Vector Architects converts an old sugar mill into a hotel retreat of magnificent craftsmanship

Vector Architects converts an old sugar mill into a hotel retreat of magnificent craftsmanship

Located in Yangshuo region of China, the site for Alila Yangshuo is surrounded by verdant landscape of limestone hills and manoeuvring Li River, as it makes its way through its flood plains and towering giants. Once used as a sugar mill factory, the site had fallen in despair before being bought by the Alila group to develop a property, offering the guest a chance to immerse themselves in the landscape and amazing natural sights this region has to offer.

The project site located on a 1960s old factory complex is sandwiched between a busy road on one side and expansive landscape on the other. To work on the project, Vector Architects was brought on board to build a hotel which is holistically designed and environmentally friendly. Initial discussion led to the decision of restoring the sugar mills and refurbishing them as part of the project. The old structure and the bursting limestone hills became the inspiration for the project as a way to build something new while acknowledging the past.

Alila Yangshuo
Chen Hao | Ariel View
Chen Hao | Existing Building and Villa View from the Main Building
Alila Yangshuo

The design restored the old factory structure to house all the public areas of the resort and the newly designed wings house 117 guest rooms and suites. The new wings are designed as long horizontal blocks, punctured by light wells to bring in light and mark as entrances to the blocks. Finished in brutalist style, the exterior layer is composed of latticework of custom-made handmade hollow bricks. The simple design of the new blocks aims to avoid unnecessary distraction to the old sugar mill caused by overly expressive geometry.


“We envision industrial heritage as the representation of spirit of older generation.” Said Vector Architects. They added, “In order to create a sense of consistency, instead of simply copying the old materiality and texture, we try to seek this nuance where we use more contemporary materials and construction methods while retaining the tinge and masonry structure of the old.” They continue, “Roof slope is consistent with the original one; after the completion of the hotel complex, its profile becomes a cluster of pitched roofs. We hope the New is progressively evolved and conveys a sophisticated consistency with the Old.”


Su Shengliang | North Facade of Main Building
Su Shengliang | North Facade of Main Building
Vector Architects | First-floor plan. 
Vector Architects | Section.  
Vector Architects | Elevation.
Chen Hao | South Elevation of Main Building
Chen Hao | Backyard View from the C Cloister
Chen Hao | Public walkway
Chen Hao | Entrance square.
Alila Yangshuo
Alila Yangshuo

The two-storey Garden Townhouse is arranged around a series of suites facing the old buildings and ponds.

The beautifully restored structures of the old sugar mill lie in the centre of the site, surrounded by the water plaza. This landscape plaza is designed to serve as a public walkway, connecting three important cave-like node spaces. The whole resort is designed as a series of open spaces, slowly revealing the property and landscape as the guest wander around experiencing the changing light.

This adaptive reuse project is a reminder for us to build more and demolish fewer structures. The architects have beautifully adapted a depleted old industrial building into a 21st-century resort through carefully chosen material palette and planning.

This reduces the carbon footprint of the building significantly and integrates passive design strategies to reduce energy usage further. This project draws from the Nature and promotes Human-Nature interaction through careful planning and remains grounded in locality through the use of local materials. The project showcases an industrial aesthetic that harmoniously combines the heritage with a modern sensibility.

Su Shengliang | Reflecting bond. 
Chen Hao | Villa View from the Existing Building Complex
Alila Yangshuo
Alila Yangshuo
Alila Yangshuo
Alila Yangshuo
Alila Yangshuo


Alila Yangshuo
Alila Yangshuo
Chen Hao | Cave space.
Alila Yangshuo


Location: Yangshuo, Guilin, Guangxi, China
Principal Architect: Gong Dong / Vector Architects
Interior Architect: Bin Ju / Horizontal Space Design
Architecture Design Team: Bin He, Nan Wang, Chen Liu, Fangzhou Zhu, Jian Wang, Mengyao Xu, Xiangdong Kong, Yue Han, Zhiyong Liu, Bai Li, Peng Zhang, Xiaokai Ma, Liangliang Zhao
Interior Design Team: Jinjing Wei, Yaocheng Wei, Hongming Nie, Luokai Zhang, Fanyu Luo, Wenjun Zhou
Site Architect: Liangliang Zhao, Peng Zhang / Vector Architects; Yingfa Li, Xipu Li / Horizonal Space Design
Mechanical and Electrical Consultant: Sen Lin, Haijia Li, Fuliang Wei, Jiaorong He, Yu Gao / Shenzhen JS M&E Engineering Design Co.,Ltd.
Lighting Consultant: Albert Martin Klaasen / Klaasen Lighting Design
LDI: Guilin Institute of Architectural Design Co., Ltd.
Project Architect: Jianmin Qin
Architects: Mu Yang, Yuanxin Lu
Structural Engineer: Wenfu Zheng, Bo Li, Xianzhong Zhou
MEP Engineer: Dengsheng Lin, Xiaoyan Lu, Jing Deng
Landscape Designer: Qianbai Yu, Yingying Xiao
Client: Landmark Tourism Investment Company
Hotel Management: Alila Hotels and Resorts
Structure: Frame-Shear Wall Structure
Material: Wood Formwork Concrete, Concrete Block, Local Masonry, Bamboo, Stucco, Terrazzo, Pebbledash
Building Area: 16,000㎡
Design Period: 08/2013 - 10/2014
Construction Period: 10/2014 - 06/2017
Photographs: Chen Hao, Su Shengliang



Vector Architects was founded in 2008. During Vector Architects' twelve years of practice, among the miscellaneous clues in architecture, we focus intensely on the issues of Site, Light, and Making.

Architecture takes root in a site, and the site makes architecture real. We believe every site, whether it sits in a natural landscape or an urban context, must possess certain energies with its own existence. These energies could be uncovered from its landscape, or from its inhabitants and their behaviours. The architecture’s mission is to orchestrate such energies through precise spatial tactics so that unique perceptions and ways of life can be shaped. It is like dropping a piece of rock in the water, generating undulating ripples, hence we feel the water flows. In this respect, a piece of architecture is no longer an independent object, but a medium to connect with things and to reveal.

Natural light, while illuminating the fixed, tangible materials and boundaries of space, simultaneously dissolves their physical limitations. Light imparts suffused and indescribable emotions and lends ambience to space. As the sun moves along its trajectory throughout the day within the shifting conditions of weather and seasons, the evoked intangible quality also changes, implying the sentiment of space and the rhythm of life. In architecture, light is a phenomenon for our eyes to observe, and an aura in which to immerse our body and soul.

Making is the fundamental of architecture, and the process of making is a series of operations and manipulations of "materials." This is manifested in the intricacies of the design as well as the skills and labour with hands and body during the construction, which all leaves traces on the architecture. In the Chinese construction industry, issues such as delays, chaos, and defects are precisely the potentials to be turned to architects' advantages. We adhere to our strategy of working together with builders. For every project, we send a site architect to participate in the entire process of construction – from the research, experiment, and manufacture of building materials, to the prototyping and calibration of joints and details, and to the full extent of on-site supervision and coordination, in order to ensure the full implementation of initial design intentions. This long adaptive and collaborative process has given us more hands-on opportunities to learn from local builders, allowing us to review upon the limitations of the design and documentation process so as to avoid inconsistency between drawings and construction.