Waldorf Astoria Doha: A Tribute to its Historical Predecessor
Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts recently announced the opening of the highly anticipated Waldorf Astoria Doha West Bay. We focus on the art-deco design references and design features of the Doha property that has respectfully replicated the historic Waldorf Astoria New York.
With an ideal location close to the first shopping centre in Doha, the City Centre, and a tall 44-storeyed glass structure, the property epitomises modern luxury with a distinct New York touch.
Designed with a façade and main entrance almost identical to the original Waldorf Astoria in New York, the hotel nods to the brand’s rich heritage and legacy, bringing Manhattan flair to Qatar’s capital. The 44-storey property features 283 rooms and suites, as well as 50 luxury apartments – all of which boast a distinct art deco style. In addition, each guest of the property is said to be assigned a personal concierge who will attend to every detail of their stay from pre-arrival to post-departure again a nod at the American hospitality for which Waldorf Astoria is famous for.
NYC Waldorf Astoria, known for its legendary American hospitality, had set a list of global precedents: the first hotel to have electricity on every floor, the first to have en-suite baths, and the first to offer 24-hour room service and also for its legendary visitors and patrons.
The original Waldorf Hotel was built at 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue in 1893 by William Waldorf Astor. Four years later, John Jacob Astor IV, William’s cousin, and familial rival, built an even taller hotel next door in an act of one-upmanship. The cousins finally agreed to a truce and the two buildings were connected through a 300-foot marble corridor known as Peacock Alley.
Thus, was born Waldorf-Astoria. What is fascinating is that the historical corridor is replicated in Doha in similar grandeur. Thus celebrating history, design and art at the Waldorf Astoria Doha.
SCALE speaks to the design team at Hirsch Bedner Associates Erica Prichard, Senior Associate, and Helen Ward, Senior Project Designer – Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) to understand the salient features of this New York themed hotel in Doha.
SCALE: What was the theme of the interiors? How different was it from the design brief of the New York Waldorf Astoria?
HBA: Art Deco is the design style referenced for both Waldorf Astoria hotels. The original, built in New York City, opened at the beginning of the 1930s, and was in alignment with the period in which it was conceived and built. During its heyday, art deco represented luxury, glamour, exuberance, and faith in social and technological progress. The movement featured rare and expensive materials, such as ebony and ivory, and exquisite craftsmanship, all of which can be seen in the NYC Waldorf Astoria.
Included in this focus on the opulent, was the famous clock, a one-of-a-kind timepiece which earned its place and purpose with the well-rehearsed – “meet us at the clock,” a destination within a destination.The Waldorf Astoria in Doha aims to capture much of the same precedents. With rare marbles, monumental gilded eglomise panels, an abundance of hand painted wallpaper, immense bas-relief plaster feature panels are illustrated with mythical landscapes, there are limitless amounts of antique mirror and the famous, iconic clock, manufactured by Tiffany & Co.
Strong geometry, height and order is in keeping with the art deco period and was an important part of the initial planning and design process. On the ground floor, for example, it was important to create a grand and impactful entrance that flowed seamlessly to other spaces, whilst also providing intimate guest experiences with a distinct look and feel.
Luxurious finishes, true to the period, line the floors and walls. We worked closely with the suppliers to ensure the finishes and designs were beautiful and told a consistent story throughout the hotel. Beautiful waterjet cut marble – featured throughout the project, are specifically highlighted on the floor patterns.
Low relief decorative plaster panels with stylised foliage, creating mythical landscapes, hand painted bespoke wallcovering (by De Gournay), straw marquetry panels (by Atelier Berger) used on feature ballroom doors, hand crafted eglomise (by Stuart Fox), a scalloped motif created in leather adorn the pilasters in the ballroom and eglomise clad lift cars (by Water Gilders) all display artisan craftmanship throughout the project and create distinct “wow” moments for guests.
The scale and arrangement of the furniture and lighting pieces is also carefully considered. Each piece was designed and made bespoke for the project. We used Art Deco fabrics and finishes, including bespoke colour ways from Vescom to carefully compliment feature stones, such as the Tiffany Blue mohair on the clock banquette, which is also found in each guest room. Bespoke lighting by Bahar Lighting adorn each space and create a common materiality thread through the spaces, including alabaster, seeded and crackle glass, highlighted by champagne gold metal work.
SCALE: How do you make sure that Waldorf Astoria is different from say Chedi Katara, which is also another project of your firm?
