In the old Shanghainese docklands, a revival is taking place. A stone’s throw from the glamorous Art-Deco edifices of the Bund sits The Cool Docks: a weekend hotspot beyond the pail of Shanghai’s more obvious tourist destinations. The surrounding neighbourhood (dubbed the “South Bund” to distinguish it from its more famous westerly neighbour) once served as the epicentre of Shanghai’s shipping and trading industries. Now, it’s finding renewed energy in the crucible of gentrification; a transformation being propelled along by properties like The Waterhouse. Part of Singaporean hotelier Loh Lik Peng’s UNLISTED COLLECTION, it is a hotel that exists outside the Shanghai zeitgeist: offering space, tranquility and curated insight into a city that routinely obliterates its own history.
The Waterhouse’s corroded exterior exudes palpable contempt for more populist luxury hotels. A cocoon of decaying concrete, armoured in corten steel and ash, hints at a dark past. Occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army throughout the 30s, the original structure suggests scars left upon Shanghai by hostile foreign powers. Controversial political subtext notwithstanding, it’s a powerful visual metaphor – one which local architects Neri & Hu were eager to explore when designing the property. Internal walls mark the inexorable passage of time: complete with cracks, fissures and peeling patches from The Waterhouse’s days as a dockyard warehouse.
Restored stone pavement dominates the lobby – the kind visitors are bound to see throughout traditional Shanghainese long tang. Such period specific features offer a contrast to the wholly original work undertaken by Neri & Hu. One such exemplar is the internal courtyard – outdoor seating for the lobby restaurant which also happens to visually anchor the remainder of the hotel. Guests relaxing there are treated to an impromptu canvas: walls bathed in clean arctic white, artfully punctuated by asymmetric windows; many leading to the property’s five internally facing courtyard suites.
With just 19 guest rooms spread across three floors, The Waterhouse provides ample space to play in – complete with all the comforts of modern living. Each room features an array of standardised amenities: L’occitane toiletries, Nespresso set-up and luxury linens to name a few. However, as with common areas throughout the hotel, the primary allure is thought-provoking interior design. The trifecta of building elements used on the hotel exterior – steel, wood and concrete – is repeated behind closed doors.
Guest bathrooms – channelling Nolan’s Batcave – feel almost subterranean: executed in a combination of anthracite concrete, warm timbers and stainless steel. In every private space, Neri & Hu have sought to maximise openness and visibility: if The Waterhouse’s mug expounds the designers’ primary interest in urban history; then its innards express a secondary fixation with inversion. Private terraces (often as large as their attendant suites) invite guests to look out onto public spaces; whilst the lobby and restaurant areas offer fleeting glimpses at the comings and goings of guests above.
In addition to a lobby restaurant located off of the hotel’s reception, The Roof @ Waterhouse offers a seasonal F&B option for those looking to take in the Pudong skyline (NOTE: during TVG’s stay, The Roof @ Waterhouse was closed for renovations. This venue shall reopen in early 2018). The hotel’s culinary direction is overseen by manager Christophe Capron – a veteran of Mayfair brasserie Le Boudin Blanc. With the assistance of Capron, Executive Chef Jonas Nöel prepares nouvelle cuisine emphasising freshness and locality. Dishes like potato dauphine (seasoned with Chinese caviar from Yunnan) sit comfortably alongside onsen style egg (dressed in a velouté of comte cheese). Design heads ought to be doubly comfortable, given that The Waterhouse’s three venues collectively house the largest collection of modern furniture in mainland China. From Ishikawa to Hans Wegner, half the joy of dining at The Waterhouse is in the handsomely appointed settings.
At its core, The Waterhouse is a polarising hotel. In the handsomely appointed guest rooms, otherwise minor oversights sometimes feel unforgivable – bargain bin audio equipment was a particularly unpleasant surprise – while Neri & Hu’s deliberately rough-hewn aesthetic is surely not for everyone. But for those who crave a tonic to the loud, vapid, interchangeable hotels crowding the Paris of the East, The Waterhouse can be relied upon to deliver fresh perspective.
Rooms from $220 – $375 AUD nightly
The Waterhouse is located at:
Maojiayuan Road No. 1-3, Zhongshan Road South
For more details, visit The Waterhouse at South Bund website.