Chiang Mai, Thailand – Bangkok-based Department of Architecture’s Little Shelter Hotel stands out among hospitality competitors in Chiang Mai, where traditional architecture dominates. To create a cohesive dialogue between old and new, the practice reworked one of the most customary building materials in the locale: wooden shingles, woven in with polycarbonate ones.
Little Shelter is evidence of the practice’s overarching aim to explore contemporary architecture that remains tethered to indigenous architecture.
The gradient bravado of the façade is mesmerizing, especially at night, when light shines through the clear shingles and turns the structure into a lantern. It reminds us of MVRDV’s Crystal Houses building in Amsterdam. In the mountainous, northern Thai city, the likeness indicates changing tides in the country’s design community. In the past decade, according to Department of Architecture principal Amata Luphaiboon, the general public has come to increasingly appreciate contemporary architecture.
That’s why guests aren’t just those coming from international destinations. They also hail from nearby provinces, from Bangkok and even Chiang Mai itself. Design-wise, the hotel provides something new for everybody, not just tourists.
Inside, the public area – where site-specific installations celebrating local handicraft live – was kept simple, to complement the exteriors and give a gallery-like feeling. And when one makes their way to one of the 14 guestrooms, so do the shingles. Here, they are mirrored, reflecting images that symbolize important places and events of Chiang Mai.
‘Most of the hotels in Chiang Mai that want to reflect the city's long history always simply copy traditional architectural forms or elements, especially hip roofing, wood carving decoration and window details, et cetera,’ remarked Luphaiboon. ‘This is why we wanted to focus on how to create an interesting dialogue between new and old materials, in a very contemporary architectural treatment.’