Tadao Ando’s Shinmonzen hotel in Kyoto is a new classic
Respectful of the past but with a unique vision of the present, the Shinmonzen hotel designed by Tadao Ando in Kyoto should be a success for years to come
Its facade ticks all the boxes of a traditional Kyoto machiya townhouse, from the low-rise symmetry of its dark wood to its curved tiles. Enter the Shinmonzen, however, and the atmosphere veers into the future: a long hallway, sharply bordered by a sweep of raw concrete on one side and vertical wooden slats on the other, sinks deep into the unexpectedly modern building.
Heritage and contemporary creativity clash in a playful way at this new hotel in Kyoto’s historic Gion district. Despite its outward appearance, it was built from scratch, designed by none other than Tadao Ando, and imagined by hotelier Paddy McKillen as the distant little sister of Villa La Coste (W * 214), the elegant temple of modern art and architecture from the south of France.
Shinmonzen hotel by the river
Overlooking the serene Shirakawa River, the Shinmonzen mixes notes of Kyoto aesthetic with its European DNA, thanks to Ando’s architecture and Rémi Tessier’s interiors, alongside, as in the French outpost, of an epic collection of contemporary art. “I fell in love with Kyoto 20 years ago,” says McKillen – or Paddy-san, as everyone calls him in Kyoto. “It was really a love of Japan, of the people, of the culture, omotenashi (hospitality), and the arts, which made me want to open a hotel here. We have always wanted something gem in the middle of Gion that conforms to the tradition of the surrounding architecture. I was inspired by the idea of a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, and asked Mr. Ando to design a contemporary version. ‘
For Ando, the hotel’s starting point, built on the site of a former parking lot, balanced an exterior sensitive to its Kyoto surroundings with an interior evoking a sense of Europe. Gion is designated as a traditional and unspoiled neighborhood by the city of Kyoto, Ando explains. “So we were forced to create a wooden facade and Japanese tiles called kawara. Therefore, we tried to design the exterior in traditional Japanese style, but a completely different new modern world can be found inside. ‘
The Tooki suite, with tatami on the floor, shoji screens and longpré sycamore headboard
A lonely black slit noren curtain with a calligraphic white ‘S’ marks the entrance, leading into the long contemporary interior hallway, inspired by a roji, the narrow walkway found between two Machiya townhouses. “We designed it in a modern way with exposed concrete and natural light through the side grille,” says Ando.
Inside the hotel, exhibitions of contemporary works of art, which will change regularly, instantly steal the show – like that of Louise Bourgeois Pink days, a spot by Damien Hirst and the moon pots by Yoon-Young Hur in the downstairs lobby at Mary McCartney’s Geisha photography, the dynamics of Kohei Nawa Direction, Annie Morris’ Canvas and thread and a serene blue washi artwork from Makoto Ofune, in the hallways and rooms.
The nine suites are spacious and contemporary, with Western-style beds or low-tatami-mat futons, all with private balconies overlooking the river, planted with Irish moss and Provencal-style jasmine. Interior touches include sliding paper shoji screens and angular ceramic wall vases by Takayuki Watanabe, as well as naturally-carved sycamore headboards and tables by Longpré. Monolithic marble expanses in shades of pink, green, or beige line the bathrooms, alongside hinoki wood tubs and bento-style storage cabinets by Kyoto bamboo masters Kohchosai Kosuga.
Hints of Villa La Coste are found in subtly shared design details, such as the silver-plated door handles made in France, the white Ploh bathrobes, and the 500-thread count organic cotton linen from Pedersoli (the room keys are also engraved. of a picture of the late Erin, McKillen’s beloved dog). “Each of the nine rooms has a completely different design and unique character,” says Ando. “It’s a good balance between West and East.”
The ‘Enzo’, a red lacquer chair designed by hotelier Paddy McKillen and produced by District Eight
The hotel officially opened in December 2021 after a false start, having only opened one night in April 2020 (with inaugural guests including artists Hiroshi Sugimoto and Takashi Murakami) before closing due to the pandemic. It will also soon open a restaurant run by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, designed by New Yorker Stephanie Goto; a pastry shop at the edge of the street; and a spa in the basement with a resident reiki master. As Ando says: “This hotel was born under difficult and complicated circumstances. Hope guests can find peace here and enjoy a traditional yet modern Kyoto experience. ‘ §