The light touch: the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi's sensitive design nous

Create a landscape worthy of a five-star resort that is also sustainable and sensitive to the property’s unique location. That was the challenge facing Cracknell Landscape Design Consultants when it was appointed to work on the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas on Saadiyat Island. Huge opportunity lay in the sensitive and sustainable development […]

Create a landscape worthy of a five-star resort that is also sustainable and sensitive to the property’s unique location. That was the challenge facing Cracknell Landscape Design Consultants when it was appointed to work on the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas on Saadiyat Island.

Huge opportunity lay in the sensitive and sustainable development of one of the first luxury hotel resorts on the natural island of Saadiyat, with 76,000 square metres of landscape and 9 kilometres of natural beach. After all, the landscaping around the hotel would play a considerable role in the guest experience. Yet, in contrast to its reclaimed island neighbours along the coast of Dubai, integration in to what already existed at this location was a key consideration, explains Hani Bisada, senior associate at Cracknell.

Any construction or landscaping had to accommodate the resident population of protected Hawksbill sea turtles and preserve their established breeding grounds. It also had to adhere to models of sustainability, a theme that fed into the overall design scheme, where a series of elements were introduced to blend and integrate with the surrounding landscape and blur the distinction between what was new and what pre-existed.

From the Park Hyatt’s lobby entrance, where sweeping views over two infinity pools extend to the seascape, the eye is drawn from land to the water and horizon beyond. What appears to be one long pool is actually two with a pathway between, creating the optical illusion of guests walking on water as they cross the resort.

Since the landscape architects needed to integrate the turtle nesting sites into the project, they created a series of floating decks or pontoons out across the protected areas, which are elevated over the sand, so guests keep to these pathways until they are out on to the open beach and the hatcheries are not disturbed.

The hotel takes its ecological responsibilities seriously. A marine biologist makes flora and fauna presentations to interested guests, including guided tours when the turtles are laying eggs and hatching during June, July and August. They are also on hand to point out the local dolphins as they swim by. These wildlife experiences have now become an integral part of the resort.

Bisada explains that Cracknell had wanted to blend the formal with the naturalistic, and as the project was LEED rated, it was geared for minimal water consumption. “Landscapes here should follow an arid ethos, the colours are light and vegetation is all native or adaptive – which is then echoed in the hard landscaping, with dry wadis and lagoon pools, all of which reflect what might be found in the broader natural landscape and culture of this place. It’s a relevant design aesthetic for this region and there is a unique and inherent beauty in using these types of plants in local landscaping.”

As the project was built, informal plant nurseries were created to give specimens a head start in the Abu Dhabi climate before they were moved into their permanent positions. Cracknell also propagated some of the local indigenous plants and adopted natural planting patterns, introducing swaying grasses to blend the formal planting with the beach areas beyond.

Sandy-coloured Solnhofen, a particularly durable limestone, was sourced from Germany for parts of the pathways, as it doesn’t absorb too much heat – an obvious plus for bare feet during the summer. “You can see the layers of this rock as it’s cut into rectangular slabs, which gives it a kind of formality, yet the ribbon finish also gives a natural, holiday feel,” says Bisada.

The resort’s landscaped wadis add texture and contrast and are planted with water-sipping succulents. The pebble-infused lagoon pools are designed to marry visually with the seascape beyond and serve a dual purpose as they also function as splash pads for children running through. Beyond the formal infinity pools with private cabanas, the overall design of the site is informal and natural.

Stone boulders from Hatta were selected at the quarry. “It’s a big thing for our site supervision, that the placement of these boulders in the pool area and landscaping delivers on the design vision, so we had it overseen by our professionals, who know how to put them together. A lot of hard work goes on in order to create a natural look. Put them in the wrong order and they look horrible.”

Today, more than half of all the irrigation at the hotel is recycled greywater – collected from showers and bathing, then treated and piped through to water the landscaping.

“The landscape plays a large part in the guest experience at any resort hotel; it’s a very romantic setting with the lighting, next to the beach and the lawn,” reflects Doris Hecht, the hotel’s manager. “We like to do romantic dinners on the pathway out to the beach with flame torches; it’s quite unique. We also had a big Christmas brunch where Santa came down the wall and into the grounds with lots of activities for the children on the lawns. Our location really helps us to create these large community events.

“Yet even when our hotel is at high occupancy, our guests are telling us that they feel very comfortable in our outside areas; it never feels overcrowded, we have so much space here.”

The happy Hawksbills would probably agree.


An increasing number of chefs in the UAE are setting aside small plots of land to cultivate herb gardens and also, in some cases, their own fruit and vegetables. At the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel, Saddiyat Island, executive chef Guillaume Joly is at the vanguard of such a venture – the first in Abu Dhabi. Joly’s vegetable patch also offers an educational activity for children, who are shown how produce is grown and educated on the benefits of “growing your own”.

“We are growing a few little things that grow well in this region, such as rocket, Cuban oregano, parsley, basil, coriander and we are also trying some kale, thyme, rosemary, strawberries, mint, and also yellow, cherry and black cherry tomatoes,” explains Joly.

“There are local gazelle who visit us and we were concerned that they would come to eat here, but they haven’t bothered us yet. The birds did find the strawberries, so we’ve covered them with net,” he adds.

The chef, who is new to growing, has found the process addictive and visits the garden daily, to see “what’s up” and snack on the odd strawberry or tomato.

Everything at the food garden is completely organic and grown in a series of lined, self-contained boxes made from kiln-dried Austrian Spruce. There are water pipes running through each box for drainage and irrigation, and each is layered with sand, earth and compost.

The installation was handled by Agriculture Box, which also supplies sample plants and its own seaweed-based fertiliser. Moving forward, Joly intends to make his own compost from the hotel’s green kitchen waste, as well as experiment with growing other produce such as pumpkins, sweet potatoes and beans.

It was never Joly’s intention to grow on a scale to cater to the needs of a large resort hotel; the garden project was more about responding to increasing interest from guests in the provenance of their food and providing a platform to have those discussions. However, he is planning for a couple of dishes on the menu of the hotel’s Beach House restaurant to be entirely home-grown.

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Source: art & life

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