Shimao Wonderland

– by Bao Lijia –

8-jpg_085054_0Initiated in 2006, located in a 90-metre deep water filled quarry, postponed several times due to the technical issues, the Shimao Underground Hotel, finally started on site this year.

This 380-room resort, one of the Intercontinental Hotels Group’s flagship hotels in China, has just three storeys above ground but a staggering 16 storeys underground. Built in the Songjiang District near Shanghai and surrounded by the existing rock-face, it distinguishes itself from any other five star hotels in China whose aim is simply providing deluxe star services. For instance, this one can offer the possibility for extreme sports (like the rock climbing and bungee jumping) in a real natural environment.

InterContinental-Shimao-Shanghai-Wonderland-2With a 6-billion RMB investment and its unique location, the Shimao Underground Hotel has caused a major debate in China since it was put on the agenda. We might wonder, is this going to be another vacuous Chinese great project? Maybe the perspective might change if we take a closer look at it.

According to the architect, the design adopted the image of a green hill cascading down the rock face as a series of terraced landscaped hanging gardens. The central vertical circulation atrium, which connects the quarry base with the ground level is in the form of a transparent glass ‘waterfall’. Above the ground level will be the main entrance lobby, banqueting centre and restaurants.

Intercontinental-Shimao-Shanghai-Wonderland-hotelThe underground level mainly serves as guest room. The guest rooms’ access balconies enable the spectacular cliff view been seen from each room. A sports, leisure and spa complex with a swimming pool will be located under the water Sustainability is another concern in the design: utilizing a green roof above the ground level and geothermal energy extraction, with photovoltaic solar panels to capture the heat energy within the tall ‘waterfall’ atrium.

In the past decade, China has been a front-runner in the world’s skyscraper race. All of a sudden, it starts to dig ‘undergroundscrapers’ instead and it is because of this turnabout, that many of the concerns about the effect of this huge building on the environment, ecosystems and the general locality arose. However, accusing it of spoiling the natural scenery doesn’t really hold water, as they say, because so far, this underground hotel has not caused any evident negative influence on the site, on the contrary, the place has undergone a tremendous refinement.

From a trash pit to a decent scenic spot
1988-2The hole had used to be an artificial stone quarry since the 1950s, and after a few decades, the bottom formed a natural pool. However, due to the lack of management, the whole place became a stinking trash pit with the bottom filled with industrial effluent and domestic garbage. It was completely abandoned for decades and it didn’t trigger the public’s concern until some tourists discovered this gigantic rubbish landfill site a few years ago. In early 2012, the long term initial site reclamation was finally finished; the previous stinky trash pit has already replaced by a fresh water filled quarry.

Construction-Intercontinental-Shimao-Shanghai-Wonderland-Due to a number of delays, the project still hasn’t open to the public but hopefully, by the end of 2014, the hotel will be finished and put to use. At present, it is uncertain how this project (that won a WAF award four years ago) will look like on the site. Ignoring the hilarious sailing boats in the fancy rendering, still, there are some doubts on the project: Is it going to be amusing to live in a hole and enjoy the spectacular cliff view or will it just seem as if the view is just blocked by the rock-face? If the whole point is to enjoy a different view from that which can be gained above ground level, how much pleasure can the guests get?

Customers go to a five star hotel, either for a business or for a holiday. Good views from the suite room are not always necessary but are obviously an extra plus point. Imagine seeing the whole city with busy traffic and numerous lonely lights during the nights, or vivid beautiful natural scenery, that is called a pleasure. In this case, putting a hotel inside of a hole – a remarkably defensive architectural gesture – might not be so appealing? I don’t know, but I guess we won’t wait for too long to see the draft turn into reality.


Location: Songjiang, China
Architect: Atkins, Bristol, United Kingdom
World Architecture Festival 2009 – Shortlisted