Biophilic design

The Club Lounge at the Westin Al Akaria hotel development.

Multi-award-winning boutique design agency MMAC Design Associates is currently working on the final design details for the interiors of the five-star Westin Al Akaria hotel development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The project comprises a trio of multi-branded Starwood properties that will house a 242-key five-star Westin, 93-key five-star Westin-branded residences, and 201-key three-star Element by Westin. Located within Al Widyan – a 7-million-sq-m mixed-use development situated in the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) – the property is easily accessible from the Northern Ring Road.

The hotel is in a neighbourhood of low-lying and primarily residential developments, allowing it to take centre stage and serve as a landmark for the area. It will offer hotel rooms, suites and serviced apartments and include various facilities such as swimming pools, two restaurants, reception and waiting areas, a lobby lounge, coffee shop, multi-purpose ballroom, a wedding hall with bridal suite, meeting room with a business centre, executive lounge, spa, a wellness centre and gym.

The property, scheduled to open by the end of 2022, is being developed by Al Akaria Saudi Real Estate Company (Sreco) and the lead consultant is Spanish firm Typsa.

The living room and kitchen in one of the serviced apartments.

The living room and kitchen in one of the serviced apartments.

MMAC started interior design work in May 2018 and is providing full design services – from concept to the tender stage –for the five-star facility.

Following the principles of biophilic design, Westin will bring nature into the space to create an atmosphere of rejuvenation and enhance guests’ well-being, Christian Merieau, managing director/ partner at MMAC, tells Gulf Construction.

“The future-facing, globally-minded approach to the interior landscape had to accommodate the varied and evolving needs of the contemporary traveller. Flexible, customised spaces have to be adapted for individuals and groups, work and play, solitude and socialising,” he says.

The interior design responds to the Saudi way of life, taking into consideration the cultural sensibilities and incorporating subtle references within its expression.

Through the use of subtle patterns within the interior that are reminiscent of an Islamic style and the creative planning of spaces that make use of regional concepts like the majlis style, the interiors strikes a balance between cultural sensitivity and brand identity.

The interior design aims to create a distinctly ethnic yet contemporary ambiance through the principle of biophilic design. The interior design explores the use of Arabesque vertical gardens, geometrical planters, contrast of solid/void within textured screens, play of light and shadow within patterned surfaces, amongst others, to subtly create sense of place whilst staying true to the brand’s central theme.

Highlighting the main design features, Merieau says an interplay of transparency, light and shadows are created by a restrained usage of high-quality untreated natural materials on large surfaces. This is further accentuated by the incorporation of a monumental vertical garden in the lobby which acts like a modern oasis to welcome visitors in.

Another key feature is a grand staircase that offers dramatic views of the surrounding neighbourhood.

The spa at the hotel ... focus on natural materials.

The spa at the hotel ... focus on natural materials.

In terms of colour direction, a base colour palette has been used with vibrant hues inspired by unexpected natural sources. The secondary colour palette captures the tonal fluidity of oxidised metals and alloys exposed to the elements, evoking the transformative power of nature. The colour palette is dominated by varying tones of beige and warm grey and accented with green, amber, rust and black.

Merieau says the use of natural materials such as light stones, oiled woods as well as wool rugs play a strong role in the biophilic identity. The focus is on high-grade natural materials: natural walnut/oak paired with gunmetal and dull brass. Re-interpreted patterns inspired from the desert and nature are used as the unifying theme within the spaces.

“Furthermore, a well-elaborated styling will add a final layer of detail to the interior and support the design narrative. The well-chosen elements create points of interest and a sense of place and support a residential aesthetic,” he adds.

Materials, Merieau says, have been sourced from all around the world but with a very strong emphasis on environmentally responsible procurement.



Dubai-based MMAC was founded by Merieau and Anil Mangalat in 2014 in the UAE. The firm provides interior design services to developers, architects and hotel operators, and is specialised in luxury, up-scale and upper mid-scale hotel and restaurant design, having developed more than 60 hotel concepts for international operators.

The firm’s hospitality expertise is fully expressed through its ability to produce powerful and original designs for each project, delivering on time and within budget, while fusing the client’s vision, local customs, geographic considerations and the operator’s guidelines.

Merieau says MMAC’s mission is to understand the needs of its hospitality clients and provide creative design and innovative solutions through an efficient process based on deep industry knowledge, extensive and specialised experience and an up-to-date comprehension of standards, context and expected guest experience.

Commenting on the latest trends in the market, he says architects, designers and developers nowadays are conscious of the taste of guests, and so today’s hotels have shifted their focus from just brands to provide more themed and locally relevant hotels to increasingly demanding guests.

“Staged story-telling does now play an important role in hotel design,” he adds.

Merieau is also perceptive of trends for tomorrow. He says hotels will have to expand into the community and engage locals. “They will have to become a destination for travellers and locals; more than being a portal to the local culture, they will have to be active participants in the community,” Merieau remarks.

Hotels, he adds, will have to incorporate external partnerships to keep hospitality fresh and the experiences relevant to their guests. They will have to deliver a variety of environments that support the guests’ mindset, providing the opportunity to explore new experiences.

Furthermore, rather than being a single building in a single location for a single purpose, hotel spaces will have to be maximised and integrate multi-purpose spaces within and outside the hotel to offer a whole new level of flexibility to guests.

Similarly, services and businesses will need be integrated to serve as the nexus of the travel industry; and delivering a seamless experience for the business traveler will remain paramount.

Some of the market challenges, he says, are delayed payments and cash flow problems linked to them.

MMAC has delivered numerous high-end projects in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Some of its prestigious projects in the GCC and globally include the Luxury Collection in Aqaba, Jordan, and Mercure Sohar in Oman.

Among the projects it is currently working on in the UAE are the three-star Rove La Mer, Rove City Walk, and the four-star Millennium Mirdif Hills in Dubai; and the three-star Rove Al Marjan and four-star Rotana Arjan in Ras Al Khaimah.

In Saudi Arabia, apart from the Westin Al Akaria in Riyadh, it is designing the five-star Kempinski hotel and serviced apartments, and four-star Embassy by Hilton – both in Makkah.

Other projects include a five-star Kempinski in Mahe, Seychelles; and a five-star Hyatt Centric in Dhaka, Bangladesh.