In Kuwait City, where the ever-expanding landscape is becoming overwrought with large, ostentatious skyscrapers, a new, altogether more subtle and sophisticated development has emerged.
The Burj Alshaya, a mixed-use project featuring the new five-star Four Seasons Hotel Kuwait, the corporate headquarters for global enterprise Alshaya Group, and a connecting podium, features a unique design concept that takes inspiration from the culture and tradition of the region.
Designed by architects Gensler, the Burj Alshaya was developed around the tradition of the ‘mashrabiya’, an element of traditional Arabic architecture that sees windows enclosed with a latticework – a technique that has been used since the Middle Ages to provide shade and privacy while maintaining views.
A hybrid architectural element that is both functional and decorative, the mashrabiya merges the form and function of the Islamic window screen with a conventional jalousie, taking on the materiality of local culture.
This element was one of the key design drivers in a concept that sought to develop a building envelope that was both efficient and iconic, related to Arabic architecture, whilst embodying a novel approach to reducing the effects of the high ambient temperatures and intense solar radiation that characterise the local environment.
Tom Lindblom, Principal and Global Hospitality Leader at Gensler explained: “Our inspiration was to redefine a vernacular tradition. Arabic architecture is one of the world’s most celebrated building traditions, known for its radiant colours, rich patterns and symmetrical silhouettes.
“We wanted to produce a coherent and practical design, rich in layered ornamentation, which emanates the luxury and quality that Four Seasons and Alshaya embody.”
The resulting design reinterprets this tradition, presenting a contemporary take on traditional patterns and forms, via a three-dimensional lattice in various scales and locations across the development. The diamond pattern of the lattice provides solar control for the building, and the approach integrates the project’s main elements by wrapping the east and west elevations of both towers and covering large sections of the podium with a mashrabiya type envelope. While there are no mashrabiyas on the northern or southern façades, fritted glass with diamond-like patterning helps maintain the design continuity, providing shading and privacy while also offering a sense of drama and dynamism both from the inside and outside of the building.
The geometry of the shading fins enhances climatic performance for the occupied spaces and continues over to wrap the roof terraces and shade outdoor activities from the sun, while providing a recognisable and significant addition to the city’s skyline.
Alongside the aesthetical appeal of the façade design, it offers additional economic benefits, as Lindblom explained: “Buildings with fully glazed façades offer tremendous views and natural lighting, but they also encourage heat gain when the sun comes out. We developed a unique response with the objective to reduce interior heat gains and glare.
“The size of the individual diamond modules changes according to the location, therefore ensuring the interior benefits from suitable amounts of daylighting.
“Having carried out daylighting and shading studies with façade engineers, we modelled the façade to ensure the design utilises natural sunlight from within whilst reducing reliance on electric light, maintaining human health and a productive work environment during daytime.”
At 22 storeys high, the Four Seasons Hotel features 284 rooms and suites, including two large ballrooms with conference suites, an expansive pool-level terrace, three restaurants and two lounges, and a world-class spa and fitness facility.
Gensler worked very closely with Toronto-based interior designers YabuPushelberg and engineering partner KEO International on the hotel’s interior design, striving to bring the design concept of the façade inside, creating a holistic, seamless experience for locals and international guests.
“The room layout and how the interior spaces work is extremely dependent on the architecture and the façade,” continued Lindblom. “Decisions on where to position the fritted glazing were key to maintaining and maximising the views out of the towers and also had a bearing on the furniture arrangement, so we had to work very closely with YabuPushelberg and all parties to ensure the final design delivers the functional requirement with an interpretation of local vernacular culture in a contemporary manner, echoing Alshaya’s philosophy and the Four Seasons’ brand.”
In keeping with the Four Seasons brand, the hotel provides a luxurious experience for its guests – something that Lindblom believes is exemplified by the scale of the facility. However, despite this grand scale, there is a sense of intimacy throughout, as Lindblom explained: “While the front-of-house components are grand in their own scale, they are all well-connected and intimately knitted with one another, and often visually connected with the exteriors for a total immersive ‘inside-out, outside-in’ experience.”
