Dubai is in no way slowing down its construction boom, with a new list by TopHotelProjects.com showing Dubai ranks first in the world with the most hotel projects. With 97 hotels and 35,154 rooms in the pipeline, the emirate is seconded by Abu Dhabi, with 66 hotels and 21,572 rooms to be built.
Stefano Manuelli, architect, Jestico+Whiles, said Dubai is slowly emerging from a rut of generic design. “Traditional Arabic themes used to be applied to hotels, but now themes are becoming more styled and eclectic.”
“We’re moving away from how things were 10-15 years ago; everything was heavy and Arabesque,” said Joe Hepworth, general manager, Indigo Living. He said a reason for this could be big international hotel operators opening in the region in greater numbers, with brand standards having to be replicated.
“On the negative side, some of the local flavour is lost and things are more homogenised. However, certain properties are retaining the region’s character which is important,” he added.
Dubai-based hospitality design consultant, Martin Wojnowski said the hotel interior design industry is suffering from a kind of post traumatic stress disorder.
He said: “Our industry is slowly emerging from the stress of recession. We are crawling like a turtle carrying an Airbus A380 on its back.”
Wojnowski said the financial crash affected the interior design industry financially and emotionally and limited the ability to think outside the box. Designers are now required to work within very strict budgetary guidelines. A lot of effort goes into sourcing finishes or FF&E according to price and lead time rather than artistic appeal.
“We are free to specify a lighting feature made by a company in Venice but chances are it will not be procured. A client’s project manager will find and install a cheaper plastic alternative. Such action is now commonly referred to as value engineering,” said Wojnowski.
Hepworth agreed and said value engineering is a challenge. “It’s become a dirty word, synonymous with taking a Porsche level design and implementing it with Skoda level furniture,” he added.
Designers are now called to specify items that are affordable and will not be substituted. “For the sake of the scheme, let the designer make the selections; not the project manager and definitely not the site engineer,” Wojnowski added.
Hotel interiors are using similar motifs, said Wojnowski. “We now see the same boring Moroccan motifs copied and pasted through most new hotels. It is popular, but I am not sure why.”
Hepworth said hotels are taking on a fresher approach, with a move towards lighter materials, fabrics and colours. Sleeker designs, which are less ostentatious but, in Hepworth’s opinion, are better designed and more on-trend.
Wojnowski disagreed and said designs of different local properties seem to mirror each other, with many investors lacking the courage to do something individualistic. “Several new hotels opened recently on Palm Jumeirah. They all look alike, with whitewashed walls, mushrabias and walnut timber furniture, which are so bland and colourless. If Moroccan patterns have such an influence on the UAE investors and designers, why not introduce their rich colour palette as well?” he added.
Sustainability generally takes a back seat in interiors, said Wojnowski.
“As far as furniture goes, there is an inherent conflict with sustainability given the materials used. As a manufacturer, we implement the designer’s concepts and directions. Whenever possible, we will try to take this further with recommendations without compromising the furniture’s design, functionality or budget,” said Hepworth.
In addition to sustainability, there are other challenges faced by designers working in hotels. Manuelli said while local trends are important, it can cause problems. “Since a project needs to be specified to the area, the challenges each project faces are different.”
He added travellers are more knowledgeable about interiors, so designers have to make sure the interiors provide a memorable experience. Jestico+Whiles worked on the interiors of the Yas Hotel, Abu Dhabi, and Manuelli said one of the challenges there was dealing with the intense light and sand.
“To control these problems, we created a filter in the form of sheer curtains. Artificial light in hotels is essential,” he added.
Wojnowski said some designers are generally not prepared to compromise on the style of work they carry out, or how they manage their firms, which presents a challenge in the interior design industry in the market.
Hepworth added refurbishment of existing properties is currently a market in the region. All the first generation tourist hotels that have been running at high occupancy for over a decade now are in urgent need of renovation.
“I would love to see some radical overhauls rather than just new fabrics and a lick of paint – however the practicalities of redoing an operating hotel obviously mitigate against this,” he said.
Giovannangelo de Angelis, president, Italy-based Premio Internazionale Ischia di architettura (PIDA) award said in 2011, hotels are taking the place of important religious places in countries over 100 years ago.
“If you visit an ancient city, the church or the mosque was the symbol of the city’s architecture and design. Now the symbols in modern cities like Dubai are its hotels,” he added.