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Face to face: Hazel Wong, WSW Architects

by Nick Ames on Apr 9, 2017

Hazel Wong, the architect behind Palm Jumeirah’s Serenia Residences.
Hazel Wong, the architect behind Palm Jumeirah’s Serenia Residences.

Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah is the setting for an urban beachfront residential project that brings the seascape and marine environment of the Arabian Gulf into the heart of the living room.

Hazel Wong is the architect behind the Serenia Residences development, which will see 250 top-end homes come on to the market, in three buildings that are linked by open spaces and a large swimming pool. Overlooking the Palm Jumeirah from one side and, from the other, the Burj Al Arab, the Dubai skyline, and the sea, the development features large glass windows and doors to maximise the views.

“So many things make up this project,” says Wong. “There is the exclusivity, the location, and the views out to sea and across the Palm. Then there is the connection between the exteriors and the rooms themselves – and the way that natural light can flood inside.”

The initial construction phases of the buildings have been completed, say the developer, Palma Holding. They are sited on the crescent of the Palm Jumeirah, next to Anantara the Palm Dubai Resort.

Currently, contractors have completed all the structural works in the three buildings, including a show apartment on Level 2, East Wing. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing works are also on schedule, reaching up to Level 4 in all the structures.

The next phase of development will see ceilings, as well as glass and aluminium fittings, installed. This work has commenced and is on track to meet its completion deadlines. Handover is expected to be at the end of the year
“Originally, there were four separate plots, which made up the development,” says Wong, who designed Dubai’s Emirates Towers while working at NORR. “But in the end it was decided to amalgamate them. This allowed for far better utilisation of the site. All around Serenia there is water, and you can see the skyline of Dubai as well.

“We kept the design simple, using the lightest of colours; we didn’t want anything crazy.”

Wong explains that the design runs counter to many of the trends commonly associated with Dubai.

“There is a feeling out here that everyone wants something no-one has seen before, but we have made no massive statements like installing something big on the roof.

“Instead, the theme of Serenia is quiet elegance and a timeless feel, making good use of sustainable material. The developers have kept faith with the original vision. I know cost is an issue, but there are some things that are so key to the original design that they have to be kept.”

Currently, the development includes a fully furnished show apartment for investors to visit.

Large ceiling-to-floor glass is a major feature within the living rooms, and retractable sliding doors allow the outdoors into the home interior.

Finishes include stone for all floorings and for the kitchen countertops, Hansgrohe bathrooms, large walk-in closets, automatic cupboard lighting rods, and a touch-operated sink tap. Shell inlay is used on some surfaces, in keeping with the beachfront ambience.

The furniture, lighting, and art were sourced from Caspaiou, which selects its furniture pieces from many parts of Europe, with the majority made in Italy.Kareem Derbas, chief executive officer and founder of Palma Holding, says: “The key to true indoor-outdoor living is creating flow between the indoors and outdoors.  Comfortable, luxurious outdoor furniture offers a perfect spot to relax and take in the sea breeze.

 “Thanks to the retractable glass windows, and the surrounding translucent glass balcony that wraps around the whole apartment, the view of the water from the sofa or bed is never obstructed.

“Serenia has also included floor-to-ceiling push-out panels in all rooms, used for the first time in the region. But we’ve made sure that curtains can be tucked away in a ceiling pocket.”

Wong adds: “When I started the project, it was with the skeleton of the building, and then I built out. My work is original but, of course, ideas are never wholly yours. They are always partially inspired by something that exists elsewhere in the world. I learn in that manner – but I make sure I never copy.”