Urban planning by renovated art hotels paves the way for the sustainable future
Considering the growing capitalization on the construction boom prepared for the Olympic and Paralympic games held in Tokyo this summer, it is said that the third hotel construction boom is taking over. However the oversupply of the hotel after the event is a matter of concern. In addition to that, the Covid-19 crisis keeping tourists especially from abroad away, might make this situation worse. The lifting of the private rental lodging and other business forms such as Glamping and Auberge entering the hotel business is making the competition more intense. While the hospitality industry thrown into this abnormal situation, what is the key for hotels to survive? There has to be something special about the hotel in order to attract people. In that context an emerging type of hotels called “art hotels” known for its art-centric architecture and interior might give us a hint. Among them, renovated landmark buildings, regenerated into a cultural hub where people can gather around an art-centric space, is a hopeful solution for our sustainable future. Hotels becoming a place not only to stay in, but to connect people, region and culture, eventually leading to regional vitalization, might be a solution to the survival. Here are some examples of value-adding new type hotels, shedding new lights on the hospitality industry.
Topping the list is SHIROIYA HOTEL in Maebashi, Gunma, a renovation of the 300 years old “ryokan”, opened in December 2020. The eye catching building design produced by the world renowned architect Sou Fujimoto, is a green mountain-like, riverbank-like building. It gives us an element of surprise to see a green mountain in the middle of the city. However this surprise comes from not only by perceiving something completely new, but by also viewing something that’s always been there. The architectural approach blends in the new architectural design with the existing landscape creating a totally new scenery which also follows the Maebashi city’s path of transformation with a vision for the future to become a place “Where good Things Grow”. Responding to this exterior design is the huge four-story atrium which first inspired Fujimoto. The rawly exposed beams and pillars create a sense of depth in the space, while bridges and stairs add the space a three dimensional attribute. The unique space is completed by various art works from all over the world which indicates the nature of the space, “the city’s living room”, a place where people gather. This semi-public space created right in the middle of the hotel, and the iconic landscape utilizing the existing geographical features, give a sense of hope towards the future in urban development.
In the vast meadows of Tokachi, Hokkaido, MEMU EARTH HOTEL opened in November 2018. Used to be a farm used as a training center that produced many famous thoroughbred race horses, the place was turned into “Memu Meadows”, an experimental cold climate residential facility. It then became one of the rare “sacred grounds of architecture” of the world, where residential houses from Japan’s most renowned architects like Kengo Kuma and Toyo Ito and winners of the “International University Architecture Competition” are scattered across the land. MEMU EARTH HOTEL was born after inheriting the memories of the experimental residences and the farm and converting them into a hotel through renovation work. By providing the service under the concept “To Spend The Night On Eearth And Learn From The Land”, the hotel provides nature experience in a cutting-edge architecture existing in the untouched nature. It also gives suggestions for ways to coexist and maintain a way of living amongst the resources of Tokachi through expansion of the research, under the concept “Re-reading Resources”. Hence, this unprecedented case of co-creation between a hotel and a university, gives the hotel a new role to disseminate ideas on sustainability that will be required in our lives and society.
In August 2019, a new trailer bar “FARM Bar NEMU” designed by Kengo Kuma opened in the field of the hotel. This is a guest for only mobile house, persuing the ways of sustainable approach towards food by providing local foods.
Ryotei “Yamaji”, which has long watched over the entertainment district of Kagurazaka, Tokyo for 70 years was fully renovated into the hotel “TRUNK(HOUSE)”, making its debut in August 2019. The appearance is totally original and in harmony with the street atmosphere, creating a stark contrast with the contemporary design inside. With rather chaotic streets coupled with old Japanese-style houses and newly multipurposed buildings standing in rows on intricate streets, Tokyo takes in both the old and the new, creating and mingling genre-straddling cultures. Regarding these phenomena as positive aspects of Tokyo, the hotel tries to incorporate them into contemporary statements. Great hospitality is provided through private butlers who attend to every need and further enrich the stay. The design is highly celebrated worldwide, and has received many worldly renowned awards including the Great Design Awards from Architectural Digest, the leading global design authority.
