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The UAE has made a name for itself with a dashing brand of contemporary architecture and urban design that has been unhindered by financial constraints or timid planning. Its buildings have helped propel the country and its cities to the international stage. But these modern skyscrapers also tend to steal the limelight. In their shadow are some great pieces of design that get less attention, but are nonetheless deserving of recognition.
PW asks four designers, each from a different design discipline, to pick lesser-known gems that have created a powerful and lasting impression on their careers.
Founder and Managing Director, Limah Design Consultants
Jason Lewis started his career as an industrial designer. After 15 years in the business, he saw a chance to serve the architectural community through a more comprehensive approach to way-finding. In 2007, Lewis founded Limah Design Consultants, a professional consultancy that engineers experiences through the creation of identities, communications, signage and public art.
Al Serkal Avenue
Despite being hidden away in the Al Quoz Industrial area, Al Serkal Avenue is well known among the art crowd. It is a great place to spend the evening or even enjoy a weekend and is one of the few repurposed neighbourhoods that I am aware of in Dubai.
The original industrial warehouses in the area were converted into galleries and studios, giving it a uniqueness not seen in the emirate. One of the best elements of Al Serkal is its sense of community.
The businesses have rallied together to cultivate a sense of space with a shared purpose of sharing art, design and culture. This collective thinking can be felt as you wander through its passageways.
A number of special events draw in huge crowds, making it possible to mingle with fellow residents in alternative settings. Expansion is under way, with plans to increase the spaces and number of businesses.
These new studios, galleries, restaurants and cafés will be sure to further reinforce its status as a major destination for residents and tourists. For me it offers a change of pace, sometimes difficult to find in Dubai.
Artist and Designer
Moza Almatrooshi began her journey of trying to find a place in the creative industry as an intern in the National Pavilion of the UAE at the Venice Art Biennale 2013 in Italy.
Since then she has dabbled in disciplines such as architecture, design, event planning, art exhibitions as well as writing for independent publications.
The Emirati artist and designer attained a degree in Interior Design from Zayed University Dubai in 2013.
Radisson Blu Sharjah
A slanted façade that overlooks Sharjah, this architectural landmark has remained persistent in its stance since its completion in 1982. This sloped structure is known presently as the Radisson Blu Hotel.
Local elders refer to it as the crooked hotel and it doesn’t take much to see why: the brutalism in the architectural make-up of the hotel is an overpowering sight. I recall that as a child, before high-rises competed for space and attention in the UAE, a crippling sense of uneasiness would surge through my body as my family drove by it. I often wondered how one would be able to exist within the hotel’s interior and not slide and fall off. I also often wondered how everyone else did not break out in a panic at the sight of it.
As I grew older and gained a better understanding of the correlation between exteriors and interiors, my anxiousness regarding the hotel eventually died down.
All I am left with the awareness that no other architectural façade has ever been able to impose its power over me like this building has, and that to me is a testament to its significance.
Scott Coombes is a founding partner and principal consultant at AESG. He has an established background in architecture and the built environment. Coombes holds an honours degree in Architecture from the University of Nottingham and has worked on numerous large and small-scale projects in the region. His focus is on creating sustainable, practical and cost-effective designs.
Al Maktoum House
As an architect who works in a sustainability consultancy, I find there is a lot to learn from the Shaikh Saeed Al Maktoum House in the Shindagha area. I’ve lived here all my life and yet know many people who have never visited this site, which was the original home of the ruling family.
This humble and modest dwelling shows what can be achieved with locally sourced materials. In my view it is a local guide to sustainable design, one that is also reflective of traditions. There are a few key things it’s notable for. The coral used to build the walls is one aspect, while the wall’s thickness aids in thermal massing to help keep interior spaces cool. There are a lot of comfortable areas in the house, which is now a museum, and these show how the design responded to the climate.
Remember, the climate hasn’t changed much — it’s the lifestyles that have.
The house is a demonstration of practical, sustainable design and it shows that with architects here often given carte blanche, more elements from traditional design principles could be effectively revived into modern structures and spaces.
Sustainability Manager, Dewan Architects and Engineers
Engi Jaber is an architect and sustainability expert who speaks frequently on issues such as designing, constructing and operating sustainable buildings and master plans, regenerating existing facilities to meet new sustainability standards and redefining smart, sustainable built environments. Jaber was part of the project team that delivered the Premier Inn Hotel in Abu Dhabi, the first hotel to receive a Two Pearl rating in its category in the Estidama Pearl Rating System.
What I really like about this area, besides the fact that it reflects old traditional architecture, is that it gives you a warm feeling, as if you are back in touch with nature. The area feels very human and has been beautifully renovated and preserved over the decades.
The result is a really nice urban space and even if you just go there for a walk through the small, narrow alleys, you get to experience a peaceful ambience away from the modernised and busy urban environment — something that you won’t find in the urban spaces we have now.
There’s a distinct touch and feel to the locally sourced materials, a delightful departure from the concrete, paint and glazing that most of us are used to seeing. That’s the kind of thing that is lacking in some contemporary designs. Walking its narrow alleys alone, you are easily drawn to its quaint old structures. There is always something to enjoy visually in the artistic sense of the community.
There are imitations that are trying to bring traditional architecture back into the design of new, contemporary buildings.
But from a heritage standpoint, I feel there is something missing in a lot of modern structures here. As an architect, everything looks pretty much the same when I walk down the city’s streets. There’s no true identity that stands out.
Having a heritage area gives you a sense of local architectural identity — something that stands apart from the hybrid of international designs we are surrounded with.
Source: Stuart Matthew, Special to Property Weekly