For its first foray into Southeast Asia, Waldorf Astoria chose Hong Kong–based designer André Fu to create an opulent hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.
Why Fu? He’s one of Asia’s top luxury designers, with awards such as Maison&Objet Asia’s Designer of the Year and Wallpaper∗s Top 20 Interior Designers. He took on the challenge of integrating Waldorf Astoria’s aesthetic heritage, rooted in Art Deco style. Then Fu infused the design with a sense of modernity and elements of Thai culture. We spoke with him about his inspiration for Waldorf Astoria Bangkok.
How did Waldorf Astoria approach you on this project?
I was invited almost eight years ago, in 2012, to work on the project. The team was seeking a unique design vision that can genuinely translate the quintessential Waldorf Astoria experience in a context that is relevant to Bangkok today. Given the steep landscape of hospitality offerings in the city and the fast evolution of the city’s own dynamics, I accepted the challenge.
What was your process in conceptualizing the design?
My inspiration for the hotel was born out of my memories of visiting Waldorf Astoria New York as a child. My vision seeks to juxtapose three distinct qualities into an unforgettable hotel experience: the Art Deco design that is visually represented at Waldorf Astoria New York, a contemporary expression of Thai culture, and a remarkable architectural experience that evokes motion and fluidity.
How did you create a sense of place rooted in Thai culture?
Thai culture is the core influence. However, I did not wish for any literal solutions. Instead, I wanted to tap deeper into an inner expression of what Bangkok feels like to me. To echo the organic architecture of the hotel’s façade, I infused the silhouettes of Thai dance movement, and I translated this sense of motion throughout. We collaborated with a local graphics team to research the profile of the hand movements, specifically how the fingers articulate particular silhouettes that have very specific meanings. The result is a series of intricate bronze screens and curvilinear stone walls that appear to fold and unfold.
What were other Thai influences on your design?
I was inspired by authentic Thai lace, which I translated into a series of bespoke bronze metallic screens in the lifts and guest rooms. Then, there is the traditional Thai architectural silhouette—more specifically, the ornate triangular roof profiles of Thai temples—which inspired the design of the custom-made chandeliers in our grand Magnolia Ballroom. Finally, the lighting installation in the middle of the Front Room restaurant was inspired by the Loi Krathong lantern festival, a strong visual identifier of Thailand.
How did you incorporate classic Waldorf Astoria architecture?
I wanted to capture the prominent Art Deco motif and the formal sense of visual balance from the original Waldorf Astoria in New York. Many specific design moments are inspired by the New York outpost. For instance, the arched walkway within The Brasserie is a tribute to the original arcade in New York. There’s also the clock backdrop in Peacock Alley lounge, which is a signature Waldorf Astoria space, referencing the iconic Goldsmiths’ Company of London clock that sits in the Waldorf Astoria New York lobby.
One of Waldorf Astoria’s trademarks is a strong sense of arrival—how did you approach this for Bangkok?
We placed a strong focus on the arrival experience by designing a special pair of 21-foot-tall bronze curvilinear screens to frame the space. They are a tribute to the silhouette of the traditional Thai hand greeting, where people bow with their hands placed together near the forehead—the screens are designed to symbolically welcome guests into the property. Then, we incorporated a lot of greenery to create a welcoming space. The backdrop of the main lobby is enveloped in greenery, and in our upper lobby on level 16, the aerial view of Bangkok’s skyline in combination with the intriguing landscaping of the neighborhood Royal Bangkok Sports Club adds to the delightful arrival experience.
What was the most challenging part of designing this property?
The organic and slender shape of the site prompted a huge challenge to the initial design conception. The original Waldorf Astoria’s architecture was Art Deco, and it displayed the style’s typical rectilinear design. But the Magnolia Building, which houses the Bangkok hotel, is all about curves. Unfortunately, curves don’t work with rectilinear design. So, the challenge was how to make rectilinear design elements fit into curvilinear profiles. The solution was to use screens and stone walls that align with the undulations but allow for stricter geometry within their patterns.
What elements of the hotel’s design are you most proud of?
I enjoy the sculptural quality of the spaces. The curved stone profiles found throughout the hotel are created with an extensive volume of solid marble blocks that were hand-carved and polished into very fluid profiles. This is an intriguing blend of masculinity, sensuality and purity. At Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, we engaged many local talents to collaborate with us to ensure there is a balance of authenticity and innovation, not only in our design but in the entire experience at the hotel.
Check out André Fu’s Thai inspiration by booking your stay at Waldorf Astoria Bangkok.