The villas of Dubai

Dubai VillasThis Melani Sabhaney-designed contemporary villa is a perfect example of the use of clean lines, structural simplicity and space to enhance the occupant's living environment l Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sloanes Real Estate

Dubai has undergone an astonishing transformation over the past 40 years or so. We're lucky to be able to see, every day, the multitude of glittering towers, shining like beacons in this former sleepy pearl fishing village. But while most of the architectural world focuses on the high-profile commercial developments, the domestic architecture of Dubai often gets overlooked.

We take a look at the most popular villa styles in the emirate to see the influences in their design.

Dubai's traditional architecture is heavily influenced by climate, culture and available building materials. Some of Dubai's earliest buildings have been beautifully restored and can be seen in the Bastakiya Quarter in Bur Dubai. These houses demonstrate an early example of eco engineering - the wind tower, which is still visible in homes built today.

This ingenious construction technique allows warm air, which accumulates in a home, to be drawn up and out, and at the same time draw cool breeze into the living area. Today, despite air conditioning negating the need for wind towers, we can see homes being built with tower-type construction elements as a visual reference to traditional homes.

This style of domestic architecture often features another element of the traditional vernacular style in this part of the world – the courtyard. Hidden from public view, shaded by the volume of the house and sometimes containing vegetation or a water feature, the courtyard is a private, cool place for the family to relax away from the heat and hustle and bustle of the city.

The third element that has influenced architects taking a traditional route in their home designs is the availability of building materials in the region.

Originally, resourceful builders had to use what was locally available, especially a type of stone called gypsum and the coral stone. The latter is a relatively soft stone, which is easily worked into different shapes and was used as an in6ll between wooden supports to provide stability, strength and protection from the climate. It varies in colour from cream to soft terracotta, and even today you'll see many of the villas being built in Dubai being painted in delicate earth tones such as ochre and umber in a tribute, although sometimes unconsciously, to this forgotten material.

Islamic architecture has also been highly influential. This style of architecture brings to mind the opulence and fairy-tale quality of One Thousand and One Nights, with its use of pointed arches, domes, detailed embellishment and elegant proportions.

It echoes the grandeur and lavishness found in such architectural masterpieces as the Alhambra in southern Spain, which demonstrates perfectly the use of rich. Sumptuous materials and the highest level of craftsmanship to produce a harmonious effect, which is detailed and ornate but never vulgar.


The Mediterranean region is famous for its beautiful architecture and its clever use of architectural features, which help protect the inhabitants from its sometimes unforgiving climate. No wonder then that astute architects and developers have made use of these elements to create a range of villas incorporating such features and imitating the style of various countries from around the region.

Inspired by the vιllas built by the Romans, Renaissance architects in Italy, most prominently Andrea Palladia, built comfortable, beautiful and practical family homes featuring elements that we still recognise today: courtyards, patios, columns, rounded arched windows and balconies.

Palladio's villas are among the most beautiful of those built at the time and set the standard for what we consider a traditional Mediterranean villa today.

In general, a Mediterranean home will have porches with deep pockets of shade to provide respite from the sun; cool-patterned ceramic tiles on the walls and smooth marble on the floors; windows that tend to be large but shaded and can often be opened fully to allow the circulation of air; thick walls to insulate against the intense heat; balconies that serve as private outside spaces and allow the cool breeze to enter the upper floors; and roofs that are low-pitched and covered in terracotta tiles.

Spanish- and Italian-style villas are particularly well suited to the climate in Dubai and can feature rendered, stucco-style walls or include design elements faced with rough-hewn stone to provide a textural contrast.

There are some stunning examples of contemporary architecture being built in Dubai and which are said to rival the more prominent commercial developments in the city in terms of design innovation. Those interested in clean lines, a lack of superfluous detail and a minimalist style have an abundance of choice.

Modern architecture can put some people o1f with its reputation for sterility and the dehumanisation of the dwelling, but in reality, it's quite the opposite - its principles put the human being at the heart of any home function.

One of the most famous modernist architects, Le Corbusier, famously said, "The house is a machine for living." Put simply, he felt architects should put human needs and functions at the centre of their design.

The most successful contemporary designs available in Dubai combine these principles and those of their historic predecessors to produce homes that reflect the changing patterns of our lives (think open-plan living areas and large eat-in kitchens), while incorporating the lessons learned from the past (secluded, shaded areas and private courtyards).

Modern villas are also making use of an abundance of natural materials and textures in their construction with natural, sustainable timber and "living" or green walls, which provide oxygen and shade as well as relief from the heat. These materials and techniques seek to connect us again to the natural world, which many of us who live and work in Dubai - one of the most vibrant and modem cities in the world- sadly lack.

If we look at some of the vιllas being constructed today, we can see elements of Walter Gropius’ work reflected in them. Almost 100 years on, his work still influences how we perceive a modem home with the white walls, clean lines, lack of overt detail and geometric forms. It's design elements like these that make buildings stand out from the crowd and give us a glimpse into one version of a utopian future.

So when you're on your travels around this sparklingly modern city, look carefully at the homes around you and see if you can identify these three basic types of dwelling. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and individual taste and current trends will dictate architects' commissions to a great extent.

It's fun, however, to imagine what you would commission if you were given an unlimited budget and the services of a talented team of architects. Would you go down the traditional route, the Mediterranean style or opt for something completely 21st century?

Andrea Palladio
Born in 1508 in Padua. Italy, Andrea Palladia was an architect who became inspired by the rediscovery of Roman villas in archaeological excavations during the Renaissance. He developed a simple, square-form floor plan for his villas. based on the principles of symmetry and proportion. The villas made use of columns, porticos, pediments and ancient architectural motifs to produce sublime and deceptively simple architectural forms. These were themselves a primary source of inspiration for 18th century architects during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and elsewhere. The designs of such architects as Inigo Jones and Robert Adam stem directly from Palladia's style and were highly influential.

Many contemporary villas owe their style to the German school of art simply known as Bauhaus, which was founded in 1919 and continued until 1933. Its concept was to reimagine the designed world to produce works in which form followed function. The school's founder, Walter Gropius, was a highly influential designer and architect whose aim was to unify the arts and create a style which reflected the aspirations of the (then) new century. The architecture was revolutionary in its streamlined and minimal design and use of high-tech industrialised processes.

Source: Ruth Khan, Special to Property Weekly


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