When designed with care and sensitivity, hotels made from converted buildings can offer unique experiences, discovers Rebecca Lo

As travel becomes increasingly accessible, more travellers are seeking singular experiences. As a result, exotic hotels in far-flung destinations with all the creature comforts of a luxury resort are being developed to satisfy market demands. Yet, at the same time, the public’s green consciousness makes adapting and reusing architecture increasingly more critical.
Despite the fact it is often more economical to tear down and rebuild a hotel on the site of a former building, some owners and developers are willing to entertain conversions. When the existing building has heritage value, the ghosts of users past can add an extra dimension to the new hotel’s experience. Even when it is a nondescript structure, transforming an underused building into a venue filled with life again is a smart and sustainable way to reinvigorate a neighbourhood.
Adrian Zecha, founder of Aman Resorts and GHM Hotels, has been responsible for developing some of the most exclusive properties in the world. While some were newly created for a specific site, others revitalised complexes that have significant historic value.
One was Amantaka in Luang Prabang, with French Canadian architect Pascal Trahan in charge of its conversion.
“All of the Amans constructed over the past 27 years have been built particularly because of their special sites,” says Zecha. “Amantaka was the former French provincial hospital. Its architecture is very simple, and the grounds are very big. It was very difficult to find a place like that in a Unesco World Heritage Site. Some people may not enjoy living in an ex-hospital. But it worked for us. I love the place.”

Buddha’s way
Open in 2009, Amantaka was named after the word for ‘peace’ in Sanskrit and ‘the teaching of the Buddha’ in Theraveda scholastic literature. Its gracious serenity is in keeping with the former Laotian capital’s unbroken dedication to Buddhist teachings and traditions, perhaps best exemplified through the parade of saffron robe clad monks every morning through the town’s centre.
The site is a short stroll from the peninsula jutting into the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, and consists of a collection of red clay tiled French colonial buildings. The entrance is accessed via a path set within a green lawn, arriving at a central building with deep and shaded verandas that houses the reception, lounge and foyer leading to a library in the back of the structure.
Beyond, a central courtyard houses the resort’s main outdoor swimming pool with the four treatment room Aman Spa to one side and the fitness centre on the other. Dining options include the relaxed Dining Room, the al fresco Veranda and the tranquil Pool Terrace.
Aman espouses the small is beautiful ideology, and there are thus just 24 keys to the property. Located south of the main swimming pool, they range from 70 to 120 square metres with their own private outdoor spaces to enjoy the scent of frangipani on warm nights. Two of the suites are standalone villas while 16 boast private swimming pools.

Furnishings are a mixture of elegant Indochinese timber and rattan furnishings, while four poster beds include romantic white sheers for a cocooning feel.

City slicker
In contrast, the former 1970s office building near the northeast boundaries of Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong is an urban renovation that gives its guests a spacious respite from the bustle of the city.
Developed by Hong Kong-based Gaw Capital Partners, the 29-key Residence G opened in phases throughout 2014 (its restaurant designed by Zanghellini & Holt is slated for completion later this year) following properties in Beijing, Bangkok, Pattaya and San Francisco.
Unlike many boutique city properties in Hong Kong, Residence G offers generous guestrooms: 14 are 330 square feet, a further 14 are 800 square feet, while the penthouse suite topping the 18-storey structure is 1,147 square feet. It allows guests to conduct meetings in the privacy of their own rooms or spread out their work on the bar height tables provided in the larger rooms.
Designed by Shanghai’s Neri & Hu Design and Research Office, Residence G has an industrial chic vibe that appeals to the hotel’s predominantly well-travelled, 30-something guests. The relatively quiet site offers broad green views northeast towards Zaha Hadid’s Jockey Club Innovation Tower at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, yet is within easy walking distance to the shopping area of Canton and Nathan Roads.
The façade off Austin Avenue is wrapped with a reinterpreted metal folding screen with a slight sheen that lends the
building a soft glow.
“By superimposing the screen as the ultimate façade of the building, the design concept pays tribute to the times Hong Kong set out to change the movie world through its first productions, with its own heritage,” says Lyndon Neri, co-founder of Neri & Hu.
“It is our intention to allow Residence G’s guests to make their own discoveries within a film noir related black and white ambience of an environment which reveals the industrial heritage of the building while avoiding becoming too decorative in its language.”
Residence G’s common areas are limited to a basic gym, a reception area and a lounge, with the latter opening to a large terrace that serves as the breakfast area. By scaling back on the amenities, the rooms themselves take centre stage. Neri & Hu used a black and white palette, with full-height windows to allow Hong Kong’s skyline to provide the colour.
The larger suites are designed to accommodate long stay guests and offer a pantry with roomy refrigerator. White square tiles with five millimetre grout are used on pantry and bathroom walls for a utilitarian look that is juxtaposed against oiled hardwood plank oak flooring, sealed concrete walls and Nordic-inspired loose furnishings.
Bathrooms have Japanese style wet rooms with separate shower and bathtub, while storage consists of individual oak cabinets suspended from iron frames for a lighter aesthetic.
Residence G is currently listed as number 23 of 692 hotels in Hong Kong by TripAdvisor, while Amantaka is number 5 of 67. It just goes to show that with a little ingenuity, creatively adapting an existing structure may prove to be just as good for owners as well as the environment.