Serving the faithful

The lobby at the Conrad Makkah.

UNDER a massive deal signed in 2010, Wilson Associates is working on the designs for the interiors of 19 of the 26 hotels in Jabal Omar Development Company’s (JODC) mega development in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

The project is part of Makkah Development Authority’s plan to develop the central region of Islam’s holiest city by 2020.

The contract has meant that the internationally acclaimed interior architectural design firm would design over 10,500 rooms simultaneously for one client.

Allowed only 12 minutes to make the original pitch for the business of all 19 hotels, Wilson Associates succeeded in communicating its design goal and expertise – which is creating designs based on cultural and historic traditions of the past with a contemporary refinement, while capturing the spirit of the place.

“We don’t have one look, we design for the client and for the market, incorporating the culture, traditions and topography of the project’s location,” says Trisha Wilson, founder of Wilson Associates. “Here in Makkah, our design focus is to create a balance between contemporary elegance and strong architectural elements punctuated with luxurious finishes.”


Scope of work

The scope of Wilson Associates project – over the 2 million sq m area – includes 27 towers ranging from 20 to 48 storeys.

“To break that down a little more, that means 9,600 guestrooms, some with triple-bed accommodations. We will design one royal suite and multiple presidential and VIP suites. None of the bathrooms will have bathtubs, and the men’s restrooms do not have urinals,” says Yasin Abdullah, vice-president project development, Wilson Associates.

In addition, it is designing 17 grand lobbies and 40 to 45 food and beverage outlets, each offering views of Makkah and the surrounding holy sites. Also, one of the hotels will have a grand multi-purpose ballroom that will hold 1,600 people.

Funnels rising to the ceiling ... a highlight of the Hilton’s lobby.

Funnels rising to the ceiling ... a highlight of the Hilton’s lobby.

Most of the world’s best known brands have been selected and are actively working on the development of this project, he says. These include the Hilton, Westin, Marriott, Hyatt and Sheraton, among others.

The Conrad and Hilton Convention Hotel are Phase One hotels, which are scheduled to open in 2014-15. Wilson Associates will then work on Phase Two comprising the Starwood-Westin and Sheraton hotels.

Each hotel location will be connected by a vehicular ring road for easy check-in and out accessibility. The complex will also be served via separate grand pedestrian walkways connecting all the hotels.

“There are few hospitality design firms worldwide with the depth of design talent and technical and production resources to handle such a huge creative challenge for a fast-track development,” says Michael Linczyc, Wilson Associates’ principal in charge and corporate director of development.

There are 35 to 50 Wilson Associates team members located across six of its seven offices dedicated to realising JODC’s vision for Makkah. Each hotel has a team comprising four to five associates: project manager, project designers, architects and FF&E (furniture, fittings and equipment) designers. Abdullah is in charge of the Makkah project, overseeing the entire development and progress at each phase of the design process.


Design & challenges

Abdullah says the most significant challenge is to understand the global Islamic culture and to achieve a design that balances aesthetics, comfort and function. Also, since the site is in a mountainous region, access in general is a challenge. “Additionally, we’ve had to take into account the availability and quality of resources (materials and quality of workmanship),” he adds.

Also, he says there are some nuances specific to Islamic culture like understanding the segregation of the sexes, especially in public spaces like restaurants, where males and females should not intermingle. Then, the beds are not to face the Kaaba, Islam’s most sacred place.

“A lighter colour palette is preferred,” Abdullah comments, “so our finishes and FF&E items were neutral and whimsical. Furthermore, art with humans and animals is discouraged in Islam, so we have used naturescapes, calligraphy and Islamic patterns (literal and abstract). And finally, any pattern with a cross or six-point star is not permitted.

The multi-purpose room at the Hilton ... exquisite finishes.

The multi-purpose room at the Hilton ... exquisite finishes.

“Our teams have done their homework! We’ve researched just about everything related to Islamic culture, especially the art and architecture. We did intensive studies about the Muslim world’s most prominent landmarks, understanding them from a conceptual and lifestyle perspective. We also had several workshops with our clients, hotel operators, project consultants and in-house experts to ensure our deliverables were culturally aligned.”

Abdullah says they had received brand standards and an F&B (food and beverage) brief from each operator. “However, each brief was tailored specifically for the Makkah market, and we have an ongoing dialogue with the client to ensure the final design concept is in line with the principles of the brand and Islamic culture,” he says.

According to Abdullah, Wilson Associates’ design goal for these hotels was to be simple, elegant, comfortable and durable to accommodate and represent the global Muslim population.

