Leading luxury

The Rise of Hotels Designed by Superstar Architects

Hotels have provided a group of super famous architects a blank canvas for innovative design

Architects are household names. Hotels are big business. One sure way to make any new hotel or renovation project memorable (and more valuable) is to attach an architect of superstar proportions to add their signature style.

As Foster + Partners’ The Murray hotel opens in Hong Kong, we look at hotels that have used starchitects to elevate their profile, or to make a serious design statement.

The Murray, Hong Kong, China

the murray hotel trends

When The Murray hotel opened in early 2018, it marked British architect Norman Foster’s third project in the city.

The Murray, the flagship property of Niccolo Hotels, involved renovating a dowdy 1960s government building on the southern fringes of Hong Kong’s Central district and turning it into a 336-room, 25-storey luxury hotel to rival its neighbours the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental. The renovation has been so successful that The Murray was voted Refurbishment of the Year in the 2018 Rics Awards.

For this conservation project, Wharf Hotels, owner of The Murray, enlisted Foster + Partners.

The architecture firm enlarged the recessed windows, which are carefully orientated to maximise the light but minimise Hong Kong’s tropical heat, to make them all almost perfect squares. It added luxe corner suites with impressive views of the downtown skyline, and totally redesigned the ground level of the building. Now, there’s a generous outdoor wraparound terrace and a mezzanine garden level where an employee carpark used to be. A large cassia tree juts through a paving slab by the entrance: conserving it was part of the heritage deal struck with the Hong Kong government.

The Murray

The tree is emblematic of the property’s location. Set back from Queens Road Central, The Murray has – uniquely for a Hong Kong luxury hotel – views of Hong Kong Park and the Peak. From almost every room, there’s greenery outside. Even from the elegant Tai Pan dining room on the garden level, a tall green wall hides the traffic on Cotton Tree Drive.

The Murray Hotelcredit: Mike Pickles
Mike Pickles

The interiors – for which Foster + Partners had free reign – are worthy of one of Hong Kong’s finest hotels. Shiny white floors contrast with deep black marble tables and gold accents everywhere; while the hotel’s impressive roster of art (note South Korean artist Bahk Seon-ghi’s chandelier-like hanging charcoal work in the vaulted entrance hall) gives it a playful edge.

Another fun addition will follow in late summer – the Popinjays rooftop bar, with a large outdoor terrace. You’ll get a slice of Victoria Harbour, but the views over Hong Kong Island’s hills are what you’ll sip cocktails to.

The Murray was a more luxurious project than either of Foster’s previous two designs in a city he has a long-standing relationship with: the 1998 opening of Hong Kong International Airport and Central’s Meccano-like HSBC headquarters. The latter, which involved feng shui geomancer, shared one key design feature with The Murray: an upper-floor bar with views over the city (which has since closed).


Public, New York

Public New York.credit: Nikolas Koenig
Nikolas Koenig

Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning Herzog & de Meuron has a number of high-profile projects to its name (London’s Tate Modern and Hong Kong’s upcoming Tai Kwun cultural project in Central among them). It joined another big name: Ian Schrager, founder of the Morgans Hotel Group and the boutique Edition brand. Schrager commissioned Herzog & de Meuron to design his new ‘tough luxe’ Public hotel in midtown New York City, which opened last summer. Herzog & de Meuron is also working on Schrager’s 160 Leroy and 40 Bond projects in New York.


Me by Meliá, Dubai

ME Hotel Dubai

Set to debut in the UAE’s glitz city later this year, Zaha Hadid’s Me by Meliá has all the hallmarks of the revolutionary British architect. The luxury hotel, within the new Opus building in downtown Dubai, is the only property with her designs both inside and outside – playing to her signature vision of ‘interconnectedness’. It was designed by Hadid herself before her death in 2016, and the teardrop-shaped hole punched in the centre of the building showcases another Hadid signature: curves.


Ayre, Oviedo

Ayre Oviedono credit

Santiago Calatrava is perhaps best known for his functional bridges and stations (remember New York City’s vaulted World Trade Center Transportation Hub?) and the egg-shaped City of Arts and Sciences museum and performance venue in his home city, Valencia. But it’s the lively student town of Oviedo, in northern Spain, where you’ll find his only hotel project. Ayre Hotel Oviedo is embedded in Calatrava’s futuristic convention centre, and the interiors of the hotel are no less space-age, with clean, minimalist design.


Cathay Travell Book


Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
Discovery Book Silkroad Book