The thoughts behind Etihad’s sky-high hotel The Residence

The National spoke with three of the designers of Etihad Airways' $20,000-a-ticket, sky-high hotel suite The Residence to find out how they went from blue-skying to reality.

The flashiest news from UAE aviation in 2014 came in May when Etihad Airways introduced a US$20,000-a-ticket, sky-high hotel suite called The Residence. The National spoke with three of the project’s designers to find out how they went from blue-skying to reality: Mike Crump, a partner and director at London-based Honour Branding; Adam White, a director at London-based Factorydesign; and Nigel Lawson, a director at London-based acumen.

Where did you get your ideas from?

Mike: I think the ideas were born from how you design a boutique hotel. Everything shouldn’t be the same. We asked ourselves, why can’t the first class seats all have different colours? This makes an individual feel. These things really pushed the boundaries, and what we managed to do was to get three colours of leather and seat fabrics and cushions, so each suite would have a different colour. That’s the ultimate luxury, as people want something different or something unique. We also wanted to create a niche lighting to be unique to the Etihad brand. We were inspired by the [planned] Louvre Abu Dhabi ceiling, which is really inspired by sitting under the date palms in an oasis. It’s the mix of the shade and the sun that you get, and we managed to do that. We worked with Airbus to change the ceiling pattern and use projection LED light (on the A380).

Adam: We spent the first three months visiting Abu Dhabi regularly. For the first three months, we didn’t let ourselves pick a pen or pencil to begin sketching. We spent our time immersing ourselves in everything that we can learn about Abu Dhabi and the greater region that Abu Dhabi was based in. We built out a library of iconic things that you see when you visit the region, so that the design and the ideas had a language from the very start that would reflect Abu Dhabi as you visit it these days.

Were there any surprises following the surveys?

Mike: In some of the early ideas of The Residence, customers said they would want a separate seat and a separate bed that they would sleep on. Like a hotel room or at home, where you have a piece of furniture for a different function. They were questioning, why can’t I do that on an airplane? And understandably it needs more space. They were talking about more comfort, and make it feel more homely and more residential.

Adam: I think one of the things that left a lasting impression on us was, globally speaking, how airline travel in premium classes had become more sophisticated than it was one decade ago. One of the virtues of the A380 is the two decks, because the decks cannot be shared between the passengers because of the stairs. We thought that the next level of travel for premium passengers would be almost a private jet. The design had essentially put a private jet on the top of an excellent economy class experience. But when you board upstairs it really feels like you are boarding on another aircraft altogether – essentially a private jet.

Let’s talk about the challenges.

Mike: The biggest challenge was the scale of the project. Etihad from the beginning realised that one agency couldn’t manage the agenda that they put forward – to be the best in the world. They quite rightly put the Etihad Design Consortium together to say [agencies could work together] to challenge everything onboard of an aircraft. The result was the most customised A380 or commercial aircraft that has ever been received. The challenge was the sheer volume of design and innovation and the coordination – to make it look cohesive, like it is from one organisation and one brand.

Nigel: I would share Mike’s view. The design process, because nobody had ever approached a commercial aircraft with the rigour that Etihad wanted. The first half of the project was a huge challenge to think outside the box and create a customised experience for the guest. The second half of the project was devoted to the second enormous challenge to deliver that vision and work with Etihad and all the suppliers and the aircraft manufactures to turn the designers’ dreams into a reality.

Adam: We pushed Airbus very hard. It was very challenging in lots of respects – for example, air flow, direct view and ceiling configuration. We worked with Airbus from the beginning to understand the limitations and the challenges, but we had to challenge them and work with them with engineering solutions. We didn’t want to come out with a solution that couldn’t be implemented. For a wide-body to have a single aisle challenges anything anyone had done before. It needed rethinking. But it wasn’t something outrageous that could never be delivered, it was something that only challenged the status quo.

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Published: December 23, 2014 04:00 AM


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