Focus: Drama

We look at Lighting Design Collective’s award-winning scheme for the Omani Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort

Winner of the hotel category of the 2017 Light Middle East Awards, Anantara is the highest luxury resort in the Middle East and among the highest in the world, perching on the curving rim of a great canyon 2000m above sea level. Long inaccessible, Al Jabal Al Akhdar (Arabic for the green mountain) is a towering massif on the Sultanate of Oman’s vast Saiq Plateau.

The resort has a total of 115 luxury rooms and villas, six restaurants and lounges, fitness centre, tennis court and spa, as well as ballroom and meeting facilities. The architecture, featuring fort-like doors carved from solid wood, gently curving archways and decorative latticework, is inspired by the layout of the local villages. Built using traditional techniques and local materials, the resort even references the al falaj water features, mirroring Oman’s typical system of irrigation channels.

The entrance to the hotel promises dramaThe entrance to the hotel promises drama

The lighting scheme, typically in a hotel, had to deal with a wide range of different spaces with varying functions while retaining a consistent flavour throughout. What is striking about the scheme is the extensive use made of shadowing and patterning, echoing both the architectural vernacular and a climatic context where the fierce sun creates dramatic contrasts and shadows.

‘The concept sought to create a sense of drama and beauty heightened by the play of light and shade, the texture of the natural materials, accentuated vegetation, and hierarchy of focal points,’ says founder/director of Lighting Design Collective Tapio Rosenius. ‘It draws from the forms, volumes, the play of natural light, use of local materials, and decorative details of traditional Omani architecture and interiors.

The courtyard sits at the heart of the hotel
The courtyard sits at the heart of the hotel

‘The decision to emphasise a particular lighting language is purely contextual to me,’ he adds. ‘While the vernacular or the cultural traditions always form part of the contextual study the deeper drivers such as memory creation or sense of drama were the key reasons to go for a very textured lighting here.’

Reflections are cast on to specular surfaces, pendants throw intricate lattice patterns onto the walls, floor-standing lanterns draw precise symmetrical patterns across the floor, creating a shadow carpet. While such effects might appear random they are carefully orchestrated, each space considered in relation to the next.

A chandelier of golden globes hang through a restaurant into floors belowA chandelier of golden globes hang through a restaurant into floors below

‘The lighting design sought to create magical moments, talking points and strong memories for the guests – light was to become a memory creator,’ says Rosenius. ‘The visitors’ experience was studied in sequences in order to arouse distinctive emotions inspired by the night-time views, the architecture and the landscape. Journey mapping and place-making techniques were deployed to draft a unique conceptual approach to the lighting. One of the key challenges was to curate the guest journey in relation to time. How the artificial light reinterprets the spaces as the evening progresses.

‘Occasional focal points such as the wooden geodesic dome, spanning more than 10m in diameter, had an integrated lighting detail that changed after sunset to create a different feel, for instance. The evening-time light experience continues in the spa, featuring the falaj inspired canals reflecting rippling light across the surfaces.’

Views inside the hotel’s spaViews inside the hotel’s spa

The courtyard is the heart of the resort, where the warmth from the lanterns contrasts with the falaj water-feature lighting. The patio brings together a souk, coffee shop and library, all lit with contemporary integrated LED lighting details, as well as pathways leading to the main restaurant and banquet facilities. Conversion filters were fitted to the LED lanterns to create a particular tonality. All 800 lanterns for the resort were custom designs created by LDC.

‘The level of detailing, integration, compositions with tonality and overall creation of ambience is unique in this project,’ says Rosenius. ‘From concept development to guest-journey mapping and contextual studies, this scheme goes beyond lighting. Technically the driver was to create a true visual balance, a contrast strong enough to feel mysterious but with softness suitable for high-end hospitality. Balance. Something very difficult to achieve.’

Views inside the hotel’s spaViews inside the hotel’s spa

The real skill lies in the apparent randomness and serendipity of the lighting, which is an elusive and mercurial element at the best of times. The choreography is clever because the result could easily have been visual confusion and chaos. ‘I love the unpredictability and we often “design” for it,’ says Rosenius. ‘The layering of lights and a good level of control gives enough flexibility on-site to perfect the composition. A lot of the work that goes into achieving the right visual balance takes place on-site rather on a drawing table. In this project, we also built both VR and actual mock-ups for the filigree patterns and tried them out with the client first.’

Rosenius believes that there is a massive potential for using light and shadow in a much more creative way, especially as developing technology is opening up more options. ‘There are a lot of interesting new possibilities for using light as a pattern creator for interiors and exteriors,’ he says. ‘We are part of the effort to create new technologies for this purpose and have just started working on an EU Horizon 2020 research project called DecoChrom. The idea is to develop printed electrochromics [EC] as an ultra low-power interactive graphics solution for ambient intelligence. This applies directly to light and pattern creation, and the fact that it’s all dynamic and interactive makes it even more exciting for designers.’

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