“We were particular about specifying durable materials due to the number of pilgrims that will stay in each hotel” he says. “We were also particular about lighting levels being appropriate for guest use, hence we have kept most of the architectural lighting source indirect, utilising cove and wall washers to balance the overall ambiance of the space. Downlights are positioned carefully to enhance the visual and functional task. Decorative lights are always an integral part of our design to capture the mood of the space.”



For the Conrad Makkah, Wilson Associates’ scope of work covers the lobby, all-day dining, steakhouse, club lounge, meeting rooms, public, restrooms, guestrooms, and corridors.

“Upon entry into the Conrad Makkah, guests are immediately awed by the luxurious grandeur of the hotel,” says a spokesman for Wilson Associates. “The reception area is fitted with the finest of materials, evoking a sense of place through the use of conceptual patterns, colours, light fixtures and materials.

“The warm colour palette is meant to be powerful and masculine, yet inviting and welcoming. A custom-made Lasvit chandelier made of small pieces of broken gold glass adds an elegant sparkle to the lobby. The polished marble grand staircase creates movement throughout the reception area, leading guests to the mezzanine where they can sit, relax and unwind after a long day.”

Paying tribute to a New York Steakhouse, the hotel’s specialty dining restaurant provides a taste of American culinary dishes in a luxuriously contemporary environment. Dark cherry wood floors and leather-studded seating evoke authority and social stature. The varying levels of chandeliers add dimension and vibrancy to the space. Polished nickel juxtaposed against the rich cherry wood creates variety, inspired by the multiple steak dishes on the menu.

The guestrooms are intended to be more subtle than the lobby, creating a private oasis for the guest. They are full of luxurious finishes and plush materials. The carpet and accessories reveal contemporary patterns, while the furniture is more traditional. A neutral colour palette, with bursts of blue, creates a tranquil atmosphere, while sculptural lamps inspired by the sand dunes and barren land of Makkah evoke a sense of place.

The guestroom bathroom is full of elegant sparkle; furnishing, surfaces and accessories are all polished nickel complemented by polished white marble surfaces. The counter and sink level have been lowered in religious respect for those visiting Makkah.

“Overall, the Wilson Associates design team created a relaxing oasis for the hotel guest with design concepts reflecting the culture of the holy city,” says the spokesman.


Hilton Convention Hotel

The hotel is housed in two towers, each offering 800 to 900 rooms. Wilson Associates’ scope on the project covers a lobby with a lounge, restaurant and restrooms; an all-day-dining restaurant; a multi-purpose room and lobby; business lounge; a VIP lounge; the Lebanese restaurant; Indian/Malay restaurant; auditorium; meeting rooms; and guestrooms including interconnecting and junior rooms, a VIP suite and a presidential suite.

The lobby will have a backlit quartz reception desk, white and cream chevron marble flooring, and custom-made LED (light emitting diode) low-voltage fixtures by Preciosa/Lasvit. Highlights of this area include funnels that rise from the ground to the ceiling, wall sconces created using wire pieces and wooden slatted walls representing sand dunes, to give guests the impression of walking into an oasis. The mezzanine level has a balcony comprising thick glass, moulded to look like ice, with a hand rail that is 5 ft high. The lighting in the lobby creates fluidity while bringing all elements together.

The lobby and lounge will have leather panelled doors and feature a neutral colour palette complemented by glass with a feathery/milky translucence and white top-lit sheers. The café lounge and the lobby restaurant will have white sequined wall panelling, soft cream leather-padded doors and a patterned carpet. The VIP lounge will be more traditional featuring wooden brackets, marble columns, silver-clad domes, and stencils on plaster set against a woollen and silk carpet. There will be a private access for the king and his entourage.

The multi-purpose room and lobby will be simple but traditional with a backlit onyx domed ceiling with lighting fixtures that seem to drip down. The restaurants have distinctive themes with the Lebanese outlet being more rustic, the all-day dining outlet making abundant use of lavender and leather and sheers with satin thread and crystals, and another facility that uses spices as its theme. The regular rooms will have a Western feel with underlying Islamic patterns for cultural context.

Founded in 1971, Wilson Associates specialises in interior architectural design and today employs more than 300 professionals at its headquarters in Dallas and offices in New York and Los Angeles in the US, Singapore, Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Shanghai in China and an associate office in Cochin, India.

The firm, ranked as one of the top two firms in the hospitality design industry worldwide, creates interiors for world-class hotels, restaurants, clubs, casinos and high-end residential projects, offering a full range of design services.