HBA: Each project starts with a strong concept that is rooted in in-depth research, that responds to location, owner brief and the guest experience. The narrative / concept is considered at every stage of the project, through to every detail and material for a cohesive and harmonious resolve – the outcome is a memorable interior that does not follow trends but instead is designed with purpose and intention.
In the case of Chedi Katara, the property is located at the water’s edge, which immediately introduces a different ambience, view, and accessibility. It is a resort property conceived in the traditional palatial Arabic architectural style, juxtaposed with European styled FF&E.
The Waldorf Astoria Doha on the other hand is a tribute to a very specific building in NYC (the original Waldorf Astoria) which was conceived in the Art Deco style. Its architecture showcases a pronounced sense of symmetry. The facade is meticulously crafted with balanced placements of windows, doors, and decorative screening elements on either side of a central axis. There is a preference for vertical symmetry, elongation, a fondness for geometric shapes, such as squares, rectangles, and circles, all arranged in symmetrical compositions.
The distinctive features of the Art Deco style are seen in the manifestation and admiration of modernity, the inherent design qualities found in highly rationalised objects. These qualities include a relative simplicity, planarity, symmetry, and the unvaried repetition of elements seen both in the defining exterior architecture and in the interior architecture. The Deco style has continued with its design vocabulary with the intention of creating elegance and sophistication, through materials, proportion, and details.
SCALE: Tell us about the salient features that you have incorporated to bring in the wow element in its interiors.
HBA: Reception Screen – A feature Eglomise screen behind reception references the mythical stylised landscapes by Jean Dunand – one of the art deco period’s great craftsmen. The design of the screen was brought to life by Stuart Fox and his UK team, through many studies and sketches. They then combined precious gold, silver and platinum leaf and other oxidised metals coupled with etching techniques that work harmoniously with the lobby palette to create a masterpiece.
Carved plaster bas relief panels in Peacock Alley – faithful to the art deco period both in materiality and design, the full height Plaster carved wall that bookends peacock alley, highlights a stylised exotic landscape with palm trees, foliage, and hillside motifs – our references were Armand Rateau and Jean Dunard.
The 25-meter pool enjoys views from a prized position, with views far reaching and dramatic – from the city lights to the desert beyond. Spanning the space, a feature sculpture is an elaborate masterpiece of craftmanship by Trestone and is the central focal point of this magnificent space.
The 8.5-meter-long screen is a tribute to Eileen Gray. 14 horizontal rows of polished rectangular quadrants of Ocean Green marble, trimmed in brass and joined by thin vertical metal rods, is not only a sculpture but a movable wall that offers different views based on where the solids and voids are at any one time. The craftsmen who fabricated this piece of art managed to match all 12 slabs of marble that make up the feature piece.
SCALE: How do the interiors of each restaurant differ from one another?
HBA: The Food & Beverage spaces have a distinct look and feel, each with their own brief and unique cuisine offering, materials, furniture, and lighting. They are linked together through a shared location and overarching nod to the Deco Movement.
The best transition of distinct spaces can be experienced on the ground floor between Peacock Alley and Cortland Bar, which plays heavily on light to dark.
The albino peacock provided the initial inspiration space for the iconic Peacock Alley. The soft furnishings are pale and soft and complimented by a custom woven carpet by Stark, based on a pointillist landscape painting – a whirl of pale colours come together as if blown by a celestial wind. The central catwalk in Peacock Alley is defined by a tone on tone, marble mosaic pattern with a subtle peacock feather motif, and bookended by a pale carved plaster landscape.
This transitions into Cortland Bar, through an Anteroom Library, which has a very different look and feel. The candlelit space is designed to feel moody and opulent. Sumptuous heavy cotton velvet drapery added to the theatrics and seclusion imbuing a softness to this space, whilst the geometric carpet is a nod to Jean-Michel Frank and the abstracted city skyline. The liquor is displayed in a jewel box like setting – standing at a spectacular soaring height of 5 meters. This precious enclosure contains a highly rationalised rhythm of elongated antique mirrored arches trimmed in gold and framed in black lacquer.
Ledoux is dedicated to tea, coffee and a glorious variety of cakes and pastries. The interior is a nod to the 1920’ French Patisseries with its painted timber wood panelling, soft hues, and geometric marble floor pattern in Portugalo, Tundra Grey and Pink Golden Spider.
All the fabrics are in soft pale rose pinks, peach tones, light greys, and creams. Two large artwork plinths feature a collection of tinted paper sculptures in the five platonic shapes. Gradient, hand tufted, inset light toned carpets add softness. Seating in pale leathers and mohair, with café tables in a floral back painted glass motif.
