We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Sun 5 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Getting the wow factor

With a record number of new hotels on the horizon, luxury pools are in demand like never before. James Boley finds out how to meet the expectations of the world’s most demanding client – the five-star guest.

Getting the wow factor
The right lighting can give a pool a new image at night. (The Palace, The Old Town).
Getting the wow factor
Features such as pool bars are now a norm. (The Meridien Mina Seyahi).
Getting the wow factor
Space for lengths is important for business travellers. (The Palace, The Old Town).
Getting the wow factor
The design of a pool needs to complement the design of a building. (The Banyan Tree, Al Areen, Bahrain.).
Getting the wow factor
Strong pool design leaves an impression. The Crowne Plaza, Dubai Festival City.
Getting the wow factor
Division of space can create the illusition of privacy even in a public space. The One & Only Royal Mirage.

With a record number of new hotels on the horizon, luxury pools are in demand like never before. James Boley finds out how to meet the expectations of the world’s most demanding client – the five-star guest.

In recent years, hotels in the Middle East have become the last word in luxury. Figures from Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing suggest that 2.2 million guests stayed in five-star hotels in Dubai alone in 2007 - over 37% of all tourists visiting the Emirate. Yet with luxury hotels come luxury demands, and five-star travellers, be they there for business or pleasure, have some of the most discerning tastes on the market.

Visitors to luxury hotels expect more from a stay than your average tourist: they want to be wowed, to be seduced, to have an experience out of the ordinary.

A pool is far more a feature than just an amenity. It's a unique selling point.

In the Middle East, this experience tends to focus on the outdoor area where, thanks to the favourable climate for much of the year, the visitor will spend a large part of their time.

And there is no area that will have a bigger impact on their impression than the hotel swimming pool. "A guest's memory of their stay at a resort should be comprised mainly of the pool," notes Richard Hallick, associate principal at landscape and urban design firm EDSA, which did the design for the pool at the One & Only Royal Mirage hotel in Dubai.

The challenge is for the designer of the pool - what can he or she do to ensure that what is essentially just a hole in the ground filled with water becomes a feature that creates both a strong first impression and that draws guests back to the hotel time and time again?

Key considerations

A pool design that is complementary to the design of the hotel is one of the first elements hotel managers look for in a luxury pool.

The design of the hotel impacts the design of the pool in three main ways: the size of the pool, its layout, and its overall aesthetic appearance.

The best pools are those that blend in with the hotel's design aesthetic, says Christopher Delgado, chief architect, pool contractor Belhasa Projects. "[Pools] are now an architectural feature," he says.

"The architects who design buildings are now designing  pools that enhance the architectural character of the building." The pool at The Palace, The Old Town, for example, uses a mosaic tile theme in the wall of the pool which reflects that of the hotel building.

Designers agree that mirroring the design of the pool to the design of the building can be effective, but also suggest that taking the opposite approach and exploring contrast can work as well.

"If the building has a lot of free lines and curves, you can use free lines and curves for the pool, but it's not formal whether it's better or not. Maybe for contrast you can mix curves with sharp lines," suggests Bahman Vaziri, owner of St Tropez Design, which offers a pool design service.Functionality is the second key requirement, say hotel managers. "You must have a functionality relative to the size of the pool," says Olivier Heuchenne, manager of The Palace, The Old Town. This can cover various aspects, from having a pool large enough for people to swim lengths, to providing separate areas so visitors with children are kept apart from the business visitors, for example.

It is essential to produce a design that considers and responds to the needs and expectations of all the different user groups, say hotel managers. Will the user want to use the pool for a quick swim or to spend the day there? Are they on holiday or on business? Are they alone or in a group? All of these factors make a difference to the design of the pool.

Business visitors typically use the pool in short visits while leisure travellers are more likely to spend a day lounging by the waters. But while a pool may need to be long enough to accommodate lengths, it doesn't follow that it has to be huge.

It is vitally important to not just put something ordinary down on the ground.

Heuchenne estimates that even at full occupancy, the pool at the Palace Hotel, which caters primarily for business travellers, will have only 30% of guests using its pool at any one time.

"You need to be able to have your functional areas as well have quieter relaxation zones," says Dieter Franke, manager of the InterContinental Dubai Festival City. "We have a lot of families who come here but they don't disturb the guests at the pool bar because there is a separate kids' splash pool."

