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Katara Club

Natural Luxury – the most luxurious, relaxing and innovative Spa in Qatar

The design brief for this project was multifaceted. There was a desire to create something unique - to embrace the world-renowned Nordic approach to wellbeing, design and hospitality - and fuse this seamlessly with local Arabic influences to integrate within the local surroundings. The aspiration was to create a unique setting, with a doorway into a Nordic wellness experience. However, we also had to work within the constraints of an existing building which had been built to accommodate very different design brief.

Our brief as a collection of statements was...

· Simple elegance

· Connectivity to nature

· Contemporary luxury

· Functional intelligence

Key Background information

The building is located within Katara, the largest and the most multidimensional Cultural Project of Qatar, keeping pace with the emerging global culture that emphasises the importance of diversity in human development. It is a place where people come together to experience the cultures of the world. With beautiful theatres, concert halls, exhibition galleries, Katara aims to become a world leader for multicultural activities.

In line with the goals of the Qatar National Vision 2030, Katara serves as a guardian to the heritage and traditions of Qatar and endeavours to spread awareness about the importance of sharing and learning between every culture and civilization – so the gateway concept works very well with this ethos.

Our Approach

Our desire was to use light to really embrace the philosophy and make a big positive impact on the project – to noticeably improve the guests experience. We wanted to use light as a way of celebrating the extreme contrasts found in Scandinavian countries – for example the darkness in winter and the never-ending sunshine in summer, beautiful sun beams and long shadows, sparkles of light in the night sky and the fantastic light shows of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) - exploring opportunities to embrace and or replicate natural light, create cooler sanctuaries and also cosy snugs which did not feel out of place within the local Arabic setting.

Some of the key challenges and considerations:-

The local Arabic character and Nordic approach are very different - almost polar opposite in many ways. To fuse these together in ways which did not appear forced took a lot of consideration, integration and coordination.

Existing building - We had to work within the constraints of an existing building meaning we had to work within some very restricted parameters and incorporate or conceal particular features - to create an immersive fusion of Arabic and Nordic Design. Working closely with the clients and design team to overcome and embrace the limitations and identify opportunities for light to influence the design and guest experience.

Materials – the interior designers were keen to introduce a palette of visually interesting materials, including a reflective ceiling in some areas. which meant we had to consider not only the lighting of the space below but the reflected images and how this was perceived from different views.

Accessibility – some areas involved integrated lighting details within confined treated spaces and often in close proximity, or above water. Many of these spaces and adjacent areas experience large variations in temperature or humidity. Careful consideration had to be given to the specification and accessibility of lighting equipment, to ensure that they could be successfully incorporated in ways which look good and function well and also easily accessed for future maintenance/replacement – without detracting from the perceived quality or immersive guest experience.

Users - Unfamiliar surroundings/experiences - Guest may often be disorientated or drowsy after certain treatments. Lighting was integrated in such a way to provide easy wayfinding without being visually disruptive or disorientating so as to support and subtly enhance the treatment experience.

Budget/Timescales – the usual time and cost pressures applied to this project - at a time when oil prices and available funds were dropping - and so care was taken to make best use of the available budgets whilst striving to satisfy the brief requirements for simple elegance, contemporary luxury and functional intelligence.

Immersive and interactive – we had to create several light effects/shows to enhance the immersive guest experience without being too distracting or dynamic as to detract from the experience of health, wellness and relaxation.

Light creates more than just visual effects (image, intensity, perception, shape, contrast) it also provides biological and psychological triggers that can impact health and wellbeing.

Embracing this approach - the colour, intensity, direction of light and tailored lighting effects - have been carefully curated to enhance the experience and influence the mood of the guest as they pass through each space.

To successfully deliver the brief we employed and developed different lighting techniques including:

· Creating a tension, anticipation and excitement at the arrival experience - through dramatic lighting effects, creating emotive patterns and visual interest.

· filtered sunlight, sun blocking, integrated lighting details - use of light and shadow, and interactive elements which respond to the time or proximity - replicating sunbeams and Long shadows

· The pre-treatment areas – respond to the time of day with virtual ambient skylight replicating filtered daylight, which can fill the space with light, highlight only the perimeters, or be very subdued and combined with other layers to illuminate only the sheers , seating and portal into the treatment areas.

· Within the treatment areas we are promoting relaxation through manipulation of circadian rhythms, concealed sources, warmer tones – creating visual cues and focal points whilst allowing certain areas to be darker.

· The specialist treatment areas have very unique and tailored lighting experiences from the cool tones of the snow shower (crisp cool and invigorating) , to the warmer hues of the snug salt caves (warm and relaxing) the light responds to the temperature, materials and treatments to visually enhance and support a fully immersive sensory experience.

· The Post-treatment Oasis is a truly unique opportunity to experience the Northern Lights…In blissful comfort indoors… in Qatar! With oxygen mist, water features and a dynamic and responsive light show to create an out of world experience.

· Lighting within the indoor pool, gymnasium sports halls can be varied to create a very subtle subdued and relaxing environment; or a much more vibrant and energised space to suit the type of guest or activities.

Light plays a fundamental role in the success of the project - A combination of natural and electric lighting is used to positively influence the guest experience.

There was a desire to create something which had never been done before. To create an elegant and intelligent, holistic ‘Nordic’ Wellness experience, in Qatar. Where light is used to significantly influence and improve the guest experience - making it possible for guests to experience never-ending sunshine, snow shows and the Northern lights - in the Middle East - using the power of light.

We were excited to work on this project and showcase how light can help to inform the design and contribute positively to the perception and experience of each space - We hope you will enjoy this too.

Client: Katara / Katara Club

Architect: Studio HBA

Engineers: Desco

Photography: Copyright © Jan Kudej (Pool) © LA/KBC (Others)


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