Siteseeing: Dubai

Alissa Ponchione • Photograohy by Victor Romero, Hakan Akdemir, and renderings courtesy of Emaar Properties • February 28, 2018

Photos: Recent Projects

Soaring nearly 3,000 feet into the sky, the Burj Khalifa became the world’s tallest building when it opened in 2010 thanks to New York architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It remains a beacon in the skyline, the beating heart of Dubai, a city that has transformed into a global powerhouse that has won accolades for its ability to push boundaries while also attracting the most coveted designers and architects to its shores. Consider the forward-thinking Bjarke Ingles, whose global firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) partnered with Hyperloop One to develop the world’s first high-speed autonomous transportation system (conceived by Elon Musk) that links Abu Dhabi and Dubai in 12 minutes; guests travel in six-person pods on a transporter that can also go on roads for individual stops.

Ambitious development is top of mind as Dubai plans for 20 million visitors by Expo 2020. Along with an investment of $3 billion to finance the expansion of its airports (it’s one of three multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments), hotels are also flourishing. According to data and analytics specialist STR, 177 hotels with 52,299 rooms are in the pipeline as of December 2017. The multicultural and diverse Dubai has always been a “paradise for designers and developers,” notes Adam D. Tihany, founder of New York firm Tihany Design, who crafted both the 106-room Four Seasons at DIFC, which opened in 2016, as well as three F&B venues—all-day dining Suq, the indoor-outdoor Sea Fu, and rooftop bar Mercury Lounge—in the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. “Dubai is a great showcase of ideas and a fertile ground for design imagination,” he says. “Not unlike Las Vegas, where people come to be entertained and live a bit in a fantastical world, Dubai, too, seduces visitors to a world of can-do bravado.”

A few newcomers want in on Dubai’s allure, including the edgy 25hours brand, which is venturing to the Middle East for the first time with a 434-room property located in the DWTC’s One Central mixed-use development set for a 2020 opening. The recently opened 298-room Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai, meanwhile, is the maiden Renaissance to enter the city and “embraces the spirit of Dubai as a one-of-a-kind destination,” says Alex Kyriakidis, Marriott International’s president and managing director for the Middle East and Africa. Courtesy of local and London firm WA International, the design is inspired by the fluidity of Dubai’s sand dunes with black and gold woven throughout, including in a striking handblown glass chandelier that spans the lobby. Along with a serene Six Senses Spa, exciting F&B concepts by chefs Masaharu Morimoto and David Myers are highlights of the city’s buzzing food scene.

While urban hotels draw people to the bustling city center, the beach resorts that line the Persian Gulf are enticing retreats. Take the Bulgari Resort & Residences Dubai on Jumeirah Bay, which launched at the end of 2017. Milan and New York firm Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel and Partners crafted an exterior defined by coral-like screens that resemble porcelain, which complement the white marble veined with black and gold arabesques of the hotel podium’s walls, according to Citterio and Viel. An area originally home to fishermen, traders, and pearl divers, a maritime theme now takes center stage with an oak wood surface recalling the deck of a ship.

Jack Penrod’s Nikki Beach brand opened two hotels in the last year on the coast, including the natural and simple Nikki Beach Resort & Spa Dubai in December (the Nikki Beach Dubai had opened in March). Nature plays a major role in the former’s design, with untreated wood, seamless flooring, and unfinished concrete floors blending with a gray, light blue, and turquoise palette with every piece seemingly derived from the beach, the sea, and the sky.

On the horizon at the end of 2018 is the W Dubai – The Palm from London firm United Design Partnership and DWP out of Dubai. “Dubai’s dynamic spirit is a perfect match for W Hotels, and the opening of our second property reinforces our commitment to grow in this important market,” explains Anthony Ingham, global brand leader of W Hotels Worldwide. The building’s architecture nods to a ship perched at the edge of the Gulf. And once inside, a series of walls and partitions are based on the city grid of Dubai with a bar hidden within. In guestrooms, a motif of Arabic writing that translates to pop song lyrics will don curved walls covered in glass.

Yet, one of the most anticipated openings of 2018 is the 93-room ME Dubai. Zaha Hadid designed the luxury hotel in 2014—before she passed in 2016—in her signature avant-garde style, which now stands as a landmark to her legacy. Housed within the breathtaking Opus building, it spans 250,000 square feet and comprises two separate towers that are connected to each other in the form of a cube with a carved central void where the center of the building offers unexpected and dramatic views of the interior. Also notable is the sustainable 985-foot-tall Wasl Tower, a mixed-use development that will sit opposite the Burj Khalifa when it opens in 2020. Its tiled façade will be the world’s tallest ceramic-clad building, and was chosen specifically to protect the interiors from Dubai’s scorching sun. “The way it twists and turns affects the amount of light that comes into the space of the building,” points out Ben van Berkel, founder and principal architect of Dutch architecture firm UNStudio, who notes the building will be “a prototype for the future of Dubai.” Internal landscaping enhance vertical boulevards—created by stacking outdoor balconies—that promote walkability and lead to infinity pools crowning the tower roof, while a 257-room Mandarin Oriental anchors the 63-story building.

Of course, what makes Dubai interesting is its competitive and no-holds-barred attitude. Despite a copyright dispute with architect Fernando Donis, the cubed Dubai Frame has opened. The structure’s two 492-foot-tall towers are linked by a 305-foot bridge with 82-square-foot glass panels that offer heady views of the city. And in the coming weeks, the 528-room Gevora Hotel will surpass the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai as the world’s tallest hotel at 1,168 feet. Not to be outdone, Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish architect behind New York’s World Trade Center transportation hub the Oculus, has started work on the Dubai Creek Tower, which will have a curved profile informed by the natural form of the lily and evoking the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. When it’s finished in 2020, it’s expected to be taller than the Burj Khalifa.

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