Little Shelter Hotel is located in a quiet corner of Chiang Mai, the former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. The city is rich with tradition, culture, and craft. The old cityscape and its vernacular architecture are characterized by wood structure with shingle pitched roof. The site is only a short drive from the 700-year-old ancient city wall. It is a small plot surrounded by large trees, facing the Ping river on the west and a quiet alley on the east.
The simple building volume is formed straightforwardly by set-back and height restrictions. The roof form inspired by traditional hip roofs as homage to the local architecture has a little reinterpretation with an asymmetrical form blending naturally with the surrounding tree top silhouette. The west side of the roof is partially carved out to become a roof deck for the guests to enjoy the panoramic river view at sunset.
Wood shingles were chosen as the main material for the facades for many reasons. It is a continuation of the local architectural character through the use of the predominant traditional material. Over the course of time, the material will age gracefully from the brownish wood color into a beautiful silver gray. The most interesting aspect of the material is in its system that has been well developed for hundreds of years. Small units of wood shingles are laid out like fish scales to become a watertight architectural plane. The design has explored a possibility to fuse new materials into the system to create a contemporary architectural surface yet deeply rooted in tradition.
The wood shingles are used entirely on the roof and side walls. On the river facade, polycarbonate sheets are cut into the same size as wood shingles and constructed to become the architectural translucent shingled facade. On the entrance façade, the upper portion is composed of solid wood shingles and they trickle down to mixed with the translucent polycarbonate shingles on the middle and lower part. Although working with the traditional shingle system, the uninterrupted translucency polycarbonate surface is achieved by a special detail design using translucent studs and special transparent screws to construct the wall.
The facade is glittering in the sun as the light touches different material grains, from the solid wood shingles to the different translucency levels of the polycarbonate shingles. The light passes through the facade and creates varying interior atmosphere at different time with the changing light condition of the sky. At night with the light from the inside, the building becomes a lantern glowing on the riverbank.
As the building skin allows enough light into the interior space, window openings are less necessary except at the entrance, the restaurant, and the guestroom terraces. The structure seems less of a building but becomes more like a piece of craftwork.
The white lobby-turned-café interior on the entrance side complements the exterior simplicity. The minimal materials give the space a stark, gallery-like feeling that accommodates the 10-meter-high site-specific installation inspired by the famous Boh–Srang umbrella of Chiang Mai. The installation interacts with the light coming through the translucent façade during the day, and casts intricate shadows onto ceiling plane at night. Contrasting to the white lobby, the restaurant and bar is dark gray. Another design of umbrella installation on the entire ceiling creates delicate and dramatic silhouettes expressing contemporary interpretation of the local handicraft.
The guest room interior is a place to rediscover Chiang Mai in a new angle, literally. Images of important places and events of Chiang Mai such as its ancient city wall, floating lantern festival, colorful Boh-Srang umbrella, pine forest, Pah-Chor canyon, etc., are placed on the entire ceiling. The images infinitely reflected onto the two long walls cladded with small mirror shingles, giving a surreal borderless sensation. The images are all different for each of the fourteen guest rooms. Each emanates different and unique feeling: tranquil, warm, cultured, mysterious, energetic, etc. suitable for any preferences of the guests.
Little Shelter is not only a place to sleep. It is an introduction of the past, the present, and probably the future of Chiang Mai to its visitors.