Architecture is Moving from Excessive Grandeur to Authenticity in the Middle East


Dubai-UAE: 22 November 2020 – Dubai Design District (d3) hosted a talk titled ‘New Typologies: Residential and Hospitality in the GCC’ as part of the d3 Architecture Festival 2020, organised in partnership with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Gulf Chapter.


Aidan Imanova, Editor of identity magazine, moderated the session that discussed residential and hospitality projects in the GCC region and explored their emerging typologies. Among the panellists were Jennie Binchy, Design Director at Binchy and Binchy, Jonathan Ashmore, Founder and Principal Architect at ANARCHITECT, and Dr Nasser Bader Abulhasan, Principal and Founding Partner at AGi architects.


Speaking about the hospitality segment, Jonathan Ashmore said: “In the last few years, opulence and excessive grandeur have become expected in the Middle East. However, today’s visitors want to see more authenticity. People look for something that really connects with them. We’ve gone too far – become almost too urban, almost too controlled, almost too restricted in our design and almost too repetitive.”


He added that hospitality operators are now looking more towards residential models to understand how people connect with their spaces.


As an example of the new typology in hospitality, Ashmore presented his firm’s recent project, the award-winning Al Faya Desert Retreat & Spa near Maleiha in Sharjah – a repurposed clinic and the oldest petrol pump in the UAE, combined with a newly built saltwater spa, embedded in the landscape. The primordial, back-to-basics concept that draws on the style of a forgotten era provides an antidote to the opulent urban hotel offering that is so common in the UAE.


Ashmore called for replacing a stylised approach with going back to the reason why we build to create a pure, authentic and relevant response.


Jennie Binchy outlined the differences between the two basic residential typologies in the GCC region – expat and local communities.  She noted an emerging push against traditional ways of building that stems from people’s desire to connect with the environment in which they live and with the culture of the place that drives a change in the typologies.


She said: “It’s human nature to push against what has been done before, particularly when your country has grown very quickly.”


Ashmore agreed with her observation, and added that the shift is driven from two sides – not only by what the clients need but also by what the architects want to produce. Passion and responsibility are playing an increasing role in shaping future architectural typologies.


Dr Abulhasan noted that the change of typology is influenced by many factors, such as social, economic and family dynamics, pointing out one prominent trend in the region – the decrease in household size due to the decline of multi-generational families.


Comparing the typologies of residential and hospitality buildings, he said: “We’re getting to a point where the difference between residential and hospitality is minute, and the backbone is the same. And the introduction of Airbnb is only accelerating the convergence between a hotel and an apartment.”


The participants also examined the changes in the use of residential spaces due to COVID-19, with working from home on the rise. In this context, Dr Abulhasan highlighted the emergence of new types of hybrid buildings where demarcation between residence and office doesn’t really exist.


The inaugural edition of the d3 Architecture Festival was held in November 2020 under the theme ‘Identity, Context and Placemaking in the Gulf’. Celebrating the achievements of local and regional architecture companies, the event takes place on the sidelines of Dubai Design Week.


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