A Parisian Brasserie meets curated food hall for All Day Dining. With five distinct artisanal counters that offer a cornucopia of culinary options, guests are privy to a great variety of flavours and menus. Each counter is illuminated by a fluted glass canopy and recognised by its gilded signage. Sconces that speak to the era of low lighting and conversation. Antique cut and bevelled mirror in colliding geometric shapes forms the backdrop to the banquette seating. Fluted plaster walls with high marble wainscotting define the restaurant’s interior perimeter. Highly stylised and intricate marble floor patterns in Rosso Levante, Nero Marquina, Grey Collemandina, Calacutta Helena offer guests a spectacle of precision.
SCALE: How connected is the interior to the place it is in? Which elements of the local culture have you considered in your design?
HBA: The client’s brief was to bring New York City Art Deco to Doha, to design a property that stands apart from the typical International Style Architecture or the more traditional Arabic Architecture. This was a holistic project with the intention of creating a very special destination for business, travellers, and locals alike.
As the owner rightly says, “There isn’t another hotel that looks like ours in the city.”
The exterior pays homage to the original Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Here guests will enjoy spaces precisely crafted with defining deco elements. References to traditional deco materials and patterns are paired with the simplicity, planarity, symmetry, and repetition of elements – allowing both aspects of the design movement to be expressed.
SCALE: Art seems to play a very important role in the interiors. Can you take us through the most important pieces, the brass pieces that adorn various spaces and the paper Mache art within the tearoom?
HBA: Large framed black and white art deco photography lines the guest room corridors and makes a cameo appearance in the guest rooms. The photos explore a myriad of architectural buildings and details, including objects from the 1920-1930’s, offering guests a complete design immersion into the distinct design philosophy of the time.
For much of the public areas, the art can be appreciated floor by floor as it relates to the design brief. Ledoux features sculptures made from second-hand books.
The paper is dyed in a full spectrum of shades of pink, then folded into platonic shapes and arranged on marble plinths, reminiscent of a piece from a delightful pastime game, enjoyed over tea and treats. Carved timber totem height sculptures lacquered in pale pink line the niches of the patisserie.
The large paintings that will adorn the walls and the selection of plants are still on delivery.
Tribeca Market provides guests with a celebration of modernity and graphic illustrations – where a bygone era is celebrated, where the notion of machine and art we’re blurred. This is reinforced in the style of cut antique glass mirror that adorns the walls and will continue further when the second delivery of artwork arrives.
SCALE: Tell us about the design of the de Gournay wallpaper? The classic one in the Peacock Alley and the celebratory one in the restaurant.
HBA: The bespoke hand painted de Gournay wallpaper in the main lobby is based on an art deco leather dream-scape book cover. Each panel, on gilded paper, is different and provides the guest with a very atmospheric ethereal backdrop to an otherwise, highly precise, exacting interior architecture. The wallpaper continues seamlessly from the lobby into Peacock Alley. There is a subtle difference between the platinum and champagne gold wallpaper as the background and a subtle tonal colour change in the paints used to work with the surroundings.
The classic Namban de Gournay wallpaper, used in Cortland Bar, wraps around this art deco New York City style Jazz Bar. The gilded wallpaper is in polished copper, deep rich golds, and warm platinum. It is panoramic in character and illustrated with patterns of abstract gold, swirling clouds, waves of wind and beams of light.
Custom hand painted de Gournay wallpaper illustrates the delicate tea leaves in the central coffer of Yun restaurant, following the contours of the vaulted ceiling. It echoes what happens below where guests immediately discover the dark timber shelves filled with ceramic and wood tea canisters. Deep reds and soft tea-coloured backgrounds compliment the red lacquer, stone, and fabrics below.
We worked closely with de Gournay as they developed sketches and made various samples, testing colour, texture, and scale. The artist added finishing touches on site.
SCALE: As interior architects, which is the most salient feature of Waldorf Astoria Doha?
HBA: The Tiffany Clock is the central captivating feature of the lobby. It took over a year to develop the design in collaboration with Tiffany’s in-house design team. It’s a two-sided timepiece, identical on both sides, fabricated in Switzerland by expert clockmakers.
The bezel relates to the tips of the Falcon feathers, a tribute to the most celebrated bird in the region. The patented Tiffany blue is seen in the clock hands and the number indicators. The clock’s prominent location on the central axis of the main lobby and of the hotel, is elevated by its permanent location on top of a Nero Marquina marble plinth. Below is a highly stylised marble floor pattern, highlighting the boundaries of this very important feature.