Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schipol, Netherlands

Schiphol Airport has grown to such a size that it now offers direct flights to 319 destinations and in 2014, the number of travellers it served grew to almost 55 million. Conveniently located at the airport, Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol aims to offer travellers a home-from-home experience. dpa lighting consultants developed an advanced LED lighting system that works to create a variety of atmospheres within the hotel.

The new Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol hotel, with its 433 bedrooms and 1,700sqm of meeting and event space, is designed to be the airport’s leading conference hotel. Designed by acclaimed Dutch architectural practice Mecanoo, the impressive landmark with its iconic cubic mould, diamond-shaped windows and large atrium and 42-metre high glazed roof aims to challenge expectations of airport hotels.

With a breath-taking interior featuring quirky details, bringing contemporary design, innovation and Dutch inspiration to life, the quiet and spacious guest rooms, first-class amenities, conceptual axis lobby and cocktail bar, Bowery restaurant, and eforea spa, make the brand new Hilton Amsterdam a welcome retreat for business and leisure travellers alike. What’s more, the hotel is linked to the airport via a covered walkway, bringing travellers directly from the terminals to the meeting centre and hotel. By gradually descending to ground level at the hotel entrance, the walkway creates a physical link between the plinth and upper level, while improving connections to new development The Base and the office park along the Evert van der Beekstraat.

The diagonal pattern of the hotel exterior serves to emphasise the iconic appearance of the building – by grouping the glass and composite panels in white and grey, a large scale diamond pattern is created making the building recognisable from a substantial distance. At the same time the pattern strengthens the unity of the different building volumes, blurring clear boundaries between the individual rooms and floors.

Inside, the design is as unique as the façade and building form. The thinking was to create a ‘Dutch touch’, taking recognisable Dutch design icons, history and traditions as well as the characteristics of the land and its people today, and translating them into a contemporary world-class hotel.

Creating a home-from-home for travellers – furniture, lighting, fabrics and floor coverings were carefully selected to evoke a sense of home and the narrative of lace embroidery and crochet (traditional art forms in Dutch life) threads through the design.

The large and light atrium is at the heart of the hotel, from which guests and visitors experience the inspiring feel of the open space. Making use of the 42-metre high glazed roof, is the main meeting area. Mecanoo designed the atrium to have a strong identity – with the size, surrounding gardens and light horizontal lines of the balustrades and white elements that reflect daylight deep into the building, providing an air of grandeur. From the smooth winding galleries guests have a spectacular view of the atrium, while the incorporated advanced LED lighting system – developed by UK-based dpa lighting consultants – allows for the creation of a variety of atmospheres. The atrium also plays a role in energy saving with outside air filtered before it is introduced into the space, where it is then preconditioned for the rooms, resulting in a reduction of energy consumption.

Speaking exclusively with mondo*arc, Michael Curry of dpa lighting consultants explained the idea behind the lighting design: “Our brief was fairly open and because it was such a vast site we approached it in a master plan way while responding to the architecture, which is very strong and bold and then enhancing the interior space, which brings in softer components.

“We had a blank canvas from the beginning and it really was a collaborative process with Mecanoo and The Gallery HBA (responsible for the interior design), which is great as you can progress with ideas as you go along. We’ve worked with both companies on many occasions previously and they’re definitely the sort of designers that will have an idea but don’t try and force the lighting design. Quite rightly, they want to get the best solution and is achieved through working with a lighting designer.”

Commenting on the atrium lighting specifically, Curry explained how he was keen to avoid the overuse of downlighting within the space, as for him it results in the feeling of guests being under the spotlight; it is better to use integrated lighting in a clever way.

“Providing an overall ambience was the success of the space here,” said Curry, “and the transition from day to night is really very different.”

During the daytime the atrium is really bright and flooded with natural light and on a dull day it’s different again, so certain lighting elements needed to be on full to provide accent and noticeable contrast. According to Curry, daylight was a really important starting point for the lighting design because of the sheer volume of light entering the building, which informed the team where to position the lighting.

“The lighting is very reactive to daylight levels and we used an architectural lighting control system with an astronomical time clock featuring overrides for the staff to control,” he said. “Each of the components and groupings are controlled separately so that we can have certain lights dimmed down or turned off during the day. At night the space has a really comfortable ambience where all the activity is at the low level on the ground floor. We created different atmospheres and focal points creating contrast with light and dark and areas of interest such as the bar, the reception and so on – it seems natural to provide focus so people know where to go.”

Ellen van der Wal, Partner at Mecanoo and responsible for the Hilton, also notes the importance of appropriate lighting levels in a project, telling mondo*arc: “The use of natural light in the atrium was essential – as it is for all of our architecture projects – so this was included in the designs from the beginning. There were lots of changes in the early stages and there was a time when the Hilton Group wasn’t so keen on the idea of the atrium but thankfully this changed.