A third consideration on the functionality front is the adaptation of what is essentially a public space into an area for private usage.

The pool at the Palace Hotel at the One & Only Royal Mirage in Dubai is one hotel that manages this well, with the overall area of the pool divided into areas separated by trees creating nooks where individual groups can establish their own space and gain some degree of privacy.

New innovations

With the anticipated growth of the tourism industry, there is much demand for  clever and creative luxury pool design.

But expectations are high. A basic four by four pool will no longer cut the ice. From the organic shapes to the popular horizon edges that give the impression the pool user is swimming in the sea, pools now need to have that extra something special.

"It is vitally important to not just put something very ordinary down on the ground. These days there is a lot of competition to bring something new to any development," says Warr.

Unusual pools in the region include the pool on the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City, which features a twist on the infinity edge design. The pool, which is on level four of the hotel , extends over the edge of the building, enabling swimmers to view people walking beneath them.

One of the major changes in recent years that has elevated luxury pool design to a new level is the concept of swimming pools as more than just a place to swim. Pools now include spa facilities, pool bars and even elements such as islands or bridges. "A pool is far more a feature than just an amenity. It is a unique selling point," notes Franke.Designers suggest that such features are no longer even a novelty factor these days but rather something that is now expected in every five-star hotel.

One requirement that regional hotel managers tend to ask for is exploitation of lighting in recognition of the fact that much of the usage of a pool is in the evening.

Pool areas often have a dual purpose transforming into a shisha lounge, for example, in the evening, and the lighting needs to reflect that. "Lighting is very important, especially at night time, to create a nice ambience," comments Delgado. Fibre optics are the most popular way of lighting pools, although LEDs are starting to gain ground, according to designers.

Unusual or exotic tiles that will make a pool stand out from the crowd are another popular request, say designers. "We use imported exotic materials, like handmade tiles, for our upmarket clients," says Delgado.

"When you see them, it's a work of art, it really stands out." Top of the range tiles can cost as much as US$2000 per square metre in comparison to US$70 for a more basic tile, according to Delgado.

Getting unusual materials installed can sometimes be a problem however, says Warr, as some contractors are reluctant to do anything new.

"If you challenge them to do something slightly different, there is a tendency for them to walk away because they can find an easier job elsewhere," he comments. Tracking trends in other markets

While the region's pools may be impressive, specialist pool designers believe it is in Asia that the most striking pool design can be found. "We are trailing behind Asian pools. There is a lot we can learn from them. Many are integrated into the environment and you can see surroundings far better than what we have here," says Franke.

Innovations include incorporation of wellbeing features and exotic tiles. Pools in Bali, for example, often use a more natural emerald colour than the bright blue colour favoured in the Middle East.

With the number of luxury pools required in the region increasing, and investors keen pay that bit extra for a pool that creates an impression, it seems that the only thing holding pool designers back is a lack of imagination.

Case study

Opened in November, 2007, the Raffles Hotel, Dubai boasts one of Dubai's most unusual luxury pools. Mike Warr, architect at Arif & Bintoak, the architecture firm that designed the hotel, talks Commercial Outdoor Design through the concept.

"The hotel was to be more commercially aligned than a tourist hotel and the client wanted something that would provide amusement but also distract from the noise of the traffic from the nearby Sheikh Zayed Road.

"The concept was based on an Egyptian water clock, which the client had seen in Egypt, and which complemented the design of the hotel building which resembles a pyramid.

"There are five major round columns with glass bowls on the top. Those were originally supposed to have flames in them rather than water and lights, but we realised the flames would get blown out and prove expensive, so I came up with the idea of instead using water jets and coloured bulbs.

"The jets are programmed to come on together with the flames every 15 minutes. On the hour, all the water jets between the columns come on into the pool. Then there are 12 jets which come out of the canvas roof over the bar, so that people using the pool can tell the time.

"The intention in the design of the pool was to create a focal point of interest as well as to drown out the noise of the surrounding traffic."

Interpreting an unusual concept requires a strong understanding between client and designer, notes Warr. "If you can have a relationship with the client, the pleasure is so much more," he says.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Real news, real analysis and real insight have real value – especially at a time like this. Unlimited access ArabianBusiness.com can be unlocked for as little as $4.75 per month. Click here for more details.