At the Top of Her Game
Public spaces at the Burj Khalifa in Dubayy, United Arab Emirates, are a tour de force by SOM's Nada Andric.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2011 3:11:00 PM
Unless you've been living through a total media blackout, you're by now familiar with exterior images of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Burj Khalifa-a tripartite tower rising more than 160 stories above Dubayy, United Arab Emirates, to become the world's tallest building. The more than 3 million square feet inside, meanwhile, have been kept under wraps. SOM associate director Nada Andric spent the last seven years on the completion of the building's public spaces, and they're now ready for their moment in the spotlight.
Despite the colossal scale of the Burj, it breaks down into residential, corporate, and hospitality components posing familiar design problems. Together, the zones create the overriding challenge of circulation. How do you keep vast numbers of people of varying cultures moving through, gracefully? And culture, by the way, adds another layer. Arab references were to be subtly woven in. There was also a need to humanize the scale-biggest is not always best.
"We got the interiors commission in January 2005, and we had six weeks to prepare our presentation. We arrived in Dubayy with 45 boxes," Andric recalls. "The Burj interiors were more or less built according to that presentation." Here's how they work. Each component has its own entry pavilion, an identical glass ellipse. The lobbies beyond, however, have their own characters, with the residential lobby arguably the most spectacular. Here, sculptor Jaume Plensa installed two thickets of stainless-steel rods and gold-plated cymbals, anchored in two pools. A pathway between the pools leads to the lobby lounge, which introduces the project's sweeping forms and restrained palette.
"The building is in the middle of a desert, so we chose the off-whites of sand," Andric says. Research also taught her that Dubayy's history is filled with merchants and pearl harvesters. So she opted for pearlescent leather for seating, silvery-white travertine for flooring, and polished plaster for the billowing wall and ceiling formations. "The free-flowing softness works well within the rigid architectural system of sheer walls," she says, citing traditional Arab robes as inspiration. In deference to Arab cultural preferences, a long curving banquette sits in for individual chairs.
Next, Andric tackled progression, or what she calls "taming the beast." The lobby lounge segues into an elevator lobby, where walls "look like they're carved out of solid travertine," she says. The six express cabs whisk residents to levels 43 and 76, where sky lobbies are miniature versions of the lounge below: Note the banquettes and the horizontal-grain rosewood paneling. The flooring, however, changes to carpet with patterns referencing Arab calligraphy, and the teak window slats are stand-ins for traditional screens. From the sky lobbies, elevators provide access to residence floors up to 108-that's nearly 900 apartments all told. To break up the corridors' length, 90 feet on the lower levels, Andric inserted a series of rosewood archways.
Sky lobbies are not the only amenities on 43 and 76. Both levels offer a fully equipped spa. In the entry corridors, Andric got a bit playful with curvaceous coves in the ceiling, gold-flecked ceramic mosaic tiles cladding the coves as well as the walls, and an up-lit glass floor. Inside each spa, a mezzanine juice bar overlooks a swimming pool that extends outside to a teak deck, joining a whirlpool, a trellis for diffusing the wind, and a 10-foot-high glass enclosure.
An access sequence analogous to that of the residential section is found in the corporate zone, but its three-level lobby of glass, stainless steel, and black granite speaks the language of global enterprise. Deal-makers en route upstairs can't help but halt in their tracks here-at least for a minute to admire the ceiling treatment, a suspended wave of sycamore strips recalling a ship's hull. (Remember the merchant reference?) From the mezzanine, elevators go straight to the 123rd floor, the transfer point for the office levels that continue through 154.
All office tenants have the opportunity to book the corporate-events facility on levels 152 through 154. Their pre-function space, boardroom, and penthouse lounge are connected by a staircase, an engineering feat of black granite treads held aloft by stainless-steel rods suspended from above. True to the minimal palette, the main background material is pearlescent lacquer for walls, ceilings, and identical reception desks. Given the Burj's narrowing silhouette, the floor plates compress to 5,000 square feet at the very top. Views, however, expand to infinity.
Photography by Nick Merrick/Heidrich Blessing.
george j. efstathiou; william f. baker; luke leung; edward thompson; eric tomich; eunjung cho; gregory l. smith; heather k. poell; gabriel wong; katey knott; scott kadlec; daniel bell; scott cherney; dennis milam; kenneth maruyama: skidmore, owings & merrill. hyder consulting: architect of record. fisher marantz stone: lighting consultant. swa group: landscaping consultant. pa ems: water features consultant. depa; design studio furniture manufacturer; heehoon d&g; imperial woodworking company: woodwork. dutch star construction: stair contractor. arabtec construction; besix; samsung c&t corporation: general contractors.
INTERNA GROUP: CUSTOM BANQUETTES (SKY, RESIDENTIAL LOBBIES), CUSTOM BANQUETTES, BENCHES (CORPORATE LOBBY).
SICIS: WALL, COLUMN TILE (SPA).
KNOLL TEXTILES: WALL COVERING (HALL).
FIGLA CO.: FLOORING (SPA ENTRY).
DORMA: CUSTOM DOOR HARDWARE. RICHARD SCHULTZ: CHAIRS, TABLES (DECK).
AL ABBAR GROUP; SCHOTT: CUSTOM WALL PANELS (CORPORATE LOBBY).
HAWORTH: CHAIRS (BOARDROOM).
HOKANSON: CUSTOM CARPET.
TAI PING: CUSTOM CARPET.
EDELMAN LEATHER: UPHOLSTERY.
FRITZ KOHL FURNIERWERK: VENEER.
ARMOURCOAT: POLISHED PLASTER.
CAMPOLONGHI ITALIA: STONE SUPPLIER.