Like Philip Johnson’s Glass House, where the décor is what you see through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the Park Hyatt is ringed by spectacular views. Chi didn’t need to dazzle guests with flashy interiors. Instead he created a neutral palette—visual silence. The ground-floor entry to the hotel, with its 52-foot-high ceilings and brown or white walls, is strikingly monastic. There’s no background music, just a cool hush. In the hotel’s Living Room bar, where you can drink tea or wine, the décor is dominated by a view of the Jin Mao Tower and the landmark Pearl Television Tower (which looks like it came from a special disco-era Tinkertoy set), and beyond, the Bund. The furniture consists of simple chairs upholstered in taupe punctuated by a single sculpture by Xie Aige, a young Chinese artist. Other artworks, mostly by emerging Chinese artists, are strategically sprinkled throughout the hotel.
Although there have been plenty of skyscraper hotels in the United States and other parts of the world—the Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle in New York City comes to mind—the competition for the title of world’s tallest hotel is largely an Asian and Middle Eastern phenomenon. Today, real estate practice demands that developers squeeze the maximum amount of value out of every piece of land. Take, for example, the freestanding Ritz-Carlton that for a mere 14 years stood in Hong Kong’s Central district, near the old Star Ferry pier. In 2008, it was shuttered to make way for an office development. A new Ritz-Carlton will open atop a 118-story tower in Kowloon designed by KPF. When it debuts in 2010, the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong will become—you guessed it—the world’s tallest hotel.
Chi, of all people, has misgivings about the phenomenon. “Putting a hotel up top like a cherry on a cake—disengaging with the urban environment,” he reflects, “I sort of disagree with that.” Chi cites New York landmarks like the Plaza and the Waldorf as he waxes nostalgic about how these older hotels were built not just for their resident guests, but as public gathering places: “Once upon a time, people would come into a hotel and have afternoon tea on a Sunday,” he says. What’s interesting, though, is that while the new skyscraper hotels have less presence on the street, the public can still find them. The Park Hyatt’s afternoon tea service, for example, has become popular for locals, undeterred by the 87-story elevator ride. The Living Room was full on a Friday afternoon, with a lively Shanghainese crowd eating little tea cakes off tiered silver trays, drinking pots of Longjing tea, and snapping photos out the windows.
Maybe when Chi was talking about disengagement from the urban environment, he was really talking about himself. He asks me if I, during my stay in Shanghai, ever pushed the bedside button that lowers the shades. Well, no, I never did. I didn’t want to lose my boffo view for a second, even when I was sleeping. Chi, speaking like a consummate interior designer, describes the fabulous translucent-scrim effect created when the shades are drawn. He tells me that when he stays in the hotel, he exaggerates the cocoon feeling by immediately lowering them. “I isolate myself from the world,” Chi says. “That makes me very happy.” In response, I tell him about one of my happiest moments in the hotel. After a glorious 90-minute massage—the Complete Reset, billed as a cure for jet lag—I stood at the window of the treatment room with my massage therapist and got my first view of Shanghai after dark. All the buildings were lit in Technicolor, with barges on the Huangpu carrying giant video screens, looking like something out of Blade Runner. Feeling utterly reset, and more than a little stoned, I thought the panorama was the most glorious thing I’d ever seen. No way was I lowering the shades.
Park Hyatt Shanghai; 100 Century Ave.; 800/233-1234; parkhyatt.com; doubles from $732.