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Leading the way: design-forward destinations that inspire and delight

From Kuwait to Manila and Dubai, discover three design-forward hotels that stand out in architecturally dynamic cities. | By Paul Oswell | October 4, 2022

We form our impressions of a place in many ways, from the people and their traditions to the food and cultural scenes. An important aspect of any city, though, is its overall aesthetic. After all, the style of a place reflects its history, and its developments hint at the region’s plans and hopes for the future. A design-forward destination is a delight for all visitors, especially those with an eye for architecture. Here are some of our suggestions for a visually enthralling vacation:

  • Worth the wait: Be inspired by Kuwait’s minarets, mosques, palaces and ultra-modern skyscrapers

  • A visual thriller: From baroque to art deco, see the global style influences that have stayed the passage of time in Manila

  • Reaching for the sky: Contemporary building designs stand front and center, but there’s also a historical side to Dubai that shouldn’t be missed

Kuwait City

What Kuwait lacks in size, it more than makes up for in affluence, and the resources of an oil-rich state mean that architectural expression and lavish settings have flourished here. Kuwait City has a wealth of incredible structures, mostly contemporary but with some historical treasures in the mix as well.

One of the many highlights is the Grand Mosque. Completed in 1986, it is the largest mosque in the region and has a capacity of 10,000 people. With a palm-lined exterior, the elaborate Persian style is mesmerizing, and features minarets, domes, golden interiors and ornamental calligraphy. Let’s just say that a guided tour is a must.

Not far from the Grand Mosque you’ll find the new Waldorf Astoria Kuwait, with its gleaming glass and steel exterior surrounding tranquil internal courtyards. Inside the sleek walls you’ll encounter design elements like the distinctive Waldorf Astoria Kuwait clock – modified to reflect local culture, traditions and design – marble accents and a color palate that exudes both grandeur and warmth. There are 1,100 designer and luxury stores – and an amusement park – to explore in Kuwait’s largest shopping center, the Avenues Mall, which is connected to the hotel. After a day of shopping, your personal concierge can arrange for some much-needed repose in one of the eight decadent treatment rooms at the Waldorf Astoria Spa. There are also two fine dining restaurants, offering high-end Japanese and Mediterranean cuisine, respectively.

For a taste of the city’s futuristic aesthetic, visit the Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre, locally known as the Kuwait Opera House, which features an abstract exterior resembling a bejeweled shell, and palatial, ultra-modern interiors that house a spectacular concert hall.

Another outstanding part of the Kuwait City skyline are the three Kuwait Towers at the tip of Ras Ajouza peninsula. Designed to resemble Arabian perfume containers, they are famed for the huge spheres on their facades that reflect the sunlight. Dine on the 82nd floor or visit the viewing sphere to get unrivaled views of the city.

Manila, Philippines

Philippine architecture has an incredibly rich history, with Polynesian, Chinese, Spanish and American influences sprinkled all around Manila, the capital. The Spanish legacy is especially apparent in the city’s grand churches, the most eye-catching of which is the San Sebastian Basilica. This striking, light blue-green church showcases a mix of neo-Gothic and baroque styles. Inside, the huge stained-glass windows, religious murals and crystal chandeliers transport visitors back in time.

Fans of art deco will love the Metropolitan Theater, which opened in 1931 and has long been considered the jewel of Manila’s theaters thanks to its elaborate, lavish design. The facade has a wealth of highly stylized embellishments with colorful paintings, carvings and sculptures as well as immaculate stained-glass tiles.

Bringing us up to modern times is the imposing Zuellig Building, a 33-story skyscraper with an exterior pattern that imitates flowing water and bamboo patterns. It’s a world-class, eco-friendly building that minimizes energy and water loss.

Another must-see structure is the distinctively designed and intuitively eco-friendly Conrad Manila. A recipient of the LEED Gold-Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the hotel’s architecture is a stunning homage to the shipping vessels that float along the nearby Manila Bay. The oceanic theme carries through to the hotel’s streamlined interior all the way to the third-floor coral-shaped swimming pool. A large outdoor garden provides expansive views of the city landscape, while floor to ceiling glass panels at the property’s indoor dining venues yield breathtaking views of the bay.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Don’t be fooled. This may be a destination that is synonymous with sleek, modern design and record-breaking developments, but you can still find plenty of historical architecture throughout Dubai — you just need to know where to look.

Start with the recognized heritage site at Al Bastakiya where you’ll find the restoration of a wealthy, 19th-century merchant neighborhood, with Iranian, Indian and Islamic influences on display. Al Bastakiya is part of the larger Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, where you can see similarly restored gypsum and coral buildings, as well as the castle-like Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding.

The city’s more contemporary areas are also aesthetically intriguing, and Dubai is world-renowned for its modern architecture and innovative designs. The 2,000-seat, multi-format Dubai Opera, for instance, opened in 2016 and was designed to look like a dhow, a traditional sailing vessel and a tribute to the city’s maritime history. Head to the rooftop restaurant and sky garden after a show for views of The Dubai Fountain and the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa.

Experience a rare fusion of rich history and modern opulence at the enthralling Habtoor Palace Dubai, LXR Hotels & Resorts, replete with fountains and sprawling landscaped gardens. With its suitably palatial and timeless facade, this beaux-arts-inspired palace features neo-classical interiors including two marble-gilded staircases and the grand lobby’s landmark chandelier. Signature butler service, a Champagne lounge, and three outdoor swimming pools add to the resort's refined ambience.

The aesthetics of your destination should make a lasting impression, whether that’s through centuries-old churches or futuristic high-rise structures. And these destinations deliver, combining timeless looks that have been borne from colorful histories to create the perfect urban backdrop for a memorable stay.

Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer, and has been reporting from all seven continents for over twenty years. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small.”

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