Fit for a king

Dubai's recently opened Monarch Hotel has impressive RMJM architectural concepts both inside and out.

The design brief for the Monarch was to create a ‘timeless
The design brief for the Monarch was to create a ‘timeless

Addresses in Dubai don't come more sought after than ‘No.1 Sheikh Zayed Road' and that is the enviable moniker of the recently opened Monarch Hotel. Standing proudly at the entrance to the city's principal thoroughfare and conveniently located within walking distance of DIFC.

Dubai World Trade Centre and the Dubai International Convention Centre, the hotel has understandably pitched itself to appeal to both international and local business guests.

The original architectural concept designs were completed by RTKL before RMJM took over the project in August 2003. The tender process began in April 2004, with construction starting a couple of months later in June.

The doors finally opened to the first guests in November 2007. Architect Enzo Messina, RMJM takes CID on a tour of the new hotel that has already collated quite a loyal fanbase.

He says: "The most important aspect of any project is that it fits the context, and the brief for this hotel was to create a timeless, modern Arabic hotel, in tune with the local market and expectations.

Due to the Monarch's close proximity to the Convention Centre and financial district, the projected clientele is mainly GCC and European customers for trade shows and short business stays. This is reflected in the elegant simplicity that exudes from the public areas, and the undeniable hint of masculinity in the guestroom design.

The interior design was undertaken by BBGM, part of RMJM's American office, while the fit-out contractors was Dubai-based DEPA. The first challenge for the interior designer was to create a concept that successfully complemented the architecture.

The project consists of two towers, one office and one hotel, with an obvious visual symmetry between the two.

The concept is minimal and timeless - in tune with Hazel Wong's philosophy and RMJM's approach.

The buildings form an L-shaped angle - providing an interesting parallel with the Hazel Wong-designed World Trade Centre Residence across the road that also conforms to an L-shape.

The sculptural concept doesn't just apply to the exterior of the building either; step inside the Monarch's atrium and the vast ceiling height of up to 25 m provides a striking centrepiece to BBGM's interiors. Messina says: "The idea was to create a vibrant space with floors looking into the lobby encouraging an interaction between the different areas to create an alive and active space.

On the ground floor the atrium is flanked on one side by outlets that are yet to open, but will add to the boulevard feel. Opposite these boutiques is the all-day international dining restaurant Mizaan, which means ‘balance' and the soon-to-open signature restaurant Empire designed by LWDesign Group.

This eatery has wall-embedded crystals at its entrance and is hyped to offer a glamorous personal dining experience.
 

As the guest check-in is completed in room, there is no need for the traditional reception desk, which allowed BBGM to conceive a more creative floorplan in the lobby area. Reception desks are usually viewed as barriers between staff and guests, so by removing these it opens up the lines of communication and interaction.

There are information and concierge desks, but as they are constructed in the same stone as the floor it is visually continuous.

In the middle of the lobby an elevated podium with lounge seating breaks up the footprint and provides both visual and physical segregation from the thoroughfare and the East and West entrances. BBGM also broke up the space by using a variety of different flooring options including a custom-designed swirling patterned carpet that was manufactured by Flor in Malaysia.

The majority of the stone flooring is an interesting import from a quarry in Pakistan.

Called Burma Teak, the warm cream stone is flecked with burnt umber and browns in unique formations. Messina says.

There is just one quarry in Pakistan that does this stone and it has never been used in such large expanse before, which in some ways was a big gamble for us, as it is not really used for flooring and we covered 2,500 m² with it! No two pieces look remotely similar, you can even see the movement of the earth's crust in some tiles, I could look at it for ages, it is a fascinating floor.

He walks over to his favourite section of the floor at the foot of the sweeping staircase and points: "These panels could even pass as paintings!"

The stone is teamed with two rich coconut timbers sourced from the USA, one stained darker for contrast. Water-filled inlets run along the ground complementing the 15 m high water wall in the entrance area built by UTTC (United Technologies) in Dubai. The sound of water floods the lobby area and adds to the natural feel introduced by the expansive use of stone and exotic orchids planted in stone pots.

The internal walls are a warm marble, which creates a good contrast with the dark timber. In keeping with the Arabic theme antique bronze metal is used for the back-lit mushrabiya screens.

These are timeless but very geometric - a sort of contemporary Arab influence coming through," Messina explains. These custom-designed panels are used throughout the hotel and the same pattern is etched onto bronze mirrors that sit next to the bronze metal, giving a subtle reflection and extending the space.

Soft wood panels with hard wood veneers are suspended over the walkway by the shops. "The challenge was to engineer these panels. As with many finishes here the problem was the weight and the size - it looks simple but is actually incredibly complex," he says.

Another material that is used prolifