ON THE EDGE OF CHAOS, ORYX MAGAZINE, 2018

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He has been kicked out of one the world’s best art schools, designed iconic interiors from the Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht to Bonn’s Kameha Grand Hotel and been dubbed the ‘Lady Gaga of the design world’ by the New York Times – now he is in Doha. Meet Marcel Wanders, the man behind the first Mondrian hotel in the Middle East.

Expelled from Design Academy Eindhoven before graduating with the highest honours from ArtEZ University of the Arts in 1988, Marcel Wanders has gone on to become a designer of international repute: establishing his eponymous interior design studio in Amsterdam; co-founding furniture and lighting brand Moooi; and creating products for the likes of Alessi, Swarovski and Puma. His Knotted Chair is in MOMA’s permanent collection, BusinessWeek called him ‘Europe's hottest designer’, and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum held a major retrospective of his work.

His latest project is the Mondrian Doha, the first Middle Eastern hotel from American hospitality giant SBE. With 270 rooms and suites, the largest ESPA Spa in the world and seven restaurants – together with a brief that asked for something that was ‘authentically Doha’ and yet international, and part of the Mondrian family and yet reflective of Wanders’ distinctive style, he had his work cut out. ‘That is a lot of things that just don’t fit together,’ he laughs. ‘And that is the quest we had – in the chaos of the final design all those aspects had to find their own place in the guests’ experience.’

To achieve that, Wanders started by making sure everything worked like clockwork – from the way the light falls through certain windows to the flow of guests around the space – but he doesn’t want you to know that. ‘Let’s be super rational,’ he says, ‘And when we are done, let’s make sure people think it is just stupidly beautiful, that it is poetry – sheer aesthetics. Let’s make sure they never find out what went into making it work. I want it to be as non-rational as possible, without it becoming chaos. It is on the edge of chaos that we stop. I don’t want chaos, but I don’t want you to understand it either.’  

His inspiration came from Doha. ‘There is an energy in the Middle East,’ he says. ‘There is a sense that around every corner there is endless desert and stars, and that is very romantic. When people think about this part of the world today, all too often they think about problems, oil, and big cities, but years ago we talked about the romance, the stars in the sky, the amazing culture. I wanted to recapture the excitement of that time – that’s what I want people to feel when they walk through the door.’ Combine that energy with Wanders’ belief that a hotel should have not just one idea, but a thousand ideas, and you start to get a sense of the visual feast that is the Mondrian Doha. A geometric checkerboard pool is topped with a giant Tiffany-style stained-glass dome, huge bells encase oversized chandeliers placed between white columns adorned with golden eggs, and a black helical staircase with ornate cut-out balustrades snakes up a four-story atrium. It is very nearly chaos, but not quite.