BnA Hotel is a social × art hotel project that aims to support Japanese artist while providing travelers with the unique and unforgettable experience of “staying in an art piece”, furthermore giving access to the community. “Bna gallery Ikebukuro”, “BnA machiya Kyoto”, and “Bna Hotel Koenji” has been a success which guided BnA to its newest hotel “BnA WALL” based in Tokyo’s historic Nihombashi district. Opened in February 2021, the BnA WALL is an awe-inspiring creative epicenter with its own art hotel, artist studio, and cafe/bar/lounge. Renovating the Nishijin-ori textile trading company’s headquarter building, the hotel features 26 original art rooms created by incredible Tokyo-based Artists. The hotel has designed a mutually beneficial ecosystem within which both artist and traveler can benefit. The profits from room bookings are shared with the artist responsible for creating the room, while guests get the chance to live inside a functional work of art and are immersed in the local art scene.
Hotel guests and visitors can watch artists at work from the hotel atrium year round creating pieces on the “WALL”, an impressive 5 meter mural wall. Located in the basement of the hotel, “Factory” is an experimental multipurpose space outfitted as an art production and exhibition space, as well as an event space.
MARUYO HOTEL Semba
Located in Semba, Kuwana, the gateway to Ise, is the MARUYO HOTEL Semba, opened in October 2020. Renovating the 70 years old timber merchant building, the hotel provides luxury experience by offering one building ridge to each party. Inheriting the trade name and its logo, the hotel passes on the culture and history rooted in its family and region. The art direction of the interior design was handled by contemporary artist Masaki Nao, who runs an handcraft gallery for 15 years in Nagoya. The rooms are created in harmony with art and craft, antique and contemporary, in a fine balance.
Nazuna Kyoto Gosho
Regenerating the 110 years old traditional Kyoto-style townhouse, home to a lumber business, “Nazuna Kyoto Gosho” opened in May 2019 as a “Wagashi”-Japanese confectionary- themed luxury Ryokan. Connecting two separated townhouses by creating a common Japanese garden, each room is designed differently with their very own Wagashi theme. Structures are renovated preserving their original architecture and design where possible, while retrofitting them with familiar modern comforts. The Ryokan was listed as a three pavilion Ryokan in the MICHELIN Guide Kyoto Osaka in 2020 and 2021.
Unique attempt such as creating an illumination art program which guests can enjoy while relaxing at the private bath inside a renovated traditional Japanese storehouse highlights the personalized and unforgettable lodging experience.
Based on the spirit of embracing the local culture and building characteristics, represented in their concept “You in Local, New in Local”, THE SHARE HOTELS brand has created many hotels varying by region. These are the three hotels from their lineups.
54 years old storage in Asakusa, was revitalized into an art storage and hotel fused facility, opening in July 2020. KAIKA TOKYO stores art works for several art galleries which are open to the public as well as its own collections. The hotel works in parallel with Sumida ward’s art and culture activities by accepting applications for art works to be exhibited at the facility and opening a commercial gallery to organize solo exhibitions for the artists from all over the world.
Kanazawa is a place filled with rich culture of Zen and tea ceremonies. KUMU Kanazawa was born in August 2017, renovating the 44 years old office building located in the heart of the city of Kanazawa. In the shared space opened to the public they host many various events that feature craft artists, masters of tea ceremonies, artists and priest of Buddhist temple. It continues to update traditional culture by engaging with locals and travelers from all over the world to become a cultural salon introducing Kanazawa’s charm throughout the world.
