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Doing Well and Doing Good with the Green Air Hotel


How architecture can reinvigorate the hospitality industry and the environment in China

By Zachary Edelson
August 12, 2014
Photo © Studio Twist

You don’t win the Radical Innovation Award without proposing to change an entire industry through design. Lip Chiong, principal of Studio Twist, won because his Green Air Hotels may revolutionize how the Chinese hospitality industry works and breathes.

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Chiong saw an opportunity for architecture and space-age science to come together to address two different challenges in one fell swoop: the troubled hotel industry and China’s severe pollution problems. In terms of the former, his Shanghai-based firm had extensive experience working in the hospitality industry before, both in refurbishing and designing brand new hotels. He saw that many hotels were struggling to set themselves apart and attract customers. “A typical renovation may be to rebrand the hotel through styling and aesthetics,” says Chiong, “but such a cosmetic touchup will not distinguish or give this type of hotel a truly competitive edge.” In terms of the latter, Beijing’s pollution rating can reach 775 when 300 qualifies as an emergency by the EPA, making health a real selling point. Consequently, his firm collaborated with Bill Wolverton, a NASA scientist, to design an ingenious solution: a literally green hotel that cleans its air using special filtering plants.

His “Green Air Hotel” can naturally filter the hotel’s air, thereby supplying a unique environmentally-friendly service that would also provide the hotel with a lush visual identity. Chiong teamed up with Wolverton to figure out the specific plants and atmospheric mechanics required to deliver a true “green air hotel.” The architects came across Wolverton’s work during the course of their research. “Dr. Wolverton was one of the first scientists working with NASA since the 70s,” said Chiong, “to study phytoremediation or the cleansing powers of plants, to be used in closed ecosystems such as the space stations.” Similar projects might be the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, or Biosphere 2 in Arizona : a natural environment without any of the high maintenance associated with HEPA systems and other intensive filtration systems. Most Chinese hotels utilize standard filtration systems that accompany air-handling units, “Often with less than satisfactory standards due to poor maintenance, “ says Chiong.

The proposed Green Air Hotel would host a wide variety of filtering. Their specific biological preferences for light levels and environmental conditions were taken into consideration, and with the help of Wolverton, appropriately placed throughout the hotel based upon air flow, natural and artificial light, and other factors. The architectural template seen here is based on an actual hotel refurbishment project by Studio Twist, located 1.5 hours outside Shanghai. This proposal features a soaring atrium of trees and greenery, a large collection of plants in every room, and further greenery throughout the hotel’s hallways and elsewhere. These plants would be monitored and watered by hotel staff on a daily basis while a specialist would also regularly visit for inspections. Chiong has already received interest in his concept from other designers and consultants who work with the hospitality industry in China. With over 100 entrants from 28 countries, the selection of the Green Air Hotel indicates that the hospitality industry is excited to use green design as a path to success in the future.


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