Modernity Finds Shelter Within Tadao Ando’s The Shinmonzen

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Kyoto is known for its tranquil inns nestled in the city’s historic neighborhoods, highlighting its status as a hub for crafts, arts, and design. One such inn is The Shinmonzen, located in the Gion arts district. Walking along Shinmonzen Street, visitors can appreciate the slower pace of life, as they admire the well-preserved buildings in the area. This street stands out from the traditional machiya townhouses and ryokan inns that line the Shirakawa River. Although the hotel’s exterior appears simple with its dark timber and tile roof, the true architectural beauty lies within.

Named after the “Street of the Artists, Fine Arts, and Antique Shops,” The Shinmonzen captures the essence of Gion Shirakawa and Shinmonzen Street. In the spring, cherry trees and weeping willows attract sakura enthusiasts to admire the blooms against the backdrop of traditional merchant houses. Despite its old-fashioned appearance, The Shinmonzen seamlessly blends contemporary elements with traditional Japanese design. Paddy McKillen, the Irish hotelier behind this project, persuaded renowned architect Tadao Ando to reinterpret the ryokan experience, creating a harmonious balance between the past and present, Japanese and European influences, and austerity and comfort. The exterior seamlessly integrates with the surrounding architecture, only revealing its contemporary nature up close and upon entry.

The hotel features nine unique suites, each showcasing a different Japanese material and a mix of local and European furnishings. Tatami floors and cypress soaking tubs pay tribute to traditional Japanese interiors, while marble counters and handwoven carpets add a touch of European elegance. Ranging from the 430-square-foot WASHI suite with a king-sized bed to the 860-square-foot KINU suite with twin futons, each room exudes tranquility and organic beauty. Toan Nguyen’s curving armchairs and Kawashima Selkon’s hand-woven carpets further enhance the serene ambiance.

Guests can enjoy French, American, and Asian farm-to-table dining at Jean Georges at the Shinmonzen, the hotel’s restaurant. The menu includes a Japanese-style breakfast featuring Kyoto-sourced heirloom vegetables, a vegetarian option, and an indulgent 8-course meal for omnivores.

Tadao Ando explains, “During our design process, the goal was to create a space that caters to the desires of modern travelers while respecting Kyoto’s tradition and legacy. This hotel represents a nuanced fusion of the past, present, and future, capturing the essence of Kyoto while appealing to cosmopolitan sensibilities. I hope that every visitor discovers the new charm of this ancient city.”

The Shinmonzen is located at 235 Nishino-cho, Shinmonzen-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, with rates starting from $1,916 per night.

Highlights of the hotel include Tadao Ando’s architectural mastery, with each room having a private balcony for guests to enjoy the view of the water and foot traffic. The hotel also boasts an impressive art collection, featuring ceramic vessels by Takayuki Watanabe and contemporary artworks by renowned artists such as Damian Hirst, Gerhard Richter, and Louise Bourgeois. The interior design of each room is curated by Rémi Tessier. Additionally, visitors can explore nearby cultural attractions like the Kyoto Museum of Crafts and Design, KYOCERA Museum of Art, and The National Museum of Modern Art, all within a 19-minute walk.

To book a stay at The Shinmonzen, visit their website. If you’re yearning for more design destinations, check out our virtual vacation experience here.

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