The inside scoop from DMA’s John Harding on site with the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard

Senior Project Architect John Harding tells us what it’s been like working on London’s highest hotel, the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard.

DMA were appointed as Executive Architects for the Shangri-La at The Shard. Can you explain what this has entailed? We assisted Shangri-La’s own design management team on site with technical issues associated with the design and construction of the project.  We helped turn Shangri-La’s interiors scheme into buildable designs whilst ensuring protection of the concept. This ranged from assisting with Building Regulation compliance, to helping with services coordination and everything in between. It was actually a wide ranging function, but in essence was to help bring some quite ambitious designs which existed in the minds of the designers, into physical existence!

Each room at the Shangri-La is different, what challenges have you faced working with such complex design layouts? Many hotels have common layouts for each floor which makes replication of solutions much simpler.  At the Shangri-La, whilst the rooms share a common language in design terms, each room has a different layout multiplying the number of design solutions required by 202!  It’s been a challenge but has been managed.

The Shangri-La at The Shard is London’s first high rise hotel. What are some of the specific challenges you have faced in delivering a project of this scale? Mainly access, movements and tolerance. Getting access to the upper floors during construction has been difficult when so many contractors, some of whom are employed on other projects within the building, have been competing for a limited number of lifts. Imagine trying to build a hotel on the Northern Line during rush hour whilst transporting materials and people at the same time and you’ll get the picture. Also The Shard moves and sways, particularly during high winds, and these movements have to be allowed for in the construction to prevent cracks appearing and joints opening up. All of this is bound up in the tolerances required to permit such movement but allow everything to hold together. It sounds alarming but really is imperceptible to the building users, so you won’t spill your champagne cocktail or anything like that.

What cultural nuances have been introduced to the project from working in partnership with a Chinese developer? Construction in the Orient can be a very different affair to the process we conduct in the UK. The biggest thing has been to try to educate our clients on systems and regulatory practices which they are unfamiliar with. Everything is very recognisable to us because we’ve been part of the construction industry in Britain for years, but it’s all new and impenetrable to our clients. We’ve taken time and care to explain why and how things have to be done in a particular way and that has helped them understand a very foreign way of doing things. It’s also interesting working with people from other cultures and a great way to learn a few words of Cantonese, Mandarin and even Hokkien!

The interior concept was produced by Hong Kong designers Steve Leung Design and AFSO. What’s your favourite design feature? The design has a definite Oriental feel to it, this is to provide the regular Shangri-La guest with a familiar environment. It has a more contemporary appearance to fit in with the ultra-modern look of The Shard and so represents something of a shift for the hotel. I particularly like the flexible spaces on level 34 where whole walls can removed or hidden away behind secret panels to open up the space if required, the doors are so cleverly put together that you wouldn’t know they are there. I also like the level 52 pool, it must rank as one of the most amazing experiences to go swimming 52 storeys up in the air with fantastic views over London.

You’ve been working on site at The Shard since May 2011, can you share with us an insider secret? Shangri-La are famous for their levels of service and the quality of their food, the equipment installed in the kitchen includes some rather unusual pieces not normally found here in London – like the biggest gas fired wok I’ve ever seen! There is also a very clever hidden door which leads on to a service area on the ground floor that you will never spot, even though it’s in plain view!