Novotel Almaty City Centre



The Brief for a Destination

AD-Studio is both the architect and interior designer for the new Novotel Hotel which opened in 2019 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  The hotel is one of many we have designed within the Accor family of hotel brands.  The hotel has 190 guestrooms above a two-level entrance podium that contains the hotel lobby, bar, restaurant, conference facility with business centre as well a fitness centre with swimming pool.  

Commercial and Technical Feasibility

At the outset the client wasn’t 100% sure what he could realistically achieve on the site. Our first task was to check the breadth of possible massing configurations that worked within the considerable site constraints. From the outcome of the first stage the client was better positioned to start negotiations with hotel operators and generally test the appetite within the market for his future development.  This process would then lead him towards the right segment within the hotel market, 3 or 4 star for example. Once the potential target operators was known we were able to test those specific products on the site making sure we wouldn’t be fighting with the topography, seismic (Almaty has a very high seismic rating) and underground utility issues. This methodical approach for the feasibility stage meant that we could design out potential problems at the earliest stage and ensure we wouldn’t have to value engineer the project later on.  

Landmark Location

The hotel is located just off of Dostyk Ave (the main boulevard in Almaty) facing onto Abay Plaza, one of Almaty’s most prestigious squares named after the Kazakh poet Aby Quinanbailuy. The backdrop for the hotel is the impressive Tienshan mountain range.  The site sits between the architecturally bold Almaty congress hall and a much-loved cinema hall.  The Kok-tobe cable car station that takes you up into the mountains also sits close-by with its cable cars passing very close to the development.

The Concept Requirements

To succeed with a development in this location we would need to demonstrate our sensitivity to the site, the cityscape and the regional culture. After a rigorous site analysis study and testing its conclusions, we were able to propose larger built volumes than expected adding greater value to our client.   

The Concept

Conceptually we wanted to make a statement with the development due to its prominent location.  Bold solutions were proposed that had a mix of both international design and regional flavour, both externally and internally.  In contrast to our neighbouring public buildings, we also wanted the building to be open and welcoming with its lobby being an extension to the public realm.  

By using the softer forms, we wanted to create a statement but also move away from the more traditional block-iness found in the hotel building typology.  In the same way we didn’t express every window to avoid a typical hotel approach and to disguise the number of floor levels we had in contrast with our much shorter neighbours.  The strong division between the lower volume on the street line and the recessed upper volumes was a reference to the congress hall and cinema parapet heights.  We also had to consider the fifth elevation, the roof elevation very carefully, it would be easily seen from the cable cars passing close by.  For this reason, we proposed that the roof top technical rooms are located within the architecturally wrapped forms and aren’t expressed separately. 

So even though the final design is unique it is very contextual with many aspects being a direct response to its surroundings.  If you look very closely you can see the Kazakh motifs embossed on the white cladding panels.  After many negotiations the city gave us permission to build.

A Unique Team

AD-Studio was appointed as the General Designer of the project and were asked to build an appropriately skilled multi-disciplinary design team.  The first task was to employ one of Europe’s leading seismic experts to provide the structural design but also help us challenge the ‘what we typically do’ attitude of most structural engineers in the region.  At the outset we knew we couldn’t follow the typical seismic process and had to demonstrate with expertise a better, more sustainable, cost-effective way to build the development. We engaged international MEP engineers and F&B designers to ensure we had a team familiar with international hotel operator standards.  In addition, we also incorporated the skills of cultural consultants to ensure any regional aspects were correct and appropriately used.  They would work on both the inside and outside of the hotel and made a valuable contribution.

The Technical Challenges – Seismic Design

Almaty is known for its very high seismic activity which makes building there harder than most places.  Local rules regulate how to design in seismic zones, and they are very restrictive. Our site had a considerable level change from rear to front which also affected not only the seismic issues but also the placement of the various operations within the hotel.  

Typically, buildings that are designed for highly seismic areas are symmetrical, have very few changes in plan from floor to floor and very heavy external walls – the Novotel has none of these, it is asymmetrical, has huge changes in planning between different levels and has a lightweight façade.  This is the reason the building is so different from most other hotels in the city.    Our seismic designer was able to challenge the standard seismic design wisdom and try other methods.  Using an active seismic modeling strategy (as opposed to a static model) we were able to demonstrate the building safety in an earthquake and design a much lighter structure with fewer solid walls. By utilizing far less material in the structure and fabric the building we substantially reduced the environmental impact and saved the client a great deal of money.

The Technical Challenges – Climatic Design

The climate in Almaty moves from one extreme to another through the seasons which places a huge demand on any heating, cooling and air ventilation systems.  International hotel operator demands are also very strict in order to maintain a constant environment in the hotel all year round.  Balanced with this are also very strict brand environmental standards, often more demanding than the national building regulations where the hotel is located.

The first step for the design team was to ensure the envelope of the building did the bulk of the work regarding responding to the harsh extremes of the climate leaving the internal mechanical systems less work to do.  Environmentally this is a sound approach as passive solutions always outperform mechanical solutions in terms of sustainability as well as cost.   The facades of the Almaty Novotel are deceptive, they look all glass however very little of the façade area is a window.  The body tinted glass used for the windows was selected for its very high performance as well as its ability to be used as a spandrel panel in front of solid walls.  The resulting envelope performance is very high meaning the demand for mechanical systems is reduced allowing for smaller technical rooms and air distribution ducts around the building.   

Taking a Project Through to Realization over a Distance

After successfully achieving a building permit the project was handed over to a local construction management team to deliver.  AD-Studio was engaged to remotely support the local team during the construction documentation stage and through construction on site.   The local team embraced the international working methodology and together we were able to deliver a successful hotel meeting the client and hotel operator’s expectations in the heart of Central Asia. The European design team consulted on the project at every stage frequently promoting cutting edge solutions not found locally.

The project was impacted by the financial crisis.  We supported him by finding alternative supply chain options to ensure he could complete the project.    

The Showcase Interior Design

Like the exterior of the hotel the interior design is a mix of the Accor brand standards and regional references. The Accor standards are designed to be applied globally but leave room for the interior designers to apply contextual variation.   Working closely with the cultural advisor we were able to respectfully extract inspiration from Kazakh culture to influence the interior design.  Motifs, colours, fabrics, textures and even Kazakh modern art were all studied and used to inform our design decisions.  The completed interior design is welcoming, modern and will feel subtlety familiar for those who know Kazakh culture well. 

The project won two awards at the international hotel awards in 2020

– Highly Commended in the new 4 star Hotel category 

– Highly Commended in the new 4 star City Hotel category.

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