Bangkok-based firm Department of Architecture has recently completed a translucent hotel that pays tribute to the vernacular architecture of Chiang Mai, Thailand. The hotel roof form inspired by traditional hip roofs as homage to the local architecture has a little reinterpretation with an asymmetrical form blending naturally with the surrounding tree top silhouette. The west side of the roof is partially carved out to become a roof deck for guests to enjoy the panoramic river view at sunset.
The design continues the local architectural character through the use of the predominant traditional material – the wood shingles. The most interesting aspect of the material is in its system that has been well developed for hundreds of years. Small units of wood shingles are laid out like fish scales to become a watertight architectural plane. The design has explored a possibility to fuse new materials into the system to create a contemporary architectural surface yet deeply rooted in tradition.
The wood shingles are used on the roof and side walls. On the river facade, polycarbonate sheets are cut into the same size as wood shingles and constructed to become the architectural translucent facade. On the entrance façade, the upper portion is composed of solid wood shingles and they trickle down to mixed with polycarbonate shingles on the lower part. Although working with the traditional shingle system, the uninterrupted translucency surface is achieved by a special detail design using translucent studs and special transparent screws.
The facade is glittering in the sun as the light touches different material grains, from the solid wood shingles to the different translucency levels of the polycarbonate shingles. The light passes through the facade and creates varying interior atmosphere at different time with the changing light condition of the sky. At night with the light from the inside, the building becomes a lantern glowing on the riverbank. The structure seems less of a building but becomes more like a piece of craftwork.
The public area interior complements the exterior simplicity, gives a gallery-like feeling that accommodates the site-specific installations inspired by the famous Boh–Srang umbrella, and creates delicate and dramatic silhouettes expressing contemporary interpretation of the local handicraft.
The guest room interior is a place to rediscover Chiang Mai in a new angle, literally. Images of important places and events of Chiang Mai such as its ancient city wall, floating lantern festival, pine forest, Pah-Chor canyon, etc., are placed on the entire ceiling. The images infinitely reflected onto the two long walls cladded with small mirror shingles, giving a surreal borderless sensation. The images are all different for each of the fourteen guest rooms. Each emanates different and unique feeling: tranquil, playful, cultured, mysterious, etc. suitable for any preferences of the guests. Little Shelter is not only a place to sleep. It is an introduction of the past, the present, and probably the future of Chiang Mai to its visitors.