The Hilton Wenchang, in Hainan.

Why modernist design works even on an idyllic China beach

Darrell Long, of architects Hirsch Bedner Associates, on what sets the new Hilton Wenchang in Hainan apart, being a modernist nerd, and working with Qatar royalty

What’s special about the Hilton Wenchang hotel, which you just completed on an idyllic beach in Hainan? “Instead of a typical hotel it is broken up into 13 buildings, connected by walkways and landscaping that is tropical and beautiful. It was influenced by South Asian architecture and built into the site, not on top of it, taking advantage of the natural ravines.”

Darrell Long
Describe your design philo­sophy. “We’re absolute design nerds. We think the modernistic approach to design is the best; that form and function are everything. Beautiful design is about the way something func­tions. If you take a building, turn it upside down, and shake the heck out of it, what you’re left with is the actual design – not what falls out.”

What was it like to work for royalty in the Middle East? “I worked on a residence for the crown prince of Qatar many years ago. More recently, one of his family members asked me to come in on the JW Marriott in Doha. In the West, developers will say, ‘This is how much money we have and this is what we will do with it.’ In the Middle East, and some parts of China, budgets don’t come to mind. Ultimately, we are attracted to clients who are active in the process, who pick up the phone and say, ‘I love this, I hate this.’ That’s when the best work comes out.”

A guestroom at the Hilton Wenchang.

Did you always want to be a designer? “I wanted to be a musician, but I had zero rhythm. I grew up on the beach in Virginia, in the United States. My father was an aeronautical engineer, my brother is a nuclear engineer, my sister is an electrical engineer. My mother figured out I had different interests and started taking me to museums and the opera.”

So it worked out? “We’re not curing cancer. We’re here to make people’s lives a little better. We’re thinking about design differently, using our intelligence and digging a little deeper as opposed to scratching the surface.”