“Lighting is so important to consider in architecture because it’s part of the well being of people – it’s healthy,” continued van der Wal. “Your whole system of day and night and your biological clock is based on it – it’s very important. Hotels should have outstanding lighting levels in my opinion, because every space needs a good lighting concept, I always advise our clients to work with lighting design experts to achieve the highest quality level. Lighting is a small part of a project, but in some ways it is the most important part.”

In order to achieve a level of comfort in the atrium, The Gallery HBA created ‘islands’, each of which support a distinct function: reception, lounge, library, gathering and the bar. Inbetween the ‘islands’ the sand-coloured limestone of the floor becomes the pathways. The wall, which charts the course of the entire ground floor, is variously functional and a piece of art; weaving through quiet and busy areas, helping to define spaces and providing degrees of privacy.

“The decoration within the screen around the perimeter of the ground floor is like a ribbon that runs around the whole space,” said Curry. “We responded to this by back lighting it and then floating it around the whole perimeter, tying everything together.”

The elongated restaurant located on the ground floor, along the façade aims to draw passers-by at Schiphol Boulevard inside. Featuring a playful and upbeat design with quirky furniture features, floor-to-ceiling black metal and textured glass panels break up the space, designed to screen parts of the restaurant during quieter times in the day. The restaurant is another area where Mecanoo insisted on a lot of natural light and an important element was that diners should be able to see the outside world.

Moving through the rest of the building, for dpa lighting consultants, key lighting considerations included the corridors, which each feature a line of light running around the skirting detail – again wrapping like a ribbon from the ground floor all the way up to the twelfth floor; on the guest floor levels the linear light continues up to the ceiling and wraps around.

The bedrooms are divided between the exterior side of the hotel looking to the outside world and airport, and rooms facing the interior, which overlook the atrium and interior garden, dabbled in indirect daylight through the glass atrium ceiling. The rooms facing out to the airport feature at least two diamond-shaped windows, which frame the spectacular picture over the Dutch landscape.

In order to achieve the ideal levels of lighting in the bedrooms, something which can sometimes be tricky to achieve, Curry explained how working with a good client was key: “The operators have a design focused team as well as a technical team to check standards, which are there to set a precedent of light levels,” he said.

“We made sure we ticked all of the boxes and so in the bedrooms you can sit at the desk and read a book and the light’s in the right position; there is adequate lighting in the bathroom without being too stark or bright and each of the rooms feature areas of focus.”

Also working as a conference hotel, it was essential that all of the 23 meeting rooms, business centre and ballroom, which has a capacity for up to 640 delegates, had a functional layer of lighting.

The meeting rooms are flooded with daylight, softened by sheer curtains and benefit from movable partitions that allow for flexible layout, while the boardrooms are distinguished by full-length windows that enable users to feel connected with the buzz of the lobby below.

In terms of challenges with lighting the hotel, for Curry when it came to restricting natural light, while in the architect’s remit, it can effect the space for lighting designers as he explained: “If there are areas where there’s decorative lighting or features, it can effect how we work with it. For example, on this particular project with the backlit wall, if the space is too bright then you don’t appreciate some of the architectural features that have been enhanced with lighting.

“What’s worked well in this instance is that the panels on the backlit wall aren’t in direct sunlight as there’s a bulkhead in front or above it, so it’s shielded from direct sunlight – so then the lighting helps to lift that space. It’s about striking the right balance at all times.”

Key elements of the project for Curry included the scale of the atrium and level of detailing together with both architect and interior designer – both were totally open in allowing dpa lighting consultants to improve on the interiors using lighting.

“An example of this is where we’ve integrated into the guest room skin of the atrium, there are 500 uplights around each little strip of copper detailing. Without a lighting designer the space would have looked completely different, the lighting aims to evoke an emotion.”

van der Wal added to this with: “There were lots of challenges along the way with this project. In terms of lighting we wanted to make use of the beams above the atrium space and this was a big challenge as we wanted them to be lit but didn’t know how to make this happen. dpa lighting consultants came up with the idea that they should put a transparent panel on top of the structural beams that holds colour changing LEDs behind it. This took a lot of changes and tweaks along the way to get it right but I was very happy with the end result.”

Concluding, with the Dutch panorama as design inspiration, the hotel introduces its guests to the Netherlands with views out onto the polder landscape. Located at the main access road to the arrival and departure terminals, the design maintains the rhythm of the building volumes along Schiphol Boulevard. From its plinth, the hotel is rotated by 45º giving the building not only momentum, but creating a visual connection to both Schiphol Boulevard and the Ceintuurbaan.

Pic: Courtesy of Hufton+Crow