Jinou Park, vice president of the Asia Pacific region at Design Hotels and member of the AHEAD Asia judging panel, observed a move towards projects that combine modern architectural and design principles with attention to local culture and history.
"It was really interesting to see design born out of real Asian heritage," he told Dezeen.
The owner of the project transported a forest of 10,000 trees and a collection of 50 historic houses 800 kilometres to the hotel site in Shanghai, after discovering that they were to be destroyed to make way for a dam.
"It's a great story of preserving ancient craft and heritage buildings that are part of the culture that would otherwise have been lost," stated Troy Hickox, assistant senior vice president at Galaxy Entertainment Group and AHEAD awards judge.
The project, a maze-like 20-room boutique hotel built on the footprint of a traditional Chinese village, took home the New Concept of the Year award and won the Landscaping & Outdoor Spaces category.
"They've incorporated contemporary design into a very natural environment with minimum impact," he said.
"The internal spatial arrangement follows that of a Chinese courtyard house," she explained. "You have the interface between the inside and the outside, and you have what we call the in-between spaces like the courtyard. As you move from the main space, you always have views of the internal courtyard."
Park applauded the project for its innovative approach to heritage. "The architects took the ancient footprints of village housing, which was the only remains on the site, and built on top of that to raise a modern architectural structure. That's an incredibly conceptual interpretation of local heritage into modern design."
Observing the AHEAD award winners based in China, Khoo notes a broad change in direction over the past two decades. "Fifteen years ago, developers were not interested in doing anything Chinese, but now it's kind of reversed" she claimed.
"They are demanding more Chinese-ness in their design, but in a more subtle manner," she continued. "Hotel developers are beginning to appreciate their culture and understand their culture, and be proud of their culture."
This year's AHEAD Asia awards saw the introduction of a new Transport category. From a shortlist that included two boats, a train and a private jet, the judges chose to award Guntû, a 19-room hotel aboard a ship that floats in Japan's Seto Inland Sea.
Park emphasised how even this project was able to incorporate elements of Japanese heritage. "It's a waterborne reinvention of the traditional Japanese ryokan," he explained.
The judges commended projects that are sensitive to the natural environment they occupy as well as the heritage of their locality. Hickox commended The Wild Coast Tented Lodge in Yala, Sri Lanka, which won the Resort category, for its sustainable approach.
"It's not just about building interesting architecture anymore, it's now about trying to do it with minimum impact to the environment," he said. "They'd left no footprint and damaged almost none of the environment in putting those tents into the location."
Reflecting on this year's winners, Park siad that the best hotels provide an authentic local experience while maintaining high standards of contemporary design.
"Hotel designers today must strike between expressing something of the local area but at the same time adhering to the global standard of luxury," he said. "Sophisticated travellers want a local experience, but at the same time they appreciate the changing fashions in design."
This movie was produced by Dezeen for AHEAD. It was filmed at Andaz Singapore. Images are courtesy of AHEAD, Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat and Amanyangyun unless stated otherwise.