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Fri 31 Dec 2010 12:00 AM

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Minimalist man

Heidar Sadeki, design director at Richardson Sadeki and the interior architect for ESPA at The Yas Hotel in Abu Dhabi, takes Hotelier Middle East on a design journey through the recently opened spa.

Minimalist man
Heidar Sadeki.

The Yas Hotel in Abu
Dhabi is world-renowned for its architecture and
design, created by Asymptote Architecture. It’s no surprise that its spa, ESPA
at The Yas Hotel, is of a similarly striking standard. However, the spa has a
very different look and feel to the hotel and the design was not impacted by
the hotel building’s iconic architecture at all, reveals Heidar Sadeki, design
director at Richardson Sadeki, the spa interior architect.

“The spa is a very different thing because we looked at the
traditional hammam, and the defining feature of the hamman is privacy, and the
fact that there is a major difference between the interior and exterior,”
explains Sadeki. “If you look at the entrance of ESPA, I have covered all of
the windows entirely, and except for the tepid relaxation room and the retail
area, there is no access to the exterior from the spa. I closed it off. In that
sense, I created a rather excessive interiority, similar to the Islamic hammam.
In the hammam, the only means of light coming through is in the form of rather
gothic, small windows in the ceiling.

“With the spa we went into a language that is completely
different to the architectural language evident in the rest of the hotel,” he

The design ethos of Richardson Sadeki is “very modern and
minimalistic”, says Sadeki. His challenge at The Yas Hotel was to articulate
Islamic architecture, especially in relation to the spa centrepiece of the
hammam, described above, but in a minimalist way — something which Sadeki
acknowledges he has rarely seen achieved.

“For example, I have taken the Islamic motif on the walls of
the entrance area, but the articulation of the motif is very modern. There is
cut brass and cut aluminium installed on layers of glass,” he says.

Sadeki considers this a very unique approach, and the result
is far removed from the tendency towards Asian-oriented spas.

“There are very few spas that I know of right now in the
world that have taken this approach. Most spas go down the traditional route of
creating a very quaint space. And while I think those spas are quite wonderful,
it’s not what we do,” he says.

Design goals

So what does Sadeki do when it comes to spa design? First
and foremost, the goal is to ensure that “the server does not run into the

“I am always very careful for you not to run into the guy
with the mop,” says Sadeki.

This is intertwined with the priority placed on guest
privacy and comfort — the number one concern for Sadeki.

“The three major experiences that have to do with clothing
are: fully clothed, robed and naked. It is important to make sure that people
are comfortable in all three of these stages, within a very small space,” says
Sadeki. “That’s very difficult, especially in situations where we have both

“Even if you have a situation where you only have one
gender, for example in the women’s lounge or locker room, women may not be
comfortable being naked within the proximity of other women, whether that comes
from a sense of shyness or being insecure about one’s body. That is the
technical aspect of designing a spa. You can basically lose the whole game if a
client is made to feel even a little uncomfortable in any of those situations.

“How can I make a place memorable when essentially we bring
you into this space, you take your clothes off, and then a strange person comes
into the room and gives you a massage? How can we make sure that you leave the
place and still have a fond and comfortable memory of it?  I believe that spa programmes, alongside
hospital programmes, are some of the most difficult programmes to design,” he

“Also, I don’t want you to just remember that you were
comfortable. I want you to be comfortable enough to remember what you
experienced. So, if I succeed in making you feel comfortable, then the next
step is creating an experience that is memorable,” says Sadeki.

And this is a man who knows what he is talking about, having
designed the famous Bliss Spa in New
York City.

“I asked the spa owner to allow me to work in the spa
anonymously for five days and I really got an idea for how a spa functions,” he

At ESPA at The Yas Hotel, this has resulted in a very
linear, sequential and luxurious facility.

“So when you arrive [at ESPA], you have the option of a
waiting lounge, check-in or retail. As a gentleman you will be taken directly
upstairs. In my western spas, I will assign a lot more space to men than women
because it is an emerging market. In this part of the world, the female part of
the spa is more prominent,” says Sadeki.

“I want to take you through an experience that cuts out the
outside world, so you can recalibrate your senses. On arrival, I have thrown in
a visual reference, which you will remember later on — The Carrara stone [also
seen in the tepid relaxation room]. In all my spas I want to create privacy but
I also want to create a sense of connectivity.

“There are two aspects to this. One is from the purely
economic point of view. I would like to enable you, as a spa owner, to make
sure that the space works very efficiently so you maximise income. In other
words, you could have up to two people at any given time in the hammam, and you
can have four more waiting in the tea room. A lot of spaces are both a part of
the processing line, but at the same time, they are part of creating a journey
for the guest that is both comforting and relaxing,” says Sadeki.

After the hammam, the guest moves to the tepid relaxation
area, which has access to a balcony overlooking the marina.

“We’ve included lots of small foyer areas, so there is an
intermission between all of the main spaces. In terms of creating comfort in a
space where you are not fully clothed, this is key. You have a place to
recompose yourself.”

Operator opinion

The spa was designed before the operator came on board,
although ESPA was a consultant on the project. So how does the spa manager
perceive the design?

Aoibheanna Bonner, spa and recreation manager at ESPA at The
Yas Hotel says: “Our design highlights include the feeling of space throughout
the spa, we have lots of natural daylight with floor to ceiling windows in most
of our treatment rooms overlooking the marina. Our colours and textiles reflect
Arabia with bronze walls in our Hammam,
Italian marble walls and the sculptured garden within our Rotunda.

“Spas as we know are traditionally dark. At ESPA at The Yas
Hotel our design immediately captures the guests; they feel indulged as they
walk through the spa and the mix of colours, textures and light allows them to

“Our spa suite with private elevator access from the
presidential suite offers privacy and exclusivity that is quite unique,” adds

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