"The Two Forms" by Zhang Xian. CONRAD

I was told that I would not recognise Shenzhen on my arrival this time around. In four decades, what was once a quiet fishing town has since transformed into one of China’s top smart cities. Hometown to telecoms giant Huawei, amassing skyscrapers that share centralised air-conditioning systems for sustainability, the Silicon Valley of China currently stands as a modern miracle.

So, somewhat anti-climactic to admit that I would not be able to discern the difference regardless. I was barely a fledging the last time I visited, over half that duration ago. The only thing I recall is its proximity to Hong Kong, which has not changed. A health-declared hop, checkpoint-cleared skip and a 15-minute train ride away, I find myself in the thriving tech hub.

Then, at the foot of the reason I returned: the first Conrad hotel to open in the Qianhai area. The latest addition to Conrad’s portfolio overlooks the expanding business district on one side and Qianhai Bay on the other. All 300 rooms and 28 suites offer views of either, starting from a generous 56 square metres.

Deluxe King room. CONRAD

While it is common for hotels not to meet the tentative launch date generally used as a guide, Conrad Shenzhen had, in fact, surpassed the targeted timeline with its early completion. Not surprising, when construction here works around the clock in shifts. It may not be an exaggeration to say new towers pop up every month.

If the rapid rag-to-riches (or rather, village-to-metropolis) growth seems familiar, there are many other parallels with our own model development. “It’s like Singapore here,” the Conrad team enthuses, “Everything is constantly changing and moves very quickly. We call it ‘Shenzhen speed’.”

Reception lobby. CONRAD

It is intriguing, thus, to see how the narrative of this evolution is woven into the hotel’s aesthetics. The first to greet guests at the entrance is “The Two Forms”; a pronounced sculpture rooted in yin and yang ethos that depicts the origin of the world. Symbolising the birth of Shenzhen and the nascence of the hotel, I personally saw it as a great signifier of the artful journey that begins upon entering.

I say that because there are over a hundred artworks on display throughout the 23 floors, with 17 major ones from notable local artists. All express traditional Chinese philosophies, the cultural ties of the city, or hopeful intent to the viewer in their individual ways and mediums. Most prominently, the two fishing village-inspired installations by Palace Museum’s antique restorer and young scholar Huang QiCheng, as well as his pièce de résistance above the reception.

Deluxe suite bedroom. CONRAD

These elegant motifs carry into the rooms. “The Fishing Boat in the Evening” (with a far more poetic name in Mandarin) by Austrian artist Rica Belna reimagines casted sunlight and fishing nets through a contemporary lens. Its placement is also an easter egg for guests, and that’s the only hint I will give
about it.

Accents like bathroom hardware and fixtures take decorative cues from the silhouettes and navigation elements of a ship. Together with palettes of muted tans and rose-copper tones to burnished gold and ambient browns, it’s impressive how cohesive the visual direction crafted by world-renowned design firm YABU Pushelberg is.

I’m particularly fond of the lobby’s layout which draws from a Chinese architectural principle key to Guangdong and Shuzhou heritage houses. The fifth floor is partitioned into three “in” and “out” sections, clearly demarcating the front desk, lifts and dining establishments into pockets whilst still sharing the main space.

Collective Bar. CONRAD

Dining is another aspect that would be unfair to leave out. There’s Chinese restaurant CH’AO, in reference to what Teochews refer to as Chaozhou cuisine, showcasing locally sourced seasonal ingredients. The experience contrasts between beholding a bold spectacle of gastronomy in the open kitchen and savouring humble but meaningful homage to ancestral food.

Things take a different turn at The Common Room. By morning, a versatile purveyor of choices. You won’t regret the Shrimp-broth Seafood Congee from the a la carte menu, but the open buffet’s variety easily makes you anticipate every breakfast. Come noon till dark, it shapeshifts into a French degustation of courses like Velouté De Fenouil à La Normande, Truffle Fois Gras Mousse, and Halibut with artichoke barigoule served under a creative fish skeleton garnish of seaweed.

The restaurant shares its nine-meter ceilings with Azaleas lounge for light bites and signature afternoon tea. The outdoor terrace leads to Collective Bar, which awakens at dusk. This is where they prove the best thing to compliment an alfresco cocktail is amazing grilled delights and front-row seats to the sunset. As you settle into the patio’s plush velvet chairs, you may just spot the next big thing the speedy city is working on.

Conrad Shenzhen is located at No. 5001 Tinghai Road, Nanshan District, Shenzhen 518066, Guangdong Province, China.