Salle des lumieres: PALAIS de CHINE’s salute to Opera de Paris

The Age of Enlightenment (le Siecle des Lumieres) refers to the intellectual movement that swept over Western Europe during the 18th Century. Palais de Chine opts to name its banquet hall the Salle des Lumieres with the hope that its guests will find it delightful and inspiring. (It is also a tribute to Dr. C. F. Koo, the late Chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation. Liang, the Chinese word for lumiere, is the second character in the late Dr. Koo’s alternative name, Gong-Liang.) The banquet hall, a salute to the Opera de Paris, is located behind a small but exquisitely decorated reception area on the Fifth Floor of the Hotel. Centered on a wall of the long Corridor leading from the reception area to the banquet hall is a pair of framed calligraphy by Dr. C. F. Koo. The late Chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation still has this wisdom to share:
Enlarge thy heart to accommodate Worldly things,
Calm thy heart to discuss Worldly events,
Humble thy heart to contemplate worldly virtues,
Compose thy heart to face Worldly changes.
Gleaming Crystals: Life of the Room

Once you have passed through the poshly padded doors of the banquet hall, your eyes will be drawn to the draped canopy overhead. Upon close inspection, you will be awed by the discovery that the canopy is not made of fabric. It is actually a steel and plywood construction completely covered with copper foil. How is it possible? How can cold, stiff steel and plywood be manoeuvred to drape like fabric? The ingenious designer solves the problem with ropes. He cuts the ropes to various lengths and drapes them from the ceiling to form the ridges of the folds. He plays around until he is happy with how the folds fall and then builds the steel foundation around these curves. Next, he “melds” the plywood to the steel cage and voila, the canopy is born. The foiling provides the finishing touch. Chocolate gold was the shade finally chosen because it best complements the understated mood of the banquet hall. Each of the 36,000 sheets of copper foil is individually glued onto the boards: a painstaking job, to say the least. The next time you are in the banquet hall, please do take a minute to admire this canopy. It is a labour of love undertaken to create a pleasing venue for the guests.

A second feature of the Salle des Lumieres is the Sixteen chandeliers gleaming and hanging from the copper canopy in all their splendour. Chandeliers originated in Europe during the mid 17th Century (the Rococo Period). The craze reportedly began in 1687 when Louis XIV of France lavishly decorated the Chateau de Versailles with natural crystal and quartz chandeliers imported from Italy. The first leaded glass chandeliers became available in France early in the 18th century, but they were still extremely expensive and only the Church and royalty could afford them.

Chandeliers are to the decor what flawless make-up is to couture gowns. The sixteen chandeliers in the Salle des Lumieres make the banquet hall shine. The room is also fitted with tinted light boxes. When the light show comes on, guests are treated to a mesmerising interplay of purple, yellow, pink, and blue lights where every last nuance is caught and reflected by the crystal chandeliers. The ears in the meantime are kept busy as well because it is choreographed to music. The feast is as much for the ears as for the eyes: an experience so unique, it will not be soon forgotten.

Indoor Garden: Tranquil Haven

The long corridor outside the Salle des Lumieres exudes the feel of an indoor garden. 18th Century painted canvas entre-fenetre panels depicting flora, birds and fountains hang on either side of the hallway. With the urns and floral arrangements on the console tables, it really does look like a bona fide European garden. Who could guess that the urban jungle of Taipei is lurking right on the other side of the wall? Surely not the guests. Many have remarked that were it not for the attendants in their uniform, they could have sworn they were frolicking in a garden somewhere in 18th Century France.

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