During 2013 and 2014 I spent several weeks in Beijing, Shanghai and Jinan. I had many buildings in my check list that I wanted to visit all of them belong to the stararchitects: Zaha Hadid, H&deM, OMA, and Steven Holl. Talking to my travel companion Magda and exchanging architectural tips with her, she recommended me to visit the work of Neri & Hu Design and Research Office (NHDRO) in Shanghai. I had never heard of them but trusting Magda´s talent and good taste I took a walk from the North Bund along the Huangpu River to view The Waterhouse Boutique Hotel at the South Bund.
I was in awe when I saw the building and I ended up having lunch there and spending most of the day taking pictures and talking to the staff and travellers at the Waterhouse.
In a country that is so quick erasing any historical presence the Waterhouse stands as a witness not only of the past but also of the contemporary design world of Shanghai.
The building was built as a Japanese Army Headquarter in 1930 and opened as boutique hotel in May 2010. The dialogue with past is engaging, it is accurate, it is detailed, it is precise, it is ironic, and it is also brutal.
The Waterhouse becomes a story a wonderful dialogue between two illustrious actors: the past and present. This dialogue is verbalised in many different contrasting forms: the old wise and strong concrete structure and the new edgy and sharp Corten steel, the mould stains and peeled patches and the smooth and polished steel window frames, the old bricks and the polished concrete.
The dialogue is respectful, educative, engaging, but also witty and charming at times it is flirtatious. It is a dialogue based on careful considerations on what to preserve and what to renovate, about what to keep and what to add new. These are careful choices that have been carried out with outstanding craftsmanship, that craftsmanship that I could not find in any of the stararchitects projects in my list. The Waterhouse is a wonderful sensorial experience, from the music, to the taste, smell, touch and sight this buildings is able to capture the tensions and beauties present in Shanghai.