André Fu on dance and architecture, and how a beautifully curated ballet performance livened up The Upper House that he conceived more than a decade ago.
Architecture and choreography share a great deal of similarities as expressive mediums, and as forms of spatial art that fashion an artistic dialogue between visitors and space.
Considered in terms of choreographed body movements, architecture as a construction practice takes on a whole new meaning, elevating not only spatial awareness, but also the sensual experience of an interior. This is evident in the Upper House’s latest art initiative as part of The House Collective’s inaugural art programme “Encounters Across Cultures”.
Spanning four brands from The House Collective family – namely The Upper House in Hong Kong; The Opposite House in Beijing; The Temple House in Chengdu; and The Middle House in Shanghai – the campaign weaves together multiple disciplines of dance in accordance to architectural styles and the characters of each city, which include ballet for The Upper House in Hong Kong, hip hop for The Temple House in Chengdu, and contemporary dance for the other two properties.
Since its launch in 2009, The Upper House has been an epitome of Asian minimalism and understated elegance – qualities that underline the essence of ballet.
Through the terminology performed by ballerina Hennes Yuen, from the Hong Kong Ballet, the dance – conducted by choreographer Patsy Lo – responds to the architectural details of the House, while encouraging visitors and viewers to slow down and dive into the surroundings.
The ballet choreography is documented in a video in parallel with the hip hop performance presented in Chengdu, which is showcased through a curated installation that takes pride of place at the House.
We caught up with André Fu, the creative force behind The Upper House, the concept behind, and the relationship between, choreography and architecture.
How does the performance enhance the Upper House experience for visitors, and bring its architectural details and design elements to life?
I still remember vividly my very first visit to the site in 2006 – the site that is now The Upper House. The space was highly challenging, with an escalator right in the entrance lobby, for example. Back then, I came up with the idea of creating an “upward journey” to conjure a sense of discovery as guests progress upwards through the hotel, with a feeling of movement as they experience different parts of the hotel.
Sometimes they pause to admire an artwork, and sometimes they must walk up some steep steps to reveal another layer of the experience, like the way I have conjured up a sense of discovery of the lawn. I believe when the house team came up with the idea of a dance performance in the hotel, it was to create a visual narrative, an interpretation of my original vision of the “journey”.
Why choose ballet – out of all the forms of performance dance – to represent The Upper House for the campaign?
My sister is a dedicated lover of ballet and so I was always taken to ballet performances as a child. The poetic and refined quality of the ballet dancer seems to enhance and promote a visual juxtaposition with the architecture of The Upper House.
Is there a narrative weaved into the choreography that goes in sync with the design language of the interiors?
Before the shoot, I had a prolonged conversation with the choreographer Yuh Egami to explain the thought processes I’d had when I was working on the design of the hotel back then. Also, I was able to explain some of my thinking behind the newly completed André Fu Suite and Salisterra. I trust the dialogue helped to provide Yuh with an insider’s view of the hotel’s design and perhaps served as a source of inspiration.
It’s an interesting idea to bring together two contrasting architectures through the performances of two contrasting choreography styles which, when combined, don’t look out of place. Do you often apply such concepts into your design projects using other forms of art, for example, art installations, or even digital arts (animated projections/videos), as bridges to connect different areas?
Art has always played an important part in my overall designs for hospitality spaces. I want art to create a dialogue with the design. I guess when I first started commissioning art pieces, it was to harmonise with the space, and now I want to choose pieces that juxtapose with the space to provoke a higher level of visual engagement. I particularly enjoy sculpture – how it plays with light and shadow.
NFT has become a buzzword. Do you see a growing trend of digital art having a bigger role to play when designing a space, be it residential or commercial?
I think it is a new form of artistic expression with endless and exciting possibilities. The use of digital art – in its appropriateness – would have to relate to the nature of the project, its context and the narrative behind it.