Former Nippon Life Kyoto Sanjo Building, a registered tangible cultural property of 105 years old, was renovated into a hotel with the concept, “Take a trip to the local”, making its debut in May 2019. Kyoto Sanjo, once drawn as the starting/last point of the 53 stations on the Tokaido was a place where all kinds of people and merchandises gathered from all over the country. Based on the background, TSUGU carries out various contents in all kinds of form in connection with local business and artists from all over Japan. An art work by video director Yamashiro Daisuke, “Monitor Ball” is permanently exhibited in the public space where visitors can enjoy images filmed at Kyoto and Setouchi, from all angles.
Finally let us take a look at the involvement of the giant hotel chains in this area of business. They manage to revitalize historical sites in great locations which in many cases require extensive renovation.
The Okura Tokyo
A symbol of modern Japan and one of the landmarks of Tokyo, Hotel Okura closed the doors of its 53 years old main wing for renovation. In September 2019, after an extensive three-year renovation project, it celebrated its rebirth with a revamped name, The Okura Tokyo. Paying respect to the original hotel’s aesthetic and carrying it on to the next generation, the lobby was redesigned by architect Yoshio Taniguchi, the son of Yoshiro Taniguchi, the mastermind of the original Hotel Okura. Much of the original designs are preserved but subtly imbued with a modern twist, such as the now-digitized massive world clock and LED mounted “Okura Lantern”. Skillful application of a Japanese sensibility seen in the original building lives in the context of modernist architectural methods bringing the space where the founding philosophy lived in, back to life. Originated by the founder Kishichiro Okura’s passion for art, Okura Tokyo continue to hold cultural events and runs fitness and spa facility and go salon, making it a place for people to come together to share the culture.
A luxury hotel group Aman operates hotels throughout the world inspired and informed by the landscape and culture it resides within. Aman’s founder Adrian Zecha has chosen one of the islands in the Setouchi region for the Ryokan-inspired new hospitality brand Azumi’s first destination, teamed up with Japanese hospitality group Naru Developments. Azumi Setoda inherits the legacy of Hirouchi-tei, a 140 year old estate. Setouchi is Japan’s Nile, its Fertile Crescent—the central waterway that became an artery of goods, culture, and people. Azumi is located, in the midpoint of the Shimanami Kaido, offering panoramic views of citrus groves, mountains, and still ocean waters. Azumi entrusted Kyoto-based architect Shiro Miura with the renovation. Every room on the first floor has a small garden designed in corporation with the group of landscape architects, Wa-So design. Furniture was made in collaboration with local woodwork company, Doi-Mokkou. An artwork of Setouchi seascape by Mai Miyake fills the wall of the community bathhouse "yubune".
Ace Hotel Kyoto
A boutique hotel chain started in Seattle, has created hotels across the world reinterpreting historic buildings into a place for collective gathering where fashion, music, art and other elements fuse. It had as much influence on changing the city as it marries the pragmatic with the romantic, the private with the collective, and the old world with the future. Ace Hotel chose Karasuma’s (Kyoto) landmark, “ShinPhuKan”, a renovation of the 94 years old former Kyoto Central Telephone office, a registered tangible cultural property, as its first destination in Japan. It opened in March 2020, with the concept “East Meets West”. Designed in collaboration with world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma and LA based Commune Design, Ace Hotel Kyoto is created in honest dialog with the city’s past and the future legends. Japanese and American artists’ works integrate in the space, creating a unique atmosphere.
A pattern where hotels are built around the historical city or at a famous tourist site, just to accommodate tourist, is not the winning practice in the already saturated hotel business anymore. The hotel has to be a place not just to stay at, but also a place to provide added value and one of a kind experience with a creative concept. The hotel has to carry out the vision where they consider themselves as a changemaker for the city. Community development starts from the hotel, where heritage and culture are carried on to the next generation adding a contemporary twist to it whilst transforming the space into something much more profound, preceding sustainable development. Added the role of a cultural hub to it, renovated art hotels will definitely gain more attention in the coming years.