zhaoyang architects’ boutique hotel is a hidden urban oasis in china

zhaoyang architects’ boutique hotel is a hidden urban oasis in china

the sunyata hotel designed by zhaoyang architects in dali old town china is a boutique courtyard of yin and yang. the abnormal beauty of this project resulted from a few simple solutions to a series of complex project conditions. the design team was given only 390 square meters of space to work with and encountered further restrictions from the city’s rigorous building code. 


without scenic views to offer the hotel’s guests, the architects decided to create a hotel with an inward focus. they crafted an urban escape, like a hidden garden that’s a secret to the rest of the world. behind a façade of rusticated stones is a courtyard that takes guests by surprise, and welcomes them into the peaceful serenity of soft grey walls, highlighted by hints of green. the sporadic elements of the structures are tastefully brought together like a collage.

zhaoyang architects
all images by jonathan leijonhufvud



courtyards often have the flaw of being too dark at certain hours of the day; yet, the sunyata hotel doesn’t have this problem. zhaoyang architects designed a scheme that allowed transparency of light and vision, making the courtyard an open space where light is cast into all corners, and where shadows and sun mix in a soothing yin and yang. the glass planes are so expertly installed, that even a human would have doubts about their existence/knowing where the space begins and ends. 

zhaoyang architects
the back courtyard



the building is constructed almost entirely of concrete, which was cast with sandwiched timber boards giving the surface the effect of slender bricks. these concrete spaces weave in and out in a series of negative and positive space, leading up to the roof, which has a more traditional impression. 80 percent of the the roof is pitched with historic tiles due to building codes, giving the minimalist space further eclecticism.

zhaoyang architects
view from the tea room to the back courtyard



the irregular scheme of the courtyard creates a number of interesting rooms, no two alike. each little retreat of the 14 has a personalized charm, but all possess the ebb and flow of solid and void, mimicking the outside courtyard. the architects explained that they considered each individual hotel room as a different building to itself, therefore according to them, the hotel is like a little village, where the series of ad-hoc strategies created a unique user experience. wherever you go in the hotel, the playful division of space entreats your imagination. a room is never just a box, but a labyrinth where the next space is partially revealed, giving the rooms a sensation of openness and grandeur.

zhaoyang architects
view from the alley to the front courtyard through the tea pavilion

zhaoyang architects
looking from the tea pavilion to the front courtyard

zhaoyang architects
the view from the front courtyard to the alley

zhaoyang architects
the front courtyard

zhaoyang architects
looking from the lobby towards the front courtyard

zhaoyang architects
the entrance

zhaoyang architects
hotel room number 13

zhaoyang architects
the bed in hotel room number 15

zhaoyang architects
hotel room number 10

zhaoyang architects
the alley

zhaoyang architects
the front courtyard as seen from the second floor corridor

zhaoyang architects
the second floor corridor



project info:



project name: sunyata hotel in dali old town

architect: zhaoyang architects

design team: yang zhao, zhou wu, peken shang,

furnishing design: xu cai, guoping lai

concrete construction consultant: du qingshui construction

project location: dali old town, yunnan, china

design phase: july 2014 – january 2016

construction phase: january 2015 – january 2017

floor area: 540 sqm

client: travelling with hotel management co. ltd

photography: jonathan leijonhufvud

    have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
    all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

    comments policy
    LOG IN
    designboom's comment policy guidelines
    generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
    the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

    what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
    let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

    - please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
    - please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
    - please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
    - please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
    - please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
    (there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
    in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
    the best 100-200 entries too.)

    a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


    a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

    architecture news

    keep up with our daily and weekly stories
    503,288 subscribers
    - see sample
    - see sample
    designboom magazine