Posted in Projects on 1 November, 2016

In a city on the rise, Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City Accra opens with a vision to combine an international five-star hotel experience with the vibrant culture of West Africa. Tonje Odegard looks into how architecture, interior design and art come together to form Ghana’s first and finest luxury hotel…

At the heart of Accra’s thriving cultural scene, the seven-floor Kempinski opens with its 269 rooms, including 22 luxury suites and two presidential suites. It also houses impressive meeting and events spaces, an exciting in-house art gallery, a spa, fitness facilities, and an adjacent shopping mall (still under construction).

With a desire to introduce European luxury while staying true to Ghanaian culture, the Washington DC-based architectural firm, Page, and Dallas-based interior designers, Looney and Associates, drew inspiration from the country’s energetic lifestyle and colours to create a modern, stunning and elegant hotel.

Hoping to construct an anchor of quality in Accra, Page designed a hotel that would work as a flag for the whole city. To do so, it was important to bring the country’s cultural heritage and history into to the building’s layout while adding a contemporary feel to the mix.

The building’s design is based on the traditional Ghanaian compound style of housing. The central courtyard, surrounded by the guestroom tower and the rooftop pool deck forms the organising element of the hotel. John Clegg, Design Principal at Page, calls it the heart of the building. “Traditional courtyards are used to perform music, for cooking and for religious expression, and we wanted to recreate that in the building,” says Clegg.

Large gathering spaces were created at the ground floor to support functions in the hotel’s 13 event spaces. The largest ballroom, which can hold as many as 850 people, has already hosted foreign dignitaries, Ghana Fashion Week and a boxing match. The rooms and suites are also spacious and 142 of them have their own balcony.

A green roof and pool deck above the lobby and the ballroom overlook the central courtyard. Page connected these sections together with the Butterfly Building, named for its butterfly-shaped roof. The Galleria Mall, the Kempinski’s own shopping centre, has a food hall inspired by traditional Ghanaian markets, but with the latest modern innovations.

Interior designer Looney and Associates was motivated to give West African design a contemporary twist, combining it with international sensibility and refinement. ‘Uniting African hospitality with European traditions’ became a motto throughout the process. Jim Looney, Founder and Principal of Looney and Associates, says about the studio’s first venture into Africa: “We wanted to give the Kempinski a taste of Ghana, but we wanted to integrate it into the design and architecture in a subtle, sophisticated and respectable way.”

This is evident in the upscale interiors of the guestrooms and bathrooms, which are inspired by the heritage and vibrant colours of Ghana, and feature hardwood floors, luxuriant textiles and carefully selected artwork. Using natural materials, traditional textures, rich shades and the influence of native dress, an undeniable elegance is created. The bathrooms are calm and inviting, decorated in clean, earthy tones. Shiny wooden surfaces and marble tiles contribute to a tribal atmosphere. This aura is continued in the guestrooms with dark, heavy wooden headboards, sometimes with colourful patterns, and vibrant rugs and accessories. The subtle details add warmth and personality to the room.   

“The Ghanaian textures and patterns are so interesting, and is where we draw most of our inspiration from,” explains Looney. Visiting the markets of Accra, the designers were captured by the Ghanaian traditions, textiles, architectural patterns and art, and was determined to reflect it at the Kempinski. “The patterns we saw have been in existence for generations, so each pattern has meaning and each of the colours has significance,” says Looney. “It was fun to bring these into a modern setting.”

The lobby is adorned with wood ceiling panels inspired by regional patterns, taken from textiles and architectural forms from the city. The ceiling is complemented by polished Italian marble floors, wood screens, marble cases and a custom-designed chandelier inspired by birds in flight. A balance between modern sophistication and African liveliness is struck with the custom-designed furniture, such as the classic, tailored lounge seating in blue velvet, locally inspired wood tables, lush African fabrics and hand-tufted rugs in tribal patterns – brought to life by custom-designed lighting.

Another example of where the exciting patterns of Ghana have been translated into wood, panels and textiles, is in the bar on the ground level, where the circular forms in the ceiling represent the way Ghanaian villages are planned and constructed. Tribal patterns are embodied behind the bar and dark wooded and leather furniture are scattered around. The circular shapes are also visible in the lush, maroon rugs, creating a smart balance. The light, beige drapes also create the feeling of dozing in a jungle hut, with beams of sunshine streaming through.

There is a warmth and friendliness to the Ghanaian people that Looney and Associates wanted to bring into the spirit at Kempinski. In a city with so much energy and life, and with an extremely social culture, Jim Looney explains how his studio had a desire to create a relaxing and welcoming environment. “To transform this ethos into a modern, dynamic style, we used textured and soft materials,” says Looney. “We also placed furniture and completed finishes to compliment the building’s shape and architecture.”

Continuing the focus on relaxation, The Resense Spa (due to open in January 2017), contains 10 treatment rooms, a hammam and an outdoor pool. The indoor areas are embroidered with gold mosaic interiors, creating a dramatic threshold into a lounge with the atmosphere of a chic private members’ club. The outdoor pool deck is an elegant and welcoming area with a pool of azure-blue waters over patterned tiles and lush lounging furniture.    

Art plays an incredible role at the Kempinski, perhaps because art plays such an important role in the Ghanaian community in general. “We believe art brings a project to life,” says Jim Looney. A lot of the hotel’s surfaces were therefore purposefully neutral, to allow the art to stand out. The unique pieces found in the guestrooms and throughout the hotel were sourced from prominent local and national artists, such as Kofi Agorsor, Nii Mills, Krotei Tetteh, Gideon Appah and Ablade Glover.

More impressively, the hotel houses its own independent art gallery on the ground floor, called Gallery 1957, given its name from the year Ghana gained its independence. Showcasing contemporary art by both established and emerging Ghanaian artists, the gallery presents a programme of exhibitions, installations and performances. Represented artists include Jeremiah Quarshie, Yaw Owusu, Serge Attukwei Clottey and Zohra Opoku.

The aim of the gallery is for visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the breadth of the practice of Ghanaian art. Founded by Marwan Zakhem, the gallery has developed from over 15 years of private collecting. He chose pieces from artist he had a close relationship with.

“I think the artwork is a huge part of the experience,” says Marwan. “It’s a glimpse of what Accra has to offer as a cultural artistic destination. The city has such an enormously rich cultural scene and I think it is important that guests staying at The Kempinski are exposed to this.”

As you walk through the hotel, you are brought closer to Ghanaian culture through the colourful and stunning pieces of art. In the lobby you are greeted by specially commissioned works by Ibrahim Mahama and Serge Attukwei Clottey. The latter is well known for his pieces featuring fragments of yellow jerry cans fastened to each other. Ibrahim Mahama is recognised for his large-scale, site-specific installations composed of jute sacks that investigate the material remains of Ghana’s commodity markets. His work has been installed in various public locations around the country, and in museums around the world.

The Kempinski Hotel Gold Coast City Accra is a perfect example of the increasing trend in hotel design to bring cultural references into the interior. Rural, beautiful and pulsating Africa meets elegant, sophisticated and neutral Europe. The result? A statement hotel fit for both the worldwide business traveller and members of the local community alike – the Kempinski is truly something wonderful.   

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