Design stories: DoubleTree by Hilton Sharjah Waterfront Hotel & Residences

Polykarpos Notaras

Polykarpos Notaras, associate interior designer at GAJ, discusses the practice’s work bringing to life a stylish newbuild reflecting Sharjah’s cultural identity and heritage.

Opened in late 2021, DoubleTree by Hilton Sharjah Waterfront Hotel & Residences boasts inspiring architecture and interiors by GAJ. This newbuild scheme overlooking the Al Majaz Waterfront features 156 rooms, 108 apartments, multiple F&B venues, 366 sq m of event space, a gym, a semi-Olympic indoor pool, a steam swimming room and a Himalayan salt sauna.

Here, Polykarpos Notaras, associate interior designer at GAJ, explains how the architectural and design practice helped client Al Marwan Group deliver an outstanding DoubleTree by Hilton-branded scheme.

How did you come to be involved with the project?

As a senior member of the GAJ design team and an experienced project manager, I was given the responsibility of taking this project from the design stage to completion, ensuring it was completed on time and within budget.

I have worked on a number of hospitality projects throughout my career, and my approach is to forge a close collaboration with the client during the process. Throughout the design and build of the hotel, we expect, and welcome, regular visits and calls from the client to view the progress being made.

It is always helpful to have the client involved every step of the way to allow us to discuss and adjust as we go along.

What was the design brief from the client?

The brief for this property was to create an elevated mid-market product that is clearly defined as part of the Hilton family but with its own personality. It was to reflect its sense of place, echoing Sharjah’s rich history, and bring an authentic, friendly, elegant accommodation option to the Sharjah market.

A key feature of the brief was that the design should tell a story and include signature design elements.

How did you go about delivering the client’s brief?

The design approach is inspired by three key elements, which tell the story of a strong cultural identity and heritage.

The first is the Rolla tree. Once a favorite spot for locals to spend their days waiting for the cargo boats being unloaded at the nearby port, the Rolla tree has a significant role in the area’s history, serving the community for almost 150 years with its large branches and enormous canopy of leaves .

We recreated this iconic gathering place within the hotel as a stylized vertical version of a banyan tree structure at the entrance. The abstract tree sculptures and contemporary majlis-style seating area replicate these gathering points, reminding guests of the welcoming culture of the emirate.

With the second element, we incorporated a modern interpretation of the arish style of housing, a traditional palm-leaf structure of early UAE homes, through stylised cladding and installations cleverly incorporated into the public space of the lobby area.

The third element we used is an acknowledgment of the UAE’s ancient art of pearling, which we created using natural materials including stone, wood and local handicrafts, highlighted by a monochrome palette that borrows heavily from the blue shades of the ocean and the cool green shades of the Rolla tree, accented by warm desert orange and lustrous pink pearl tones.

What were your main sources of inspiration when designing the project?

There were two main overriding guiding principles for the design of the hotel.

The first was that we wanted to create a place to gather, a space reminiscent of years gone by when traveling families would stop to rest under the shade of the Rolla tree, and where local residents would come together to celebrate special occasions.

Secondly, we wanted to use locally inspired materials. Vernacular products, such as mashrabiya elements and arish shelters, express the identity of a community and are a key aspect of our modern-traditional approach to the design of the hotel.

What are the most innovative aspects of the project?

One of the most innovative aspects of the project is the stylised version of the Rolla tree, made from laminated natural oak wood core veneered with eucalyptus. The tree provides a focal point for guests and stands as a symbolic representation of our design ethos.

Hotel wellness centers don’t generally occupy a large space and so, as designers, we have to be highly creative with this area. With an area of ​​1,500 sq m, we created a stunning indoor pool with bespoke specialist lighting, a spacious wooden-floor gym and a unique Himalayan salt sauna.

Which element of the project’s design are you most proud of?

While our modern interpretation of a classic design approach may seem like a contradictory notion, in essence it is the idea of ​​taking aspects from both styles to create a balance that results in a décor that is functional and striking. It is vital when taking this approach that it is handled with sensitivity, otherwise it can look fake.

It was also clear from the outset that most of the fixtures and fittings needed to be custom-made to ensure we maintained the authenticity of the design.

What was the biggest challenge with the project?

The biggest challenge for us on this project was to deliver the project on time during a very difficult year in 2020. The direct impact of the pandemic on construction was unexpected and was a very steep learning curve for us all.

We experienced operational restrictions as well as a general slowdown of the project due to material, subcontractor and supply chain delay, but we were able to continue, albeit under testing circumstances.

How long did you work on the project in total?

For the post-contract work, it was two years.

Has the finished project lived up to expectations?

The project is one we are incredibly proud of. While we were required to work within the Hilton brand guidelines to ensure brand consistency, DoubleTree by Hilton Sharjah Waterfront Hotel & Residences – inspired by Sharjah’s unique heritage and culture – is unique and sits comfortably within its environment.

How would you sum up what this project has achieved?

Overall, the hotel embraces its connection to the outside through the use of natural light, which gives the hotel a light, bright and airy feel.

The completed project brings a new standout DoubleTree by Hilton product to the market. It is a creative hospitality choice rooted in culture and community.

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