Re-imagining Abu Dhabi’s cultural past, Hirsch Bedner Associates uses elements of Art Deco to create a fantasy world within the city
Once a small, undeveloped area known for pearl diving, Abu Dhabi’s past is a far stretch from Europe’s Deco era. A few years down the line, the city’s name, which translates to “Father of Gazelle,” became synonymous with luxury and sophistication.
The façade of St. Regis Abu Dhabi tells just that story. The building of the hotel itself is a distinctive addition to the city’s skyline. The ultra-sleek glass and steel landmark is composed of two sky scrapers, linked by a sky bridge which is one of the world’s highest bridges between two towers. St. Regis Abu Dhabi occupies the top floors of the smaller tower.
But what this modern skyscraper beholds an imagined history of Abu Dhabi’s young past. HBA, the masterminds of the design scheme, chose an approach that greatly differed from the more common blend of European design and local detailing. Rather, the team created an imaginary historical starting point for Abu Dhabi: a city with a history of Art Deco.
“This raised the central imaginative question: what would classical Art Deco have looked like if it had been expressed in Abu Dhabi during the 1920s and ‘30s?” explains Josh Mason, associate designer, HBA.
To answer the question, the design includes very few explicit references to local culture. The team directed their attention to more subtle detailing such as the colours of the sands as well as the traditional foods, spices, arts and crafts that flourished the markets at the time.
Mason says HBA used the St. Regis New York as a benchmark for classical St. Regis signature style and incorporated the heritage of Abu Dhabi.
“We studied the UAE and specifically noted the gazelle, the importance of water and vessels, the way the sand changes colour as you travel deep into the desert, local plants that thrive like the desert rose, the patterns that can be made with fishermen’s netting, and exotic spices,” he lists.
Nods to the city’s heritage are incorporated especially within the guestrooms of the hotel, Mason says.
“Every piece in the guestroom artwork package references Abu Dhabi,” he assures. “We worked closely with Soho Myriad to put together a collection of artwork that feels fresh and modern, incorporating abstract photographs of Dirhams (UAE currency) and a collection of found objects including a piece of tapestry woven by a Bedouin artisan, and a contemporary design over the beds that is inspired by one of the most important native plants in the region, the date palm.”
Article continues on next page …