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Tue 1 May 2007 09:53 AM

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Building the biggest and best

The Middle East has been described as an architects' playground, where the wildest ideas can become realities, but as Hotelier Middle East discovers, a lot of thought goes into the dreams.

Although some Middle Eastern hotel announcements are still met with bemusement, there is no other market like it for creating modern iconic buildings.

But from design briefs and sketches in an architects pad there are a lot of steps and hurdles to overcome before the first guest checks in.

While some buildings have been hastily constructed to cash in on the tourism boom in the region, and are now being cursed by their operators for poor functionality and efficiency, the trend towards constructing eco-friendly buildings and involving operators in the design process is gaining currency.

Building relationships

Delegates at the Major Project Developments in Dubai 2007 conference held in March agreed that more needed to be done to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the design and construction projects taking place around the region.

McNally Design International creative director Simon McNally says many clients were reluctant to follow this path, as it meant that developers had "all their eggs in one basket".

I wouldn’t think Dubai has its own style yet, it’s a mish-mash from around the world.

"[But] architects need to start from scratch with the interior designers and MEP," he says.

International Design Studio managing director Graeme Anderson observes that there are many things a consultant has to consider in creating their designs, including the standard required (whether it is a three-, four- or five-star rated property or above), the type of property (if it is a city, resort, boutique, conference or spa focussed facility) and what style the property would be, be it "classical contemporary, fashionable contemporary, traditional or transitional", whether it was a new build or a refurbishment, and what country the property would be in "because they all require a unique approach".

Atkins Middle East senior design architect Lee Morris, who is overseeing the Trump Tower project on The Palm Jumeirah, agrees that projects would be better served by operators and designers working together, because of the many "nuances" in the finished products.

"[But] the reality of how projects work in this town [Dubai], even with the high profile projects, is that it is a roller coaster you can go through from the moment projects are procured," he says.

With the Trump Tower, for example, an original hotel operator for the project was unable to continue for unforeseen circumstances, leaving the development without an operator for guidance for a period.

"But we are pretty experienced at putting hotels together, and you have to be pretty innovative," Morris adds.

"We as architects and designers are a multi-skilled company and we are able to fill the gaps in."

Trump in focus

A new trend in hotel room design is compartmentalisation, according to Morris, where rather than having a wardrobe, for example, there would be a separate changing area.

"At Trump we are looking at as soon as you walk into the room on the right hand side you have a changing area, then the next room would be the bathroom, and then you would be in your bedroom, which would have a seating area and maybe a desk," he says.

"Another trend is transparency in the bathroom. Because the room is so big and one-sided, it is important to let light in, so you would have the back bedroom wall as a window of some kind, or slots, allowing light into the bathroom.

"The other trend, which has become kind of the norm, is an interactive smart system, where everything (from air conditioning, to the television and so on) can be controlled through one panel."

Another regional focus, which McNally, Anderson and Morris agree on, is the push for more eco-

friendly developments.

"There is a global trend towards eco-friendly buildings," McNally says, labelling the Atkins-designed Bahrain World Trade Centre, with its large turbines - used to offset the building's energy consumption - as "pushing things into the next century".

Morris says Atkins has a global focus on sustainability, and the Trump Tower will also feature many energy and consumption efficient features.

"We are talking more about the passive side of things, getting back to basics," he says.

"Things such as facing south, so that during summer, when we get up to 40 or 50 degrees, the temperature on glass can be up to 60 degrees, so we are looking to protect those facades."

Morris says Trump Tower will use louvres to reduce the thermal heat levels on the façade.

Solar-thermal panels, which will also serve as shading devices, will be used to provide hot water for the hotel for up to eight months each year, and condensation from air conditioning units would be collected and used to irrigate the surrounding landscape, and potentially as grey-water (for purposes such as flushing toilets), he adds.

"We are trying to make this building as sustainable as possible, which means a very pragmatic approach and also using some clever technology," Morris says.

"Buildings will soon be judged on their green credentials. You see a lot of buildings around here, with their dark coloured glass, just pumping out air conditioning - it leaks out of every crack in the building - and there is no thought or care about where things are going."

City style

While some cities develop their own unique styles, the designers agree that the UAE, and Dubai in particular, has become a melting pot for architectural styles from around the world.

"There are not many places in the world where there is such an eclectic mix of hotel forms, either resort, city or boutique hotels," Anderson says.

McNally agrees: "The architecture doesn't follow anything over here".

"I wouldn't think Dubai has its own style yet, it's a mish-mash from around the world, but that is what Dubai is, with its ex-pat community," he explains.

"The trend here is very much ‘copy and paste'. Abu Dhabi is actually doing better than Dubai, because they haven't rushed it too much."

Despite the eclectic mix, the city has become renowned for one piece of hotel architecture: the iconic Burj Al Arab.

"It's brilliant because it put a country on the map," Morris says.

"It was probably one of the most expensive hotels in the world to construct, but the vision to create it and the reason why it was created goes beyond the building.

"I think it is probably one of the best, in terms of what it has done beyond the building itself. But I think Trump is going to give it a run for its money."

Iconic hotels

Burj Al Arab, Dubai, UAE

Chedi, Muscat, Oman

Emirates Towers, Dubai, UAE

Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, UAE

One & Only Royal Mirage, Dubai, UAE

Four Seasons, Bahrain Bay, Bahrain*

*under construction

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