunnel entrance. Above the atrium is a large void through which wind can pass, reducing ICON’s bulk and impact on the surrounding environment.
Every room in the hotel features striking, unobstructed views of the city and harbour, a quality that Yim enhanced by creating a slight protrusion on the southeast corner of the building. The hotel’s outdoor pool is located on a terrace atop the school section of the building, at the same level as the neighbourhood’s surrounding structures, which gives the impression of floating on a sea of rooftops. “We tried to manipulate the views, so that you’re always in contact with the city,” says Yim. “That’s one of Hong Kong’s strengths, the ability to bring the city into the building.” rocco.hk
INTERIOR : WILLIAM LIM
While Rocco Yim provided Hotel ICON with an external identity, architect William Lim and his partners at CL3 were tasked with something just as tricky: giving it a soul. “We wanted to make it a hotel about Hong Kong,” says Lim. That goal extended from the rooms, where Lim added a curved bathroom wall to emphasise the views over the city, to the lobby decor, which includes metal folding gates like those traditionally used in Hong Kong storefronts. “We wanted guests to have an experience that breaks convention, that demonstrates that this is a teaching hotel and that it is different,” he says. “Where we especially wanted to make a difference was in the whole experience of pulling up to the hotel. We wanted to organise movement in a more spontaneous way.”
Lim did that by de-emphasising the check-in desk, so that arriving guests are greeted by a circular seating area leading into the lobby café, designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc. A spiralling wood staircase leads up to a bridge that connects the lobby with a ballroom that can accommodate 480 people. “We observed that in other hotels’ ballrooms, people would come in and cover up all those gaudy decorations,” so Lim made provisions for additional lighting and movable walls. “It’s almost like a black box theatre, which can accommodate many different performances. We made it silver, so it’s a silver box ballroom.”
That ethos of flexibility can be found elsewhere in the hotel, from the multi-purpose space next to the pool, to the hotel’s check-in schedule. If guests arrive in the middle of the night or need a place to stay after checking out, they can head to the Limdesigned Timeless, a ninth-floor rest space offering light refreshments. cl3.com
FOOD AND BEVERAGE: TERENCE CONRAN
Few designers can claim as much experience as England’s Sir Terence Conran, whose career spans nearly 60 years and who was knighted for his contribution to the field of design. ICON hired Conran to design a restaurant and the top-floor club, which includes a lounge, Chinese restaurant and private dining rooms.
The first restaurant most ICON guests will encounter is The Market, a lively second-floor food hall with a large garden terrace. As the name suggests, the inspiration was Hong Kong’s neighbourhood wet markets, though it approaches the concept in a more oblique way than most other market-inspired designs. While has become fashionable to replicate Hong Kong’s red market lamps in restaurants and shops, Conran instead offers a reinterpretation: large black lamps overlooking a buffet counter and a multitude of smaller, transparent lamps in the dining area. “In all our design work [we] believe that simply copying something else is pastiche and this devalues the heritage and quality of the original item,” says Richard Doone, Conran’s design director. “Instead, we pay homage to the original by making reference to it, but with our own hand applied too. In this way, we seek to create a resonation but not a mirror copy.”
While The Market has a boisterous atmosphere, top-floor Above & Beyond is far more intimate, with a living room atmosphere and views over the surrounding city. “The kitchen and all back of house areas are located in the centre of the building so that guests, whether they are in the bar, restaurant, a private dining room or a meeting room, can fully appreciate the wonder of the city that surrounds them on all sides,” says Doone.
The walls of Above & Beyond are lined with timber library units that are stocked with books and curios hand-picked from around Hong Kong and China. Much of the art on the walls was drawn from Hong Kong Design Centre chairman Victor Lo’s personal collection. conran.com
VERTICAL GARDEN: PATRICK BLANC
If there’s a line between botany and art, Patrick Blanc wouldn’t know it. The French botanist is the world’s foremost vertical gardener, having developed a patented system for growing plants on the sides of walls. Covering an area of 230sqm, his work in the lobby of Hotel ICON includes 75 different plant species and 7,500 individual plants. “Right now it looks like a painting, it’s very 2D, but wait two or three months and it will look totally different,” says Blanc. He recently returned from the Philippines where he discovered a new species of begonia, which now bears his name: Begonia blancii.
Blanc has an encyclopaedic knowledge of plants, and his plan for the ICON wall was hand-drawn on an A4 sheet of paper. Plants that need more light are located on the top of the installation, while those that live near rivers were placed at the bottom, where they can soak up excess water from the wall’s built-in irrigation system. The wall is watered for three minutes six times a day; it needs only basic maintenance throughout the year. verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com
UNIFORMS: BARNEY CHENG
Hong Kong-based fashion designer Barney Cheng used the Polytechnic University itself as the starting point for his hotel uniforms. “I wanted to have a bookish look inspired by students,” he says – a look “done up in unobtrusive colours that work very well with the interior of the hotel.”
Cheng designed different uniforms for each section of the hotel, from reception to the food and beverage outfits. He used a variety of textiles in earthy colours to create a range of looks: fluid jersey pants for women; colourful houndstooth outfits in The Market; stretch interlock in tailored jackets; jackets bearing a pattern derived from ICON’s logo and made from guipure lace. Female uniforms are “long and fluid,” says Cheng, while male uniforms are “structured and cropped short and smart.”
Most innovative of all is the way Cheng’s outfits function as a collection rather than as strict uniforms, so that staff can mix and match as they like. “The message I want to send across with the designs is: efficient, young, multi-talented and relevant,” he says. barneycheng.com