Organic and textural, the interiors of Emaar's first hotel mirror the region's natural landscapes, Selina Denman discovers.
As development giant Emaar's first venture into hotel management, The Address, Downtown Burj Dubai had to act as a larger-than-life showcase of the company's hospitality ethos and ambition.
"It had to fit with our tagline, Where Life Happens," Cora Stuart, hotel manager, explained. "There's a little bit of excitement in every part of the hotel and that matches the identity of who we are. It has a texture and a feel that is a little different," she continued.
The project was a collaboration of international experts: Mirage Mille was appointed as the developer and project manager, WS Atkins was the architect, Cairncross Martin was responsible for procurement, Shankland Cox did all the landscape architecture and Claire Craig and Helen Skea of WA International looked after the interiors.
"The team was the best I have ever worked with. Everyone really cared and put so much effort into it. The same people were on the project for four years, so that made a huge difference to the whole continuity, from the inside to the outside. There's a flow throughout the hotel," said Helen Skea, associate at WA International.
The aim was to create a high-end contemporary development infused with subtle Arabian twists.
For example, oversized mashrabiya screening on the architectural façade is carried through to the interiors and replicated on headboards in the guest rooms, as a simple nod towards the Middle Eastern aesthetic. It also strengthens the connect between the interior and exterior.
"What we tried to do was create something that was not completely minimal and modern, because it would date. It's warm and sophisticated and quirky in many ways, but not over the top - and in ten year's time it is still going to look like it fits into the building," Skea said.
The region's rugged mountains, undulating sand dunes, stunning seascapes and striking sunsets acted as a basic inspiration point for the entire design.
Golds and bronzes interplay with reds and oranges and are infused with flashes of blue to create a palette that mimics natural landscapes from across the region.
"We're used the desert landscape, wadis, dunes and mountains as inspiration. The whole concept was a contemporary take on the Arabian landscape. Everything is quite subdued. We've tried to keep that through the background colour palette.
Where we've got more drama, like the bars and restaurants, we've introduced silvers and blacks, in the form of Saint Laurent marble, chrome and glass," Skea explained.
The overall shape of the building had a fundamental impact on the interior design - and was the source of some major challenges.
"Because of the shape of the building, there were 44 different guest room types. And they were not slightly different but majorly different, so drawing package-wise for the team, it was a real challenge," Skea revealed.
The curvaceous configuration of the building, which was free of sharp lines and edges, warranted an interior where organic and undulating design elements dominated. Fluidity was key.
"If you look at the hotel from a bird's eye view, the whole of the landscape and the architecture of the building is very organic, so we kept the interiors very natural." Public spaces are open and flowing, with separate areas blending seamlessly into one another.
Even the boundaries between outside and inside are blurred, with the external landscaping seeming to flow into the building in a conch-like wave that almost ushers guests in.
Textures also play on the natural, organic theme to create depth, warmth and movement.
"We were trying to emphasise the natural elements with the use of different materials - from the polished palasandro marble floors, backlit bronze metallic undulating wall features, rich fabrics and dark textured woods," said Skea.
The number of wall hangings has been kept to a minimum but the pieces that do feature are characterised by their three-dimensional nature.
The number of art works in the public spaces was kept to a bare minimum due to the lack of wall space.
As the interior architecture is so open plan and the wall finishes are textural themselves, there was no need to add clutter.
Where there are works of art, large sculptural and textural statement pieces have been commissioned, made of natural elements such as wood and shells, which maintains the organic theme and adds extra depth to the space.
While wall art has been kept to a minimum, bold, oversized sculptures and exotic lighting features have been introduced throughout the property to add a healthy dose of drama.
Glass sculptures by the British artist Amanda Brisbane complement bespoke pieces from the acclaimed Alan Mayburgh to inject splashes of colour and quirkiness.
Light fixtures were custom-made by Preciosa, a Czech manufacturer of genuine Bohemian-cut crystal pro-ducts, and are one of the project's most striking features.
Contemporary takes on traditional chandeliers, curtains of hanging crystals and suspended droplets leap off ceilings and walls to illuminate and warm the hotel's public spaces.
"We probably had the most fun with the lighting features, as there were such huge volumes of space to fill. For instance, the sculptural light fittings in the reception lobby have eight- and twelve-metre drops," Skea explained.
"We worked very closely with Preciosa whilst designing these light fittings. We travelled to their factory in the Czech Republic to review and approve the shop drawings and prototypes. Lighting is such an important part of interiors and the fittings are so sculptural and dramatic," she said.
Large-scale architectural elements have also been converted into eye-catching design features.
From oval shapes cut into the walls of the lobby lounge to waiters' stations punched into the walls of the all-day dining area, the interplay of architectural and interior design elements is strikingly apparent throughout the property - and is testament to the close working relationship enjoyed by the various consultants during the four-year development process.
"We worked very closely with the architect to make sure everything gelled," Skea stressed. The effectiveness of these synergies is perhaps most obvious in the main lobby area, where the slab height was raised eight metres higher than originally planned at the request of the design team, to help create a truly grand entrance.
