Simply does it
When it comes to design, less is almost always more
The new Hotel JAL Tower Dubai proves that when it comes to design, less is almost always more.
In stark contrast to many of Dubai’s five-star hotels, the new Hotel JAL Tower Dubai revels in its own simplicity.
The 471-room hotel is housed in one of two buildings that make up the new JAL Towers mixed-use complex – a slick addition to Sheikh Zayed Road’s multi-faceted skyline.
JAL Hotels, a Japanese hospitality brand that was launched in 1970 as a subsidiary of Japan Airlines, was already present in the UAE with the Hotel JAL Fujairah Resort & Spa.
However, as its first venture in Dubai, the company was keen to ensure that the Hotel JAL Tower captured its brand ethos and spoke proudly of its Japanese heritage.
Dubai-based design firm Drawlink Group was initially called in to design the hotel’s food and beverage outlets, but this scope of work was soon expanded to also include the hotel’s lobby, convention centre, executive lounge, business centre, spa, gym and 32 suites. Most of the hotel, in fact, apart from the standard rooms.
According to Daouseer Chennoufi, CEO and key architect at Drawlink Group, the intention was to create an interior design scheme that was striking in its simplicity. In keeping with the origins of the brand, the aim was to embrace the minimalist undertones of Japanese styling.
“The concept was to make it as simple as possible. The idea was to introduce fewer things, with greater impact. That is why the types of materials used in the various spaces has been kept to a minimum,” Chennoufi said.
“Because the brand is Japanese, they wanted that Japanese styling. But simple doesn’t mean not innovative, or not creative,” he stressed.
In fact, minimalist design schemes are more complicated to get right than interiors that are overly decorative, Chennoufi maintained. “A design with lots of things in it is easier to create than a design that is done in a very minimalistic way,” he insisted.
And the benefits of a minimalist design go beyond the mere aesthetic, Chennoufi suggested.
“For the owner, as an investor, a more simple design is also a good way of managing the budget. Most other projects in Dubai use a lot of materials and design elements. This costs the investor more, takes longer to build, and is harder to maintain.”
Furthermore, in a city that has long valued overly-elaborate design schemes, minimalist interiors still present a fair amount of novelty value. So, the extreme simplicity of the Hotel JAL Tower’s entrance area may initially feel quite foreign to those that are used to Dubai’s more dense design style, but it is highly refreshing nonetheless.
“This is our approach. The owner could have gone to any number of bigger companies to get their design, but the mentality of most firms in Dubai right now is to over-design five-star hotels. Our approach is to be very simple.”
To keep the design as straightforward as possible, Drawlink worked with a limited but rich palette of materials, and played with texture and lighting to introduce richness and depth. “Lighting is very important in all our concepts. Effective lighting helps to add value to certain materials,” said Chennoufi.
This is particularly apparent when it comes to the hotel’s futuristic-looking convention centre. As the first thing that ones sees as they enter the hotel, the self-contained, stand-alone structure makes an immediate impact.
While guests have to turn left to get to the reception desk and lobby area, the convention centre sits immediately in front of the entrance – and is the hotel’s pièce de résistance. It is made out of solid surface, creating an irregularly-shaped, glossy white structure that juts out in a series of uneven angles.
With its iceberg-like form, the multi-faceted structure is as mysterious as it is striking.
“Solid surface is usually used for bathrooms and bathtubs, or in the kitchen. We’ve used it in another way, to create a symbol for the hotel,” said Chennoufi. “It is like a sculpture, or a museum. It’s a mysterious object in the middle of the hotel and no one really knows what’s inside it.”
Adding to the overall sense of mystery, Drawlink bathed the structure in an ever-changing sea of multi-coloured light. Reflecting gently off the surface, the light spills out of the hotel and into the street, Chennoufi explained.
“Through texture, shape, the colour of the light, and the material used, we have created a masterpiece for the lobby,” he added. “The idea is that when you see the centre from the outside, you wonder what it is.”
In direct contrast to its stark, angular exterior, the interior of the convention centre is decked out in warm, neutral tones. Textured wall panels and carpetting in greys and beiges create an inviting, multi-use space that can cater for up to 280 people. The space can be divided up into three separate sections, or can be opened up completely.
The convention centre was introduced into the design at a later date, as a direct response to market demand. And while it necessitated a slight re-jig of the entrance and lobby area layout, it may well evolve into the hotel’s greatest hook.
A wide corridor links the convention centre to the lobby lounge area, and this is where the elevators are found. At one end of the corridor, a see-through door made from steel wire makes it clear that you are moving into a different area of the hotel, without closing off the spaces or separating them completely.
The corridor is clad in a dark travertine marble, a material that is used repeatedly throughout the hotel. Slabs are set at varying depths, to create texture, while careful lighting brings out the intricate detailing of the marble.
“Here, we cross cut the travertine marble to create a different feel. This is a known material and not an expensive one, but we have come up with an alternative way of presenting it,” Chennoufi explained.
Travertine marble is also used in the main lobby area, where it runs along the length of one side of the large rectangular space. “We chose dark travertine for the ‘walking area’ that crosses the lobby. This darker material on the wall, ceiling and floor gives you the impression that you are walking within a box.”
In the lobby lounge, large columns were covered in leather to introduce an element of softness. A palette of beiges, browns and bronzes is interspersed with red chairs, which introduce a welcome flash of colour.
Overhead, custom-designed light fittings highlight the simplicity of the design scheme. A fully-lit plexiglass box is set within another box made of semi-transparent, brown fabric mesh, creating a straightforward but highly effective box-within-a-box effect.
“The plexiglass box diffuses the light and then the mesh further reduces the effect of the light to make it softer. Everything is simple. The shape of the light is very simple but the quality of the material and the quality of the light effect is what’s important,” said Chennoufi.
“We also created more closed lights, and lots of different combinations of light.”
Light is also instrumental in leading people to the reception desk, which is set to the far left of the entrance area. A fully-illuminated box made from Chroma floats over the desk, attracting people with its warm yellow glow.
The lobby’s design language sets the tone for the rest of the hotel. Throughout the property, emphasis is on simple, toned-down design statements that are noteable for their quality, and for the creative way that they are presented.
In Indothai, the hotel’s 100-seat Asian restaurant and bar, original, handcrafted items from all over Asia combine to create an authentic ambience that also manages to retain a sense of modernity.
The restaurant is brimming with traditional statues, intricate pieces of art carved from wood and stone, and dramatic, dried out trees that have been spray-painted in white.
“It creates an authentic ambience, but at the same time it is not rustic or old-fashioned,” said Chennoufi.
“It is not that traditional Asian aesthetic that you see everywhere else. The restaurant is open but we created sub-spaces, without really dividing them up. Spaces are divided by the works of art, which are semi transparent.”
The property is also home to Benkay, a unique Japanese outlet located on the top three levels of the hotel. Each level of the restaurant specialises in a different type of cuisine: authentic Japanese, sushi and Teppan Grill. The restaurant is home to the largest ever space dedicated entirely to Teppan Grill tables.
With its panoramic views of Sheikh Zayed Road, and lofty location on the 49th, 50th and 51st floors, Benkay is another of the Hotel JAL Tower Dubai’s signature elements – and like the rest of the design, is a reminder that JAL is a Japanese company, and proud of it.