Park Hyatt Shanghai: an art gallery in the sky

23 Nov 2009 by Tom Otley

Despite being the highest hotel in the world and having unrivalled views of Shanghai, it’s the Park Hyatt’s art that draws most attention, says Tom Otley.

(The painting the receptionist is standing in front of is an untitled Shanghai cityscape by Chinese artist Paul Ching-Bor (born in Guangzhou, presently living and working in New York City.)

The Park Hyatt Shanghai, which opened in 2008, is currently the highest hotel in the world. Situated in the new financial district of Pudong, it is at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre (SWFC), a 101-storey tower and the tallest of several very tall buildings in this area. Pulling up at the bamboo-lined entrance is a little like arriving at a luxurious – and sparsely attended – modern art museum. The offices which occupy many of the floors of the tower have their own entrances elsewhere, allowing the zen-like calmness of the Park Hyatt brand to immediately impress itself upon you. At the time of visiting, I needed quite a bit of zen, since I had taken the metro out to Pudong, got off at what looked like the closest station, then walked around for 30 minutes staring up at the SWFC without finding a way to reach it. Busy roads, a lack of footpaths and the ever-present work going on to prepare Shanghai for its imminent World Expo 2010 means that it's best to arrive by car. Eventually I gave up walking around the attractive Pudong park, and jumped into a taxi.

Still, the arrival is unique. Smartly-dressed doormen in grey greet you and take your bags as you are shown through huge doors in a 16m high entrance, both daunting and intriguing, as it immediately turns right and becomes a corridor /  lower lobby area with the first of many art works on the walls. These aren't exactly happy, clappy, and this one is very strange, especially since, as I understand it, the artist is commenting on the pressures on modern workers to conform. Brave stuff for a "Chain" hotel, even one as five star and individual as the Park Hyatt.

"Standardisation Service" by Gao Xiaowu, born in Fujian, currently based in Beijing

If it's your first time, a member of staff will be accompanying you right to the doors of the fast elevator which then whizzes you up 400 metres-or-so to the 87th floor reception.

This 87th floor hosts a bar, a lounge area (called "The Living Room" as well as the Dining Room restaurant, which is split into areas for casual or more formal dining, though that seems to be more the style of service rather than the dress sense of those dining, since everyone is casual smart or smart). The interior of this gallery-like space is by Tony Chi, but what saves it from being cold is the attention to detail, such as warming leather lounge chairs, the artwork and a vision (or perhaps a brief) to create "a sophisticated modern-Chinese residence, designed with respect to traditional Chinese geometry and architecture, while providing all the comforts of a stately home." For once, this isn't understating the achievement, because considering you are hundreds of metres above the ground, the predominance of earth tones and natural materials is a wise choice, as is the arrangement of the hotel where these public areas are kept separate from the rooms on the lower floors, which are very calm and quiet.

From all of these areas there are views across Pudong and most of Shanghai, including across the Huangpu River to the Bund and the rest of the city. The hotel is not even the first - very high - Hyatt in the area. The top of the building that can be glimpsed in the photo below is the Jinmao Tower, an art deco take on a skyscraper with 88 storeys (eight is a very lucky number) which has the Grand Hyatt at its top. They aren't visible in this picture, but the pairs of seats along the window also have a telescope, to allow for hours of intensive sight-seeing.

At this point, most of the rest of the hotel (along with the whole of Shanghai) is beneath you. On the 86th floor, there are the function rooms (salons in Park Hyatt-speak), while on the 85th floor there is Water’s Edge, with its 20m infinity pool (pictured below), Wellness Studio and gym, as well as an internal tai-chi courtyard.

The rooms are on this level down to 87, and are monochromatic with clean lines and uncluttered views out to the sky. From the lobby level, a further lift takes you up to the 100 Century Avenue bar and restaurant complex on floors 91-93.

Here, on the 92nd floor, a striking art work hangs from the ceiling. The hundreds of white plastic (FRP) objects, all in white and appearing like porcelain are by Chinese artist Liu Jianhua. Called “Daily Fragments” they hang from the roof like an upmarket version of the bric-a-brac you see in English country pubs, though the artist says that “The objects should not bring sadness, sorrowness, but should convey happiness." She hopes that the guests "will think of their happiest times and happiest places.”

In a sense, it is invidious to select from the hundreds of artwork items in the hotel (there are too many to illustrate here, unfortunately). What's certain is that since the Park Hyatt will only hold the title of "World's Highest Hotel" until next year, when the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong opens towards the end of 2010 (Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong soars above the city 28/10/2009) having another USP is not a bad move, and the artwork here would take some beating, as would the intelligent design.

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