On the outskirts of Chiang Mai, in mountainous northern Thailand, the wooden architecture of the Old City transitions quietly into shingled pitched-roof houses thanks to a common material palette.
Tasked with inserting the contemporary Little Shelter Hotel into this verdant landscape, Bangkok firm Department of Architecture Co. envisioned something that was unconventional, yet deeply rooted in tradition. Likening the ubiquitous wooden shingles to fish scales, the firm created a shimmering structure perched on a peaceful stretch of the Ping River and clad in translucent shingles.
Riffing on the hipped roofs common to the area, the architects devised an asymmetrical form clad in wood shingles on the top and sides. On the road-facing facade, the wood pieces gradually blend out, giving way to luminous polycarbonate. The translucent shingles are custom made – cut from large sheets of the material – and the wood shingles are also bespoke: With sustainability and budget in mind, the team sourced teng wood offcuts from a local timber member manufacturer and cut the shingles from these.
“We determined the size of shingle based on the available timber, with consideration of market-size polycarbonate sheets, in order to use the materials with minimum waste,” says co-principal Amata Luphaiboon. Finding 10 by 35 centimetres to be the optimal dimensions for both modules, the architects then faced the challenge of mounting them. “We first tried conventional wood studs and steel screws, but it looked awful,” says Luphaiboon. “It was all seen from either side of the polycarbonate plane, so we decided we needed transparent fixing members.”
A standard polycarbonate cap, typically used to join panels of roofing sheet, was adapted to provide horizontal support for the shingles. And, after failing to locally source transparent screws of an appropriate size, the architects turned to the Internet: “We ordered them through Alibaba, the Chinese online shopping website,” Luphaiboon says.
During the day, the hotel glitters in the sun with a lustre that seems to move in tandem with the breeze in the surrounding trees. The inside is flooded with soft natural light, lending an indoor–outdoor feel to the 14 guest rooms, which overlook the river. At night, Little Shelter emits a gentle glow that beckons through the lush greenery, welcoming travellers who have left the beaten path in search of something a little different.
A luminous beacon designed to attract adventure-seekers.