Autumn 2020

Real Estate & Property
Dynamic Designs

World-leading hospitality design firm HBA recently launched a new studio in the Saudi capital Riyadh, strengthening its EMEA presence.

With an established footprint in the Middle East, HBA EMEA has several pivotal projects across Saudi Arabia including Four Seasons Kingdom Tower, Riyadh and The Mansard Riyadh, a Radisson Collection Hotel, both opening this year, as well as ongoing projects including JW Marriott, Riyadh.

The Riyadh studio will be led by Associate Isabel Sousa who brings more than 20 years of design credentials and vast experience in the Saudi market.

In her role as Associate, Sousa will lead a team of creatives across multiple design disciplines. A true global citizen, Sousa’s experience includes heading up projects across London (UK), Italy, the US, the UAE and Bahrain. Sousa has lived in Saudi Arabia for the last eight years, overseeing the interiors for some of the world’s most prestigious luxury brands.

Arabian Knight caught up with Sousa and here’s an excerpt from the interview:

How is the market response to the new opening?

2020 saw HBA officially launch HBA EMEA and the opening of the Riyadh studio is part of our continued growth. There is a strong and dynamic development pipeline in the region and HBA is fortunate to be heading up several of the region’s highest profile projects. As such, we wanted to ensure our clients had the face-to-face and personalised service for which we are known. By opening in the region, we can give local guidance and expertise coupled with a global design brief response.

What does HBA bring to the market? How do you view the Saudi market in terms of opportunities?

With specialist divisions including lighting, graphics and art curation, HBA EMEA’s end-to-end offering produces inspired, brand-strengthening design experiences that reflect a true sense of place. Highlighting the firm’s dynamic approach to the ever-evolving market is HBA EMEA’s sub-brand Studio HBA. This young, energetic and versatile team is nimble in its approach to design, offering solutions for the growing sector of mid-market hospitality projects.

What are the key design concepts/principles for HBA in the region? How do you meet the regional requirements (in terms of culture/tradition)?

Our team of experts have worked in the region for decades and understand the ways of working. I personally have more than 20 years of design credentials and vast experience in the Saudi market and have also headed up projects across London, Italy, the US, the UAE and Bahrain. With a rising demand for our services in Saudi Arabia, having a team on-the-ground enables the forging of a local and global response to design briefs.

What are some of the key design highlights/innovative features of your projects in Saudi Arabia (Four Seasons Kingdom Tower, Riyadh, The Mansard Riyadh and JW Marriott, Riyadh)?

Four Seasons Riyadh celebrates a contemporary take on many aspects of the Saudi culture in collaboration with the Al Waleed Foundation. The narrative on which JW Marriott Riyadh is developed explores historic, physical and social insights of its location. The Mansard Riyadh, a Radisson Collection hotel, pays homage to the long-lasting passion of Saudis for Western European interiors.

In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, has the studio introduced any changes to the original designs proposed for these hotels?

Hotel development is a long-term vision, so our design considerations are not looking at the present day. Covid has, however, accelerated some of the changes that were already starting to take place. For example, sustainability is, of course, even more of a focus and hotels need to not only be sustainable in build, but may in future also be required to help destinations become greener (such as roof gardens for pollination.

This period has also made design even more important in the hospitality experience. For example, recognisable features are increasingly critical, and now more than ever, travellers want to see something new and unexpected. As a result, there will be an elevated expectation around quality.

Hospitality design especially in Saudi Arabia has seen transformational changes over the past three to four years. Please comment on what changes you have personally witnessed and how HBA is well positioned to cater to this demand.

As a new generation of Saudis begin to make their mark in the KSA we have observed a move away from the traditional hospitality concepts held by those in the country for so long. This global influence has cultivated a marked shift in interior design, with clients wanting a more international look and feel. HBA’s international footprint and expertise, combined with my own experience living and working in different market allows us to react to this shift, providing a global response to local briefs.

What are some of the latest demands made by property owners as well as hospitality chains to cater to the diverse hospitality, wellness and leisure and entertainment requirements of the global market?

The vision and demand right now are very much focused on the future and in this respect we are working 10 years ahead. We are not necessarily thinking about the latest demands, rather designing for 2030, bringing a global and forward-looking approach for our clients. It is this long-term vision that is driving our design briefs.

– By Bina Goveas

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