Inverse Lighting designed the lighting for the project, working collaboratively with Gensler to create a lighting concept that accentuated façade geometry at night time. Lindblom continued: “The other surrounding buildings are all competing for attention at night with elaborate and ostentatious lighting schemes, but with our towers we wanted something more sophisticated and understated, to complement the complex geometry of the building and to stand out from the rest of the skyline.”
Inverse’s lighting design incorporates programmed lighting that the client can animate and vary depending on their requirements. The standard illumination on any usual day is to graduate the light up the tower and through the canopy, bringing people’s eyes through the whole project. This is something that Lindblom feels was “core to the symbiosis” of the lighting design and architectural concept.
Onur Sunguroglu, Director at Inverse Lighting, added: “The façade lighting was developed to compliment the traditional patterns. Rather than floodlighting the whole cladding, we, after a full scale lighting mock up of a façade panel in London, decided to position the luminaires on the façade, not only emphasising the patterns but also the lighting itself, creating diamond shape patterns.
“We also developed structural details for fixing the lights to the façade so they became a part of it, not just an item attached on to it.”
As guests enter the hotel, they are greeted by a tall, dramatic entrance lobby, featuring a huge, freestanding spiral staircase that curls to a height of thirteen metres, the world’s biggest hanging crystal, created by Lasvit, and numerous complex works of art, including a Marc Quinn sculpture.
Alongside the huge lobby area, Inverse tackled the multifarious lighting requirements of large but flexible events spaces, an atmospheric spa and corridors to the 217 guest rooms and suites.
In illuminating these spaces, Inverse worked closely with YabuPushelberg, a firm that they have a long-standing working relationship with, to create a scheme that was “integrated within the fabric of the space as much as possible,” according to Sunguroglu.
“We mostly followed the lead of the interior designer, who created these majestic spaces,” he added. “So the unspoken brief was to enhance the guest experience by reinforcing the interior design with lighting.”
Throughout the hotel, the lighting is discrete, often recessed into the floor, ceilings and furniture so that fittings are out of sight. This brings the focus firmly on the high-spec brief and the larger decorative pieces.
Hidden lighting has also been used in the long corridors to transform what might otherwise have been prosaic passageways into dynamic, welcoming spaces, helping to gently ease visitors into the relaxing mood of the spa and lounge spaces.
“Integrated lighting plays a vital role in creating the luxury atmosphere,” continued Sunguroglu. “A prime example of this can be found in the spectacular lobby stairs, where light was completely integrated into the stairs, creating a glowing centrepiece and enhancing the effect of a swirling ‘stairway to heaven’.”
Elsewhere, Inverse implemented a number of decorative lighting elements with YabuPushelberg, to further exemplify the luxurious atmosphere. A rectilinear chandelier in the Al Soor lobby lounge, along with custom pendant lanterns produced by Viso, help to unify the design of the lobby and pool areas with the décor in the guestrooms.
The lighting design also covered meeting and prayer rooms, bar and dining areas, a pool deck and the rooftop restaurant, designed by Kokai.
The architecture and interior of the Four Seasons, and Burj Alshaya as a whole, reflect the city’s modernity, while paying tribute to the local traditions, while its sleek, avant-garde luxury places the building as the stylish new centrepiece of Kuwait City, creating a prestigious backdrop for business and the new focal point for the city’s social scene.
Indeed the reaction to the building is something that has not gone unnoticed by Gensler, as Lindblom enthused: “We think it’s great that everyone has reacted so well to it.
“During the design stage we made a conscious decision not to include a hotel sign at the tower top, as the architecture design is so unique that the building becomes immediately recognisable.
“The hotel is now so well known in the local community and people have no difficulty finding its location – I think that’s a testament to its strength.”