In 1992 the anthropologist Marc Augé published his famous book on Non-Places, summed up as an “introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity”. In the list of emblems of this new category of spaces, he included the infrastructures “necessary for the accelerated circulation of people and goods”, including streets, highways and airports, as well as other typologies connected with consumption, such as supermarkets and shopping centers.

Twenty years later, it seems that precisely those spatial categories, resistant to the idea of place, are somehow going through a redemption, which in the composite scenario of the new millennium, apart from their duration in time and the perishability now intrinsic to any architectural project, addresses spaces of transit and encounter, of lingering or passage, making them into the places of reference of our contemporary world; for better or worse, as recent acts of terrorism have indicated.

Stations and stadiums, supermarkets and shopping malls, subways and airports become architecture-places, as the design of the lounges of HIA in Doha sets out to demonstrate.

Designing the 50,000 square meters of exclusive airport interiors, Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel report: “For us, the theme of the territoriality of belonging to a culture – albeit corporate – and of the ability of a place to be remembered, were the key generative elements of the project […]. The challenge was to generate a destination in its own right, a place on the planet with its own identity, though actually free of ties of belonging; a No-Stop City, the Seventies fantasy of Archizoom for an infinite city, artificially ventilated and lit, potentially encapsulated and suspended in the air”.

Nevertheless, the ‘little city’ of stone encapsulated in the airport terminal of Qatar is not reduced to a magical game of mirrors as in the radical invention of Archizoom, but extends in a sequence of spaces, perspectives and episodes, complete and balanced down to the smallest details, that combines the dimension of interiors with that of architecture and micro-urbanism, in perfect synergy and osmosis, through the patient, careful methods of industrial design.

The Milanese studio has pursued this concept of ‘total design’ with conviction for some time, in which the link between the detail and the whole is continuous and dialectical, where every component, furnishing and material, every color and accessory, finish or detail, is part of an overall orchestration, carefully controlled.

Here the concept of ‘luxury’ is surpassed by the sense of value and contemporary character distilled in sensory experiences, where the bronze or steel reception counters become memories of ancient vessels projected between past, present and future; where the pale stone applied to add character to the overall enclosure forms the floors and the tall monumental walls, quiet yet expressive, at times crossed by vibrant lines that transform their surfaces.

It is an internal architectural landscape suspended in the bubble of the airport structure, but at the same time rooted to the place; first of all in the museum space that displays relics and works of art loaned on rotation by the Museum of Islamic Art, and exceptional pieces of contemporary art, including a large work by Keith Haring that emerges from the stone wall.

This long gallery that immediately became the foundation of the project, determining the character of the entire path of crossing, approached like a true museum with the focus on display fixtures, lighting and ways of presenting the selected exhibits.

An architectural space that as a whole has affinities and ties with the landscape of the Emirate, in its colors set by the stones of the interior surfaces, the textures of the glass walls leading to the VIP lounge, the screen printed motif based on the plan of the terminal appears, like the pattern of ancient-future Middle Eastern decorations.

Last but not least, as a meaningful symbol and effective spatial hinge, the precious element of water is honored in the central full-height space of the Al Safwa First Class Lounge. A column of water, ten meters high, descends from the ceiling in the form of a perfect, sinuous cylinder, gathering in a large circular steel and bronze basin below. To remind us of its indispensable value, in a place of transit where it is undoubtedly a true pleasure to spend time.

Photos by Leo Torri – Text by Matteo Vercelloni

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View of the central full-height space of the Al Safwa First Class Lounge. A slim cylinder of water, ten meters high, descends from the ceiling and is gathered in a circular bronze and stainless steel pool, a custom piece, entirely made by Permasteelisa. The symbolic and sacred value of water is emphasized by this compositional episode that functions as a hinge in the overall space. To the left, the custom relaxation stations.
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View of the Al Safwa First Class Lounge with the bronze and steel pool in the foreground. In the background, the glazing and the Fids stations with the Grand Repos armchairs, design Antonio Citterio for Vitra. The walls are clad in French limestone, which together with the pale stone flooring underlines the monumental, monochrome character of the space.
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Paths through the lounge featuring custom museum display cases. The dark sculptural ceiling shapes the space at different heights.
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The large wall and the main reception counter in polished bronze sheet (made by Realize) add character to the entrance to the First Class Lounge.
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Paths through the lounge featuring custom museum display cases.
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View of a relaxationarea inside the spa.
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View of the restaurant space; circular lamps, sound-absorbing walls, custom furnishings. The designed chandeliers are made by Light Contract; the partitions in glass and skin by B&B Italia Contract.
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View of the paths through the lounge featuring custom museum display cases, containing relics and crafts of the history of Islamic art and contemporary art. On the wall, a large work by Keith Haring.