North elevation

Stepping deep into the euphoria of Macau’s City of Dreams, dubbed the Las Vegas of the East, I find myself grappling with feelings of confusion and excitement — all at the same time. Around me, there are others who also seem to be sporting a similar bewildered look. But unlike me, they’re too preoccupied with taking pictures of their surrounds with their smart phones as they try to impress the social media network with their best #pictureoftheday. As I attempt to make sense of the heady bustle, I hear a woman’s voice calling out to me.

“You must be the journalist!” enthuses project director and associate director of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), Viviana Muscettola. She’s the person in charge of the highly anticipated Morpheus Hotel in Macau’s City of Dreams Resort, which was designed by the legendary Iraqi-British architect, Dame Zaha Hadid and is due for opening next year.

The City of Dreams complex is an integrated resort in the Cotai Strip reclamation area in Macau. The reclaimed land between Taipai and Coloane islands in Macau stretches 5.2 square kilometres and is the new venue for gaming and tourism with a myriad of activities, including shopping and theatre shows, games and relaxation all in one place.

Excitedly, Muscettola elaborates that the new hotel brand Morpheus is designed to satisfy and inspire the dreams of tomorrow’s most sophisticated international travellers. The intricately-elegant tower that embodies Morpheus is the world’s first free-form exoskeleton high-rise.

Facade detail

Hadid’s inspiration

The late Zaha Hadid first travelled to China in 1981 in the early days of her career. She was struck by the diversity and beauty of the natural landscapes. Visiting many cities from north to south, she studied the art and architecture of each city. She was intrigued with the way traditional Chinese painting layered space into infinity, giving a sense of unexplored depth and boundless freedom.

She also admired how Chinese gardens manipulated and integrated intensive elements of nature. Hadid was further fascinated by the techniques that enabled traditional Chinese architecture to be embedded within the great theatre of its natural landscapes. As each of these elements began to inspire her works in China, the result could be seen permeating the other surrounding cities that she touched, which included Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Hong Kong and most recently, Macau.

“ZHA was approached by Melco Resort & Entertainment to design the resort’s final tower, which would host an additional 100 hotel rooms, casino facilities and retail spaces in 2012. The initial meeting between Melco’s chairman, Lawrence Ho and Zaha Hadid was to lay the foundation for the project. Both shared the same creative vision; they had an unwavering belief of the future and everyone in the team continued to work on the same ethos,” recalls Muscettola.

Facade detail night

Now in its final stages of construction, the ideation is finally beginning to take shape. The narrative is clear — a fluidly-poetic structure that will be the new landmark for the boisterous ‘Sin City’. Like many of Hadid’s buildings, the Morpheus Hotel also tells its own story. The duality between rigour and fantasy is beautifully portrayed through the exoskeleton steel structure that illustrates a different narrative from the interior spaces.

Once it’s completed next year, the Morpheus will be the world’s first high-rise hotel supported by a free-form exoskeleton steel construction, which accommodates a mixture of programmes. Within one coherent building envelope, the building features three sky bridges and five different glazing systems, with a non-repetitive double-curved aluminium-cladding system encasing the exoskeleton.

“The sculptural form and composition of the Morpheus is undeniably intriguing as it doesn’t refer to traditional architectural typologies. A simple volume is carved by a series of voids into a complex form. The aesthetic effect of the voids is unique and it offers a variety of exciting internal spaces,” shares Muscettola.

As the evening sun casts its rich golden rays onto the external surface, the curvaceous swelling form — where the two towers meet — makes the building look as if it’s transmuting in slow motion, dazzling with its majestic patina.

Lobby atrium

Of Rigour and Fantasy

Muscettola explains that ZHA initially began the design process by exploring the option of an extruded box with voids in the middle and two cores for a vertical circulation. “The requirement for a large podium and the desire to optimise the area at the top of the building were the reasons behind connecting the volumes at both top and bottom.”

The interconnected structure creates a series of special areas within the bridges for communal activities as well as guarantees a standard room distribution in both the side towers. The overall volume is carved further to create the 40-metre high atrium and rooftop swimming pool, emphasising the design concept of ‘solid and void’, both inside and outside the building. Inspired by jade artifacts, no two pieces on the structure are actually the same.

“We wanted to free the internal layout from any form of vertical support to allow for maximum flexibility. A structural exoskeleton was therefore the ideal solution as it provides structural integrity to the building’s appearance while contributing to its stability,” explains Muscettola.

While the exterior is smooth-edged, the interiors are injected with more dramatic and surprising permutations. A sense of danger is created through the use of exaggerated sharp-ends, resulting in a crystal-like leitmotif for a stronger dimension. The visual impact is evident. And with its all-white space fenestrated with sunlight, ZHA evokes an ethereal experience akin to the clerestories of a gothic cathedral.

The late Zaha Hadid by Mary McCartney

“The building occupies 40 levels, with the lower three levels connecting directly with the surrounding City of Dreams’ resort podium, including all public functions and casino floor. The porte cochere is integrated within the external fabric to maintain the experience of a single volume without any external elements, which is actually alien to the language of design,” elaborates Muscettola, pride in her voice.

Suffice to say, your imagination will run riot if you ever have the good fortune of finding yourself in a Zaha Hadid building. Like a scene from the Blade Runner, the poetic notion of Morpheus Hotel is absolutely breathtaking. Hadid’s artistic nuances continue to elevate the prestige of a city as design enthusiasts crave for more. As untimely as her demise may be, her presence remains strong in her works and the hearts of her fans.

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