Middle Eastern design was once an oxymoron. Dubai's Emirates Towers shows how far the region's hotels have come in pushing the aesthetic envelope.
Staff -- Interior Design, 6/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
FOR MUCH OF the last three decades, design in Middle Eastern hotels focused on two concepts: Luxury, measured by a standard weight of marble and pendulous chandeliers, and security, mirrored in predictably international style interiors that would be familiar to travelers from around the globe. The turn of the century marked a distinct change. The region's erased the need for the aesthetic safety net of unoriginal design and allowed sleek new hotels, such as the 5-star Emirates Towers, which opened last summer in Dubai, to manipulate modernism toward the cutting edge.
The Emirates Tower wanted to position itself as a "millennial hotel." In many ways, it has succeeded. Its soaring architecture makes a highly visible statement about the region's corporate success. Norr Group's twin triangular towers dominate Dubai's expanding skyline. The Emirates office tower is the tallest building in the Middle East and the tenth tallest in the world. The hotel tower, joined to the office block by a central podium of shops and restaurants, is only 150 ft. lower. Together, they are an unmistakable reference point in a city working hard to position itself as the business gateway between East and West.
The challenge for the interior designer, Dubai-based Design Division, was to create interiors that live up to the gleaming promise of the architecture. However dramatic the exterior, the design team was confronted with the task of redefining the varied components still essential to every Middle Eastern luxury hotel: 11 restaurants and lounges; a high ratio of premium rooms to standard rooms; and the requisite atrium lobby.
Working with the hotel's operator, Dubai-based Jumeirah International, Design Division redefined the usual restaurant offerings. The de rigeur Italian restaurant is the visual equivalent of an Armani suit: great lines, flawless quality, and a few quirks to make it interesting. For Mosaico, that excitement comes from the interplay of a black column that swirls to the ceiling with the ultra-modern geometry of the seating and tables. Pulling it all together is one of the largest mosaic floors in the region, comprising 2.5 million tiles imported from China.
Not all the design references are so literal. The ground floor Oh!Cajun restaurant says more about Zen than the spices of its Cajun and Creole specialties. A space large enough to accomodate the peak traffic of a 400-room hotel gets cut down to size with a grass-topped planter that runs nearly the full length of the room. The planter forms the back to two long rows of banquettes that face inventive tables of checkerboard wood and low-backed chairs. Striped banquettes along the walls are the mirror image of the central seating configuration. Taking advantage of changes in ceiling height, the designers created a glowing effect using recessed lighting as well as a central metallic strip studded with additional fixtures.
Pushing the limits of contemporary design, the team experimented with concepts ranging from the big city chic of the black, caramel, and blue used for Vu's on the 50th floor to the organic shapes and bold coloring of the Oyster Lounge. This broad umbrella also made room for specialty restaurants, such as the American Civil War-inspired Scarlett's, designed by the McNally Design Group.
Aesthetic unity comes from using a common material palette, changing the application as the function and concept require.
Marble and leather take on many forms. In the lobby, the granite-and-marble floor is patterned into a stylized series of "area rugs" and borders. For the Oyster Lounge, the flooring shifts to a gray-veined marble that makes a better foil for its organic proportions and the fuchsia-and-mustard palette of the seating. Marble floors reappear in the club floor lounge, but this time in cream dotted with black circular inlays. In the bathrooms, standard beige marble gets a makeover with bands of dark ceramic tile, dark wood pedestals holding clear glass bowl sinks, and streamlined, down-curving faucets.
Leather gets a new treatment as well. Euro-chic black leather sofas in the lobby bring down the focus of the atrium to the guest's level. Their texture is a visual challenge to the more sensual black suede of the geometric chairs and the rich gold of the rugs. Contemporary yet durable, the material adds a cutting-edge touch in the guest suites, appearing in details such as handles on the glass-fronted drawers.
Different has proven to be better for the Emirates Tower. Distinctive and forward-looking, this contemporary landmark is parlaying its strong identity into iconic status in a market bracing for 4,500 new rooms within two to three years.