Picture it: the sixth longest river in the world and the fourth largest desert in China, in full view upon waking, and in what might be one of the remotest places on earth.
It's one of the best ways to wake up, and it can be done at Stray Bird, a boutique hotel in the “isolated oasis” of the Ningxia Autonomous Region in northwest China.
The hotel, comprised of only four cabins that can each accommodate a small family, is situated in a blossom orchard surrounded by the Yellow River and the sprawling Tengger Desert, with the river itself – the longest in China after the Yangtze – about 100 feet away. Nearby, trains amble on along, their tracks within view in the distance.
A specific requirement by the client was to create structures that “challenge traditional rammed earth architectural typography,” an approach involving the use of natural raw materials, such as earth or gravel, in constructing foundations. Instead, they requested Studio Qi to opt for “an ecological and airy structure.”
After transportation considerations, structural constraints, and more than 200 prototypes, the design firm zeroed in on steel frame modules measuring about 150ft by 50ft, with three of four walls featuring glass windows that accommodate the spectacular terrain itself into the design.
Inside, a pared back aesthetic with a neutral palette of whites, deep woods, and slate greys create an ambience of calm and quiet, allowing the best aspects of the natural environment to come to the fore. The cabins include an entrance deck at the back and a terrace out in front.
Attention to detail is strong: the interior spaces are programmed for three key ‘postures’, namely standing, sitting and sleep.
Standing, which pertains to practical activities – specifically in the bathroom and changing areas – is delegated to the centre. Sitting, referring to the living space, is on one end, while sleeping is in the master bedroom on the other end (although an additional mattress can be requested for the living room). The Hangzhou-based architects has also custom-designed doors between these spaces that can be hidden for an open-flow layout during the day, and used to create private rooms through the night.
The studio also intentionally chose last-island, a local brand, for the furniture, and refrained from incorporating artworks to give priority to the natural bounty outside.
“We chose not to include any artworks and left the walls blank,” says Shanshan Qi of Studio Qi. “We believe the visual focus is the grand nature. All furniture and fixtures are placed below eye level, leaving the space to be filled with light and air.”
Nonetheless, small thematic details have been added to the back, in the form of pre-fabricated metal panels that “allow for the continual interaction between the inside and outside, via light and shadow,” described the firm in a statement. The panels have been incorporated for a touch of privacy, with pear trees, date trees, reeds, and the hotel’s signature stray birds as motifs.
For those keen on spending a few days in this spectacular landscape, Stray Bird is located in Suji Yellow River, Dawan Village, Changle Town, Shapotou.