The Boulevard Hotel, Baku
The Boulevard belongs to the story of its location. Until recently, the area of Baku was consigned to the disused effects of the country’s old oil industry and wasted shoreline. Now it is being steadily transformed from ‘Black City’ to ‘White City’ and the hotel, a confluence of past, present and future, captures this narrative. There are references to the industrial legacy but the building also enjoys newly landscaped gardens; nature is re-asserting itself and this is celebrated indoors. Equally, this massive building speaks of the optimism and aspirational lifestyles of the city’s residents as they look to the future. Its indoor spaces are modern, vibrant and international. MKV was responsible for the design of all the lobby and lounge areas as well as the ballroom and health club, working in collaboration with ReardonSmith, the architect of the building, and landscape architects, Scape Design Associates.
On one side, the hotel overlooks the prestigious Boulevard promenade, now extended from old Baku to snake around the edge of the Caspian Sea in White City. On the other side, it faces onto a new six-lane highway connecting city and airport. The vehicular entrance is on this side; the VIP entrance is to the sea-facing elevation. The result inside are two reception areas as if mirroring one another and creating their own promenade in between. The plan for the ground floor public areas is a grid, allowing guests ease of navigation in this large building and enabling the story of yesterday’s black to today’s green and tomorrow’s white to flow through the building.
The juxtapositions are there to be experienced on arrival in the reception lobby. Here, symbolically, glass tanks flank the entrance containing gas fires which, when lit, shoot flames upwards from their granite plinths while the surrounding water pool cascades downwards to the base. By contrast, the seating collections are classic with pale timber frames and richly toned upholstery, and flooring is a warm walnut. A recessed ceiling finished in gold leaf and highlighted by perimeter illumination adds further drama and impact to the area. It is here that guests may first encounter the floor-to-ceiling bronze panels with their distinctive fretwork hinting of the east and recalling ancient times when Baku was a destination on the Silk Route.
The long corridors were given a very directional feel with their parade of screens and by a magnificent floor patterning in water-cut marble with gold mosaic inlay. By contrast, the lounge spaces alongside the corridor are delineated by soft sheers that catch the many breezes and introduce a softer note. Each break-out space in remarkable for its uniquely designed forms, sophisticated collections of furniture, rich timbers and bold, yet warm, colour palette, together bringing a human scale to the hotel.
The 1,300 sq metre column-free ballroom departs from all reference to the industrial past into a design inspired by nature. Hundreds of white metal leaves cluster on the ceiling, the patterning to the carpet suggests a forest floor and the room opens onto an internal courtyard with planting and a water feature. The large pre-function area is alive with its custom-designed carpet that appears to swirl through the area like flowing water, while part mirrored, part fretwork clad columns shimmer in their up-lighting.
Connection with nature is at the heart of the spa. The indoor pool area looks onto the garden outside and, during summer, opens up to allow guests to have treatments in the summer sunshine. Above the pool, plaster leaves, each one individually mounted, seem to dance in the rippling light like a canopy of young trees.