We can thank ancient innovators for putting the arch into architecture. No one knows for sure who invented this ingenious structural form but the Romans are credited with exploiting its potential, enabling the construction of domes vast in scale and ornate in detail. Without arches, the world might never have seen the Taj Mahal or the Arc de Triomphe. An architectural technique that boomerangs every so often into interior design, the arch is having a moment right now. The appearance of arches in residential, commercial and hospitality projects is no surprise to Ed Ng, principal of AB Concept in Hong Kong, who used their curvaceous forms throughout his design for the new Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Xiamen, in China’s Fujian province, which opened in December as Hilton Worldwide’s fourth Waldorf Astoria property in China. In construction, he notes, arches are elementary. “Back in the old days, if you wanted to build something up high that could transform strength from the horizontal to the vertical, physics dictated that you used an arch,” he says. The current fashion for archways began about five years ago, he adds. Although modern construction techniques mean the world does not need archways as much any more, people still like them. ‘Students won’t want to go home’ – first of a kind HKUST residences Ng’s rationale at the Waldorf Astoria was an appreciation of the arch as a symbol of classic elegance. There is also an element of cultural context. Although arches were rarely used in traditional Chinese residential construction – where houses were mainly built of wood, a material not conducive to forming curves – the trading port of Xiamen features eclectic architecture from all over Europe. “So arches have a direct resemblance to Western influences in the city,” Ng says. Their first appearance at the Waldorf Astoria is front and centre, where the widest in a trio of elongated, tapered and chamfered bronze arches invites guests to enter. It is bookended by two slightly smaller archways intended as access for everyone else, such as concierge staff. “We wanted to set the tone right at the entrance,” Ng says. The designer loves the natural flow of movement that the symmetry of arches allows. Interpreting them in a way Ng describes as “very modern and minimalistic”, he used different materials to highlight the form. In the library, the feature arch is framed in marble; in the lobby lounge and bar areas, wooden panelling is used. This layering technique helps to create “rhythms” in the space so the eye will naturally jump through one arch to another in an interesting and powerful way. Architect Frank Leung, principal and founder of Hong Kong studio Via, also appreciates the simple geometric language of arches. Historically, arches have served different purposes. While Roman arches were essential for infrastructure such as bridges, the slender and pointed Gothic arch and the rotund Tudor arch became grand features of buildings like cathedrals. In modern construction, Leung says, arches add domestic softness to a space. For the Causeway Bay flagship of French fragrance brand Goutal, which was completed in 2019, Via carved three slim arches into the limestone facade, giving the shopfront an elegant street appeal and defining the entrance. At the Wan Chai flagship of lifestyle store House of Madison, opened in July 2020, the studio used a series of interior archways. “With House of Madison we were given a flat, almost 6,000-square-foot (557-square-metre) floor plate where we knew the contents would be multiple brands of home products,” Leung says. “The prime idea for us was to create within the two-storey space a modern extension to the traditional shophouses seen around Wan Chai, but which feels a bit like a luxe penthouse.” Retail space benefits from intimate, focused, almost choreographed scenes, one frame after another, Leung says. “We wanted to guide people from one experience to the next, without a fixed pathway like most traditional furniture showrooms. Arches enabled us to define zones without making it very stiff.” Although they differ in height and width, the six House of Madison arches are all made from a semi-transparent mesh – which gives them a 2D appearance to anyone passing through – anchored in ultra-slim bronze frames. The curve of each was precisely measured to allow a play on light to complement the items on display. As well as the actual arches, Leung continued the association in several other places by attaching arch-shaped metal trims to the wall. Even if it is just an illusion, the arch can bring a sense of grand architecture into a space, he says. In a residential project by Patrick Lam Kwai-pui, founder of Sim-Plex Design Studio, arches were a clever solution for a problematic remodelling. The owners of a 1970s Kowloon City tenement wanted a more open-plan feel, but the columns and beams inside the 540-square-foot flat had to be retained for structural purposes. These became the spine of a pair of graceful cabinetry arches which seamlessly integrated the living/dining room, semi-open kitchen and bathroom. The designer took the opportunity to include storage in the arches – some open, for books and ornamental display, and some concealed. “Not only do these arches camouflage the column structure, but they also integrate daily functions and provide a symbolic meaning,” Lam says, referring to the use of arches as a supportive and protective barrier in old Chinese architecture, exemplified in the Great Wall of China. The archway, for me, is a symbol of a portal leading from one place, or concept, to another Andrew Choy, founder and director, Atelier C+ Interior designer Rosheen Rodwell has figured out why arches are trending. “Particularly in Hong Kong where your spaces tend to be quite boxy, introducing curves is very in line with a gentler way of living,” she says. With developers often not primarily concerned about user comfort, she adds, it also “differentiates a flat that’s been really well thought about from one that hasn’t”. In a Pok Fu Lam refurbishment nearing completion, Rodwell modernised the space by removing walls, but she didn’t leave it at that. Creating a wide, sweeping archway between the kitchen and the entrance achieved a “soft, beautiful and contemporary look with a bit of a mid-century nudge”, she says. The theme was continued with arched-shaped detailing in the master dressing room. In another recent residential project, also in Pok Fu Lam, Rodwell managed to create an arched effect without demolishing anything. Her solution for turning the cavernous living room into a cosier, calmer space was simply to paint a giant arch on the 3.5m-high wall. Kenny Kinugasa-Tsui, co-founder of design studio Bean Buro, says arches are a favourite architectural technique for creating a sense of layering and framing a space. He and fellow co-founder Lorène Faure have used them in several recent projects, including the design of a 1,700-square-foot family apartment in Repulse Bay, where even mirrors are in complementary shapes. “The concept was to create various thresholds to blur the boundaries between the different spaces of the apartment,” Kinugasa-Tsui says. “Large gestures of arched portals inserted at the divisions between the dining room, lounge and reading room create a layered effect, allowing the space to feel differentiated while letting the natural daylight filter through the areas.” When Atelier C+ was assigned the remodelling of Phillip Wain International’s health and well-being clubhouse for women in Causeway Bay, arches seemed a perfect fit for the design studio’s envisaged “secret garden” concept. “The archway, for me, is a symbol of a portal leading from one place, or concept, to another,” says Andrew Choy, founder and director of Atelier C+. At the entrance, an archway made of anodised steel with a golden tinge is paired with Italian stucco plastering and a hand-painted Victorian botanical mural by Hong Kong-based artist Elsa Jean de Dieu, as if it was a “cleansing buffer zone” for customers as they walk inside. Similar arches then follow, guiding the customers into the wet areas and the refreshment lounge. Choy believes archways are “timeless”, hence their recurrent appeal. He expects they will be used even more as technological advances allow makers to be more innovative in reimagining one of the oldest architectural techniques used in so many modern-day applications.