The Arabian Night Fantasy Recreated at Mondrian Doha
The Mondrian Doha is a creation swathed in luxury and make-believe, a celebration of multi-color dreams and white gardens in seemingly white bloom, of exuberance blended with a large measure of drama. The first hotel in the Middle East to be designed by Dutch designer and art director Marcel Wanders. By Sindhu Nair
I was ready to be wonderstruck; I had heard of Marcel Wanders and his reputation in casting spells on the spectator as he recreated spaces swathed in luxury and elegance. But nothing could prepare me to the wonder that he had created within the walls of Mondrian Doha. Well, for one, it was not subtle. Secondly, there was drama in every detailing, a shocking element added for special effects and to grab one’s attention, the typical Marcel Wanders way. But one cannot help but marvel at the dexterity of it all, how the various design features seem to fall into place, loud perhaps yet clear in its purpose to amaze.
Marcel Wanders himself explains it quite explicitly, “The first thing you build is the proposition. What is the idea? How can you bring the unexpected to people’s lives? Maybe you want to eat cupcakes on a skating rink or put a barber for guys in a bright pink room.”
“People will always have to eat, they have to get their hair cut, they have to go shopping – but they can choose whether they do these things in a boring place or an exciting place. As a designer, you have the gift of being able to really add fun and value to people’s lives.” Marcel Wanders Designer
“People will always have to eat, they have to get their hair cut, they have to go shopping – but they can choose whether they do these things in a boring place or an exciting place. As a designer, you have the gift of being able to really add fun and value to people’s lives.” With Mondrian Doha, he made sure that the people in Doha, ate cupcakes and sushi or made merry after office hours in spaces that are not ordinary.
From the varied colored bizzasa tiles in the lobby to the creation of a white garden with a cloud tree as you walk to the patisserie with the varied themes within each restaurant, every nook and corner of the Mondrian Doha has a Marcel Wander’s touch that is unmistakable. The lobby space acts as a transition between reality and fantasy.
Marcel explains the spaces thus, “The Golden Bell signifies a grand welcome, celebration, togetherness, and is designed to remind us of our favorite time at school, recess.”
Marcel’s signatures here include golden falcon eggs, flowers and giant columns – a design narrative that seems evokes a dream-like sensation, is repeated throughout the hotel.
In the Stairway Lounge, you can find the custom-designed iconic ‘Floating Staircase’ that symbolizes that the sky is the limit, reflecting the Mondrian philosophy.
“It is an opportunity to lose yourself, to be daring and free. Your story begins here with the hand-painted ceiling and continues all the way to our 27th Floor sky continuing the sense of exuberance to the dance floors above.”
My favorite space is the white cloud themed garden near the lobby, that makes us want to go back to being a child. Known as the “Frozen Forest”, the lobby lounge is adorned with another of Marcel’s signatures, the “Tree of Life”.
Clouds come together to form trees, representing life and well-being. The floral theme continues with the fabric, carpets and floral wall in this sleek lounge space.
Marcel and his team have taken design inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales and Mondrian Doha is the stage for each guest’s unique modern-day story.
SCALE talks to Marcel Wander to understand how an international designer brought in local context within the hotel without scarifying on the contemporariness of the design.
SCALE: What was the client direction for the interior design inspiration and how did you work to meet that request?
Marcel Wanders: The opportunity set before us was to create an incredible destination for international and local travelers alike. They wanted a luxurious destination hotel that you would never need to leave, as all of the guest’s desires would be catered to. The objective from the start was to create a fantastic destination that is sensitively rooted in local Arabic culture. It has become the embodiment of Arabia as experienced through a lens that mirrors the modern reality of Doha. The client was involved in a positive way, helping us to define how the city has grown immeasurably over the past few years, transforming itself from a modest fishing village into global visionary capital. This gave us the vision they were expecting.
SCALE: How is the interior design concept played out through materials? What sensory relationships are created?
Marcel Wanders: Throughout this hotel based on the Arabian tale One Thousand and One Nights, we utilized everything from bespoke artwork and design to luxurious flooring to create a multi-sensory experience. For example, we utilized different styles and finishes of tiles in multiple locations with different patterns and contrasting dimensions to bring a particular captivating mood. The Bisazza tiles used are matched by color and geometric shape. We also incorporated custom-designed Bisazza mosaic tile installations in the lobby lift, penthouse room, the bridal suite bathroom, as well as on the floors of the male and female spas and pool area. To express storytelling, we designed spaces with artwork related to expeditions and travel. Along with the artwork, we designed a three-dimensional plaster feature wall that is a showcase of local geometry. A decorative glass dining table and richly patterned perforated wall light exhibit authenticity and local significance.
SCALE: How do you think the interior design concept compliments the hotel’s sense of place?
Marcel Wanders – The concept of One thousand and One Nights is reinforced throughout the space, as we incorporated bespoke design features with influences from the beauty of local patterns, ornate Arabic writing, and historic souks. Also, the suites themselves are an eclectic mix of bespoke design that makes a seamless connection to the rich local culture.
SCALE: Which are your favorite spots in the hotel and why?
Marcel Wanders – What I enjoy most about the hotel is something you cannot see – the experience guests have in their minds as the many-layered themes and individual spaces allow guests to weave for themselves a volume of stories to keep forever. Each part of the hotel connects to the whole experience. When done right, you are unable to point to one piece as something that stands out above the others. I am so proud of the entirety of the project and what it means to the people of this region.
SCALE: How did you incorporate local design, was it through research or through interaction with local people?
Marcel Wanders – When I work on a hotel project, I allow everything in the local culture to influence me – from local customs to clothing styles to architecture and language. Everything about a region is considered. When you look closely at a place you can see patterns, colors, shapes and societal arrangements that are unique to every location. I also speak with as many people as I can to get a sense of the spirit of a place and to learn why the people have such a connection to the region.
As I finish my tour of the hotel, I struggle to find my favorite space here. I cannot decide between the brilliance of the mirrors that reflect the Arabian lamps hanging down in organized disarray at Morimoto Doha and the cool comfortable wooden cave-like setting of the Hudson Tavern, with its industrial brewery inspired design that evokes memories of an old rest house through rustic iron and wooden furniture and brick walls. And then I remember the child-like wonder the cloud trees had aroused….