The man, the mission

The man, the mission

Abu Dhabi, KCA International, Rocco Forte, WS Atkins

Rocco Forte Hotels will open its first flagship brand in the Middle East this year with a spectacular 10-storey wave-shaped tower with a blue and green glass façade. CID speaks to design director, Olga Polizzi.

The Rocco Forte Hotel Abu Dhabi is the first property within the group to bear the name of its chairman and CEO and is the brand’s flagship hotel in the Middle East.

It has a visually striking glass structure, comprising 281 bedrooms, spa, and three restaurants set in the future commercial district of the Emirate’s capital. It is due to open its doors in Q4 this year (October, November, December), although a definite date has not yet been set.

The 28,000m2 project has 11 levels and is developed in conjunction with TDIC and the UAE’s Al Farida Investments Company. It has views across the city and Sheikh Zayed Mosque and will be surrounded by public gardens and an adjacent shopping galleria.

“Abu Dhabi is fast emerging as a hub for the Middle East and we are confident that our flagship hotel in the Emirate will set the tone for our planned expansion in the Middle East, serving the needs of travellers to the UAE and residents while creating anticipation for our other properties set to open in the region,” said Sir Rocco Forte, chairman and CEO, Rocco Forte Hotels.

The hotel combines contemporary Arab artwork using pieces by Lebanese artist Salwa Zeidan and Olga Polizzi, Sir Rocco Forte’s sister is design director.

“We want to be the first hotel in Abu Dhabi to deliver a stylish blend of European and Middle Eastern design to the city and give the hotel a sophisticated, contemporary feel,” said Polizzi.

“Like all Rocco Forte Hotels, the property needs to reflect its location by using local artwork and Middle Eastern accents in accessories and fabrics yet in earthy and sumptuous colours and tones.

I oversee all design for our hotels, along with our London-based design team. For our new hotel in Abu Dhabi, we selected Dubai-based interior design specialists KCA International, who work closely both with our team in London as well as with the architects WS Atkins & Partners.”

Each of the 281 rooms has leather accents and seating and the bathrooms carry the Arabic expression ‘May it rain on our desert’ etched above each bathtub, opposite a walk-in shower.

For the business travel and events markets, there is a separate floor containing seven meeting rooms, a business centre and a ballroom, which can accommodate up to 500 seated guests. It also has a pre-function area, VIP majlis and bridal preparation rooms.

The 2,000m2 spa includes a gym, yoga/pilates studio and separate male and female spa facilities.

“All bedrooms feature work by the poet/artist Ali Ahmed Said Esber, who is one of my favourite artists in the region,” added Polizzi.

“The suites will have abstract and lyrical paintings by Salwa Zeidan and a huge triptych by Fatema al Mazrouei will dominate the lobby. As another unique touch, we have etched the Arabic expression, ‘May it rain on our desert’ above each bath tub.

“We have worked hard on making the hotel elegant and contemporary without it being ‘too’ much. It needs to be contextual and sensitive to its environment. Personally, I like to feature local art in all of our hotels.

For example, Hotel Amigo, our hotel in Brussels has artwork by Magritte and subtle references to art nouveau throughout; while The Lowry in Manchester is named after the city’s most famous painter TS Lowry and his works are referenced within the hotel. At the Augustine Hotel in Prague, much of the design is inspired by early 20th century Czech cubism.”

The hotel has three restaurants including Chinese/Japanese food, The Grill and an Italian dining venue. There is a South American poolside bar, upper lobby tea lounge and a glass walled Sky Bar, on the sixth floor of the hotel’s 10-storey atrium.

According to Polizzi, every project is treated in the same way but with this one, the team had to allow more time due to the scale of the building.

“The Rocco Forte Hotel in Abu Dhabi has significantly more rooms than any of our other properties and we had to get used to working on this grand scale in a region we had not yet worked in before,” she said.

“However, both the architects WS Atkins, and the design company KCA International, have significant experience working in this region and provided excellent guidance to help us navigate the process and challenges.

The striking glass structure, which has 11 levels and covers more than 28,000m2, which encases the hotel, was also a different design challenge when you compare this structure to our other hotels.

“While we approach every project similarly, there was a lot of space to work with on this design. With the exception of Verdura Golf & Spa Resort in Sicily which has four restaurants and four bars, most of our hotels have a maximum of three restaurants and bars.

“Rocco Forte Hotel Abu Dhabi will have several dining options, a poolside bar, upper lobby tea lounge and a Sky Bar. Each needs to be different in its identity and design and reflect the cuisine on offer.

In addition to the larger number of bedrooms, the increased dining venues, we have also been hard at work on one of Abu Dhabi’s biggest spas along with seven meeting spaces and a grand ballroom.

The scale of the project has prepared us well for our upcoming project in Jeddah which will be of a similar size.”

The design team comprised six people in London, including Andy Woollen, director of project services for Rocco Forte Hotels, who oversees all technical aspects of the hotel’s projects, designer Tim Young and design assistant Giancarla Lanni, who are involved in all interior design elements of the brand.

The team is currently working on several new developments in the Middle East and North Africa, in addition to ongoing design projects throughout its existing hotels in Europe.

“We announced the project in 2009 and are on schedule to open in the latter part of 2011. Up until now, we have been building our hotel brand in Europe and this is our first opening in the Middle East, a significant milestone for the company.

Abu Dhabi, with its financial wealth and political position as the capital of the UAE, not to mention its commitment to the arts, makes it the ideal location for our premier opening in this region,” said Polizzi.

“Since announcing Abu Dhabi, Rocco Forte Hotels has secured four more management contracts in the Middle East and North Africa, reinforcing our commitment to expand in key destinations beyond Europe.

The project is somewhat of a template of what our guests can expect of other hotels due to open across the Middle East in two to three years.”

Polizzi emphasised how important it was to highlight the locale in the design work. She said she wanted guests to know where they were in the world reflecting on the Middle East through its art, culture and heritage and using earthy tones and loose fabrics.

The Rocco Forte Hotel Abu Dhabi will be followed by a 146-bedroom property opening in Jeddah in 2013, an all-suite Golf & Spa Resort with private, luxury villas in Marrakech in 2014, a 275-bedroom property in Cairo in 2014 and a 82-room property in Luxor 2014.

“We are working on several new projects within the Middle East and North Africa. Next is our new hotel in Jeddah and our second resort within the group.

Following the opening of Verdura Golf & Spa Resort in Sicily, we will be opening Assoufid, our resort located just outside of Marrakech, at the end of 2013.

Then it is on to Egypt, where we will be working on the refurbishment of two iconic, historic hotels: The Shepheard Hotel and the Luxor Hotel. Both will undergo extensive work and will reopen as five star properties under the Rocco Forte Hotels’ banner in 2014,” she added.

Rocco Forte SUPPLIERS:
• Greenline Interiors
• Al Reyami Interiors
• Ghuzlan Interiors
• KCA International: Interior designer
• Barr + Wray FZ LLC: SPA
• Lea Engineering: Landscaping
• Al Husam General Contracting
• Alu Nasa: Exterior Façade
• Valencia: Marble
• Salwa Zidan: Artwork

Olga Polizzi
Olga Polizzi is the eldest of the late Lord Forte’s five daughters and a younger sister to Sir Rocco.

Since 1996, she has been working with Sir Rocco to build a new luxury hotel company, Rocco Forte Hotels, of which she and her brother are the major shareholders. She is the director of design for Rocco Forte Hotels.

Prior to the creation of Rocco Forte Hotels, Polizzi was a main board director and director of building and design at Forte plc from 1983 to 1996, when it was taken over by Granada.

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