In China, water towns or canal towns are known for their peculiar architecture — a result of attempts to build around or in dialogue with their challenging environment. These communities are concentrated around the Jiangnan area, which boasts an extensive network of rivers and waterways — most famously, the Yangtze river. Located only an hour away from Shanghai, Wuzhen Water Town is an especially popular tourist destination — making it the perfect setting for an unconventional new hospitality project: a boutique hotel entitled Chapter and Verse.
Designed by New York and Shanghai-based firm New Practice Studio, the hotel may call itself boutique — but it’s not exactly small. Built over 5,000 square metres, the six-storey mid-rise fits 31 rooms — ranging from compact singles and roomy doubles to a large loft with a private garden.
For design inspiration, the firm drew from the hotel’s context. China’s canal towns boast a distinct architectural profile, revolving around bridges, eaves, waterfront patios and stilts. Residences built above waterways boast their own set of features — many of which can be found echoed in the studio’s plans for the hotel.
Chapter and Verse’s design centres around a large atrium, with a series of floating bridges connecting to the guest rooms. In the lobby, biophilic furniture in amorphous shapes and muted colours add to the grounded atmosphere. Handcrafted plaster walls and custom terrazzo floors bring warmth to the sprawling space — while a sculptural spiral staircase guides visitors to the upper levels. According to the firm, these thoughtful interior details were meant to “awaken a sense of ritual for travellers,” inviting them to slow down and reflect.
The guest rooms are staggered laterally, allowing each visitor and each room an optimal view of the river — while on the other side of the hotel, a facade facing the street and enveloped by wooden screens filters natural light, creating an ambiguous relationship between the exterior and interior.
In addition to its guest rooms, the hotel also boasts two private villas — one of which will double as a workshop space and atelier for lectures, events, and art exhibits. Part of an ongoing effort to revitalize Southern China’s historic riverside, the new space promises to attract a new generation of design-minded tourists with an astute sensibility for context and community-inspired experiences.
Standing on the floating bridges that link the hotel’s rooms to its hallways and public space, visitors are reminded of the town’s history and context. All that’s missing is the water below.
In Wuzhen, the new Chapter and Verse Hotel provides a contemporary spin on the traditional architecture of canal towns.