A Chinese Sugar Mill From the 1960s Becomes a Cave-Inspired Hotel

A Chinese Sugar Mill From the 1960s Becomes a Cave-Inspired Hotel

By Michele Koh Morollo
Set amidst the Karst mountains of Guilin in China’s Guangxi province, this modernized resort makes the most of its former industrial site.

Designed by Chinese firms Vector Architects with interiors by Horizontal Space Design, Alila Yangshuo is a 117-room hotel that's housed within a renovated 1960s sugar mill.

An old sugarcane dock was turned into a swimming pool, which offers views of the Karst mountains and Li River from a distance. 

Much of the sugar mill’s original brickwork and concrete structures were retained and restored. 

To create a few new wall sections, founding partner of Vector Architects Dong Gong created hollowed-out brickwork inspired by the sugar blocks produced in China in the 1920s. 

Dong designed a special machine to produce the customized hollow bricks, which are made of local sandstone. 

Five tradesmen worked for more than six months to hand-make each of the new 60,000 hollowed bricks that were used to create sections of the hotel's exterior and interior walls. 

Red volcanic rock that was discovered during the construction process was ground and mixed into the terrazzo floors, and also used throughout the walls, adding subtle red hues to the space. 

This ground volcanic rock powder was also used to create the pottery featured in the guest rooms. Slabs of local clay with etchings were used for the bathroom walls. 

The town of Yangshuo near Guilin is known for its limestone hills, caves, and tunnels. In fact, bamboo scaffolding is commonly used by locals to climb up the tunnels into the caves. 

This topography of hills and caves guided the design of the passageways, which undulate through mysterious corridors. There's also a sculptural spiral staircase that descends into the cavernous Spa Alila

For one of the new guest room wings, Dong took inspiration from the caves and bamboo shoring when placing the installation art that’s suspended in the voids of the common areas. 

Light-colored wooden floors, exposed ceiling beams, marble bathrooms, and a warm, earthy color scheme fill the interiors with a stylish, urban look. 

The hotel’s bar, which is sited where the sugar press once stood, was given a 1960s industrial makeover by Horizontal Space Design and includes a red circular lounge that's sunken into the middle of the space.

"Alila Yangshuo is located on a natural site, so I had the opportunity to think of how the environment can impact and influence the architecture and its function," says Dong. 

Project Credits:

-Architecture: Vector Architects

-Builder: Guangxi Construction Engineering Group No. 1 Construction

 -Structural engineer and landscape design: Guilin Institute of Architectural Design Co., Ltd. 

 -Lighting: KLAASEN Lighting Design

 -Interior design: Horizontal Space Design

 -Other collaborators: Shenzhen JS M&E Engineering Design Co., Ltd.


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