Hotels as Spaces of ‘Unnationalism’ in Bombay, Bali and Beijing: The Design Practice of Alan Gilbert and Sarah Lo in the 1970s and 80s

Dr Amit Srivastava5, Dr Peter Scriver5

5The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

By the late 1960s, with the advent of jet powered commercial air travel, the rise of a new generation of hotels in modern Asian cities was beginning to transcend the dualism between nationalism and internationalism in the architecture and urbanism of the first half of the century. Whilst the expansion of Asian hotel companies was changing the position of elite Asian entrepreneurs in a transnational field, the projects for the actual design of these hotels were fertile grounds for negotiation, where governments, developers and architects all modified their individual concerns to accommodate the complex aspirations of the elite entrepreneurial class. Finally, the hotels themselves furnished safe spaces for progressive discourse that facilitated the exchange of ideas beyond national limits, not least with the International press among other overseas travellers. The hotels were also spaces for exhibition and performance that encouraged the construction of personal and professional networks across many internal social and cultural borders as well.

Connecting cognate developments in three different Asian contexts – Bombay, Bali and Beijing – the paper examines the agency of Australian architect/designer Alan Gilbert and his partner Sarah Lo who practiced out of Hong Kong. We explore how their interior design practice engaged with different entrepreneurs in the hotel and building industries to fashion architecturally hybrid spaces that sat somewhere between and apart from both national and international priorities.


Amit Srivastava is the Director (India) for the Centre of Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) based at the University of Adelaide, in Australia. His current research focuses on the transnational exchange of materials and processes between Australia and Asia, and its impact on the professionalisation of architectural practice in Asia. Latest publications include India: Modern Architectures in History (Reaktion, 2015) and The Elements of Modern Architecture (Thames & Hudson, 2014).

Peter Scriver is co-founder and Director (South and Southeast Asia) of the Centre for Asian and Middle-Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) at the University of Adelaide, Australia. He is a critical authority on the architectural history of modern India, and colonial and postcolonial architectural culture and production more broadly. He has published a number of seminal books including After the Masters: Contemporary Indian Architecture (Mapin 1990), Colonial Modernities: Building, Dwelling and Architecture in British India and Ceylon (Routledge 2007), with Vikramaditya Prakash, and India: Modern Architectures in History (Reaktion 2015), with Amit Srivastava.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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