"The quantity surveyor probably hated us because of cost implication, but it really makes a huge difference when you walk in."
High ceilings aside, the ‘grandness' of the lobby is reiterated in an enormous Amanda Brisbane glass sculpture that towers over the reception area.
"There's a big structural sheer wall there and we needed to make a feature out of it, so there is a glass curtain made by Preciosa and, in front of that, the sculpture by Amanda Brisbane, which, I think, weighs about three tones and is all lit with fibre optics," Skea detailed.
The reception was initially designed as a single, high, blue-glass desk - but once Emaar Hospitality decided to convert the hotel into its first Address, it requested that the single, high, block reception be replaced with a series of sit-down desks.
"We still did the one desk but as a zig zag, which creates a series of smaller reception desk areas."
At the opposite end of the space, an eight-metre drop Preciosa light fixture dives from the ceiling to dwarf the concierge's desk, while a seating area fills the remainder of the space.
Heavy woods in both light and dark hues are used for butcher block tables, which set the trend for dramatic and highly sculptured furnishings from the outset.
"Organic-style shapes influenced the design of all the furniture and everything is contrasting, so you have the light natural wood with the dark wood.
The use of contrasting elements is then carried through. We've actually carried a lot of the themes through, so you do feel like there is continuity," Skea explained.
A few other materials keep making an appearance: palasandro and Saint Laurent marble, onyx, maccassar ebony, dark walnut and quartz stone on the wall cladding.
"It's pretty much the same palette of finishings. We tried to use the same materials more or less throughout the property, so that there's a continuity when you move from one space to the next," Skea added.
The fluidity of the design is apparent in the way that the reception area melts into the lobby lounge and then on into the bridge link area, setting the tone for spaces that are open and uninterrupted. "We've managed, even with all the services coming through, to keep it very open.
There are no doors in the public spaces. The reception goes into the lobby lounge through to the bridge link, which then goes into the all-day dining, and there's a lovely flow throughout the whole of the public area."
In the bridge link area, a glass bridge passes overhead offering views out across the double-height space. On the ground, external floor finishes lead in from the landscaped pool deck and curve inwards to break down bound-aries between the interior and exterior.
A double-height, undulating screen feature, influenced by Calatrava, spans across the back wall and leads into a tunelled lift lobby area. "We wanted to work with really strong architectural features," Skea reiterated.Also set on the ground floor of the hotel is a semi-secluded lounge area that sits behind a curtain of bronze chain mail and sheer bronze gauze.
The space is enclosed by a series of Preciosa glass sculptures that spring from the ground to create the impression of growth and renewal. "Everything is budding and growing. It is like the desert after the rain," Skea maintained.
In the all-day dining restaurant, furniture is characteristically solid and sculptural. An enclosed, private space that was originally designated as a smoking area was converted into a private dining area that is set apart from the remainder of the restaurant.
An impressive Preciosa light fixture once again dominates, but is offset by over-scaled furniture, such as high-backed banquette seating. The space is then warmed by wooden floors.
All the public area furniture was made by Speedwell Décor in Dubai, while hotel rooms were furnished by Zubair Furnishing in Oman. "We travelled a lot for sourcing and prototyping," said Skea. "And a lot of the accessories we got from Indonesia."
Amanda Brisbane glass representations of leaves are set into niches in the wall in both the all-day dining restaurant and the bar next door.
Here, the colour scheme is infused with bright purples and royal blues, while tables inlaid with mother of pearl and cushions covered in fur add brand new materials into the mix.
Although the hotel is best characterised but its extravagant lighting fixtures and organic design elements, there is another feature that is drawing attention - elaborate and imaginative toilets.
"All the public toilets are completely different in concept," said Skea. "I always remember that when Grosvenor House opened, everyone talked about the toilets. Public toilets in hotels, like bathrooms in the rooms, are always a talking point," she elaborated.
In one instance, the toilet is fitted with undulating glass and a free-standing central counter supporting two rows of sinks - crystal bowls complemented by elaborately curved mixers. Meanwhile, a dramatic bronze mosaic flows through into a back-lit cubicle to interplay with palasandro marble.
This is all topped off with the sparkle of an elaborate Preciosa light fitting. Elsewhere, stone basins are served by organically-shaped tap fittings. "So, even when you walk into the toilets there is something interesting to look at," said Skea.
While basins and taps differ in each of the public toilets, the mixers were all sourced in Italy and selected for their dramatic effect. "We tried to be wacky in each one," Skea explain.
An entrance wall that flicks outwards to create the effect of a free-flowing curtain further enhances the originality of the toilet.
It is elements such as this that best display the attention to detail that went into the project - and it is in the details that The Address excels, said the interior architect and project manager from WA International, Srinivas Mohan.
"All the different details are what made this project both challenging and exciting. This isn't the kind of project that you see all the time - it is exciting throughout," he commented.
And this is what makes The Address the Johnny Depp of hotels, joked Stuart. "It is quirky, beautiful and different. It pushes the envelope out, it is not overdone and you don't see it everywhere - it's just like Johnny Depp."For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.