Hotel Exteriors Worth A Double Take

“The great advantage of a hotel,” playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “is that it is a refuge from home.” The finest hotels in the world are not just places to rest; they are exciting, evocative structures designed with escape in mind. Everything from the architecture to the choice of linens is meant to inspire comfort, luxury, and provide a temporary oasis.

Hotels have presented rich creative opportunities for architects and designers over the years as they apply cutting-edge technology, harken back to the grandeur of bygone times, or nod to a region’s cultural tapestry. The following hotels are some of the most elaborate and unique in the world –– from the architecturally innovative to the quirkily creative, you’ll want to judge these books by their covers.

The Feat Of Engineering

Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort (Huzhou, Zhejiang Province, China)

Affectionately known as the “Horseshoe Hotel” and “Doughnut Hotel” thanks to its torus shape, this design is the masterwork of Chinese architect Ma Yansong. In creating a vision for the structure, Yansong looked to the beauty of Nan Tai Lake. “The hotel’s arcing form connects past and present and land and water. The unique design integrates the building into the waterscape of Tai Lake, reflecting in the water below and creating a poetic echo of the natural landscape,” says the architect. The geometric shape was achieved by careful and complex engineering, using lightweight, high-capacity concrete. The finished structure offers guests breathtaking views of the city in all directions, and itself serves as a highlight of the Huzhou skyline.

The Whimsical

Montaña Mágica Lodge (Neltume, Panguipulli, Región de los Ríos, Chile)

This whimsical structure might look like something straight out of a Guillermo del Toro film or Middle Earth, but it’s actually a fully functioning 13-room guesthouse located on a 60,000-hectare private nature reserve in the Valdivian forests of Chile. Surrounded by hot springs, lakes, wildlife, and popular natural attractions like the picturesque Huilo-Huilo Falls and Mocho Choshuenco volcano, the structure itself is shaped like a volcano –– one that spews water instead of lava, nurturing its plant-cloaked façade. This hotel is sure to appeal to the adventurer at heart; accommodations are only accessible by foot, via a soaring suspension bridge.

The Reinvention

Fabriken Furillen (Lärbro, Sweden)


Located on the island of Gotland (the largest island in the country) upon the remote Furillen peninsula, Fabriken Furillen was once an abandoned factory used by photographer Johan Hellström for shooting commercials and rock videos. He later enlisted the services of architect Andreas Forsberg to convert the stark structures into guest accommodations and a restaurant. The result is a post-industrial series of buildings with a stark aesthetic inspired by the landscape and its former quarry, juxtaposed with minimalist but posh interiors. Inside guests will find luxurious Hastens beds and crystalware by Orrefors.

The Iconic

Burj Al Arab (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


The silhouette of this luxury hotel has become synonymous with the changing skyline of a rapidly developing Dubai. According to Arquigafico, architect Tom Wright (now of world-renowned WKK Architects) was selected for the project based on the promise of a card model and a simple felt pen illustration, the latter of which was drawn on a napkin while he sat on the terrace of the Chicago Beach hotel, which neighbored the area upon which the Burj al Arab was to be built. The shape of the hotel mirrors that of a traditional Arabic ship’s sail. The project was not only widely considered to be a sign of the young architect’s promise (he was only thirty-six when the design was conceived in 1993), but is now an iconic reflection of Dubai’s rich heritage as it merges with an exciting future.

The Optical illusion

Inntel Hotel Zaandam (Zaandan, Netherlands)

Designed by Dutch architect Wilfried van Winden, the façade of Inntel Hotel Zaandam is inspired by the colourful historic houses of Zaanse Schans (a neighborhood of Zaandam) which have become a popular tourist attraction. The exterior design creates the illusion of these traditional dwellings stacked on top of one another, infusing the impersonal town centre with colour and nodding to the history of these primarily working-class homes. Perhaps its most beloved feature is the “Blue House” in the top corner, inspired by the work created by painter Claude Monet in Zaandam circa 1871. “The overall result is striking and caught attention worldwide,” says WAM Architecten, van Winden’s firm. “The varied fenestration, broad protruding sections and bay windows, and decorative white ridge-pieces lend depth and an expressive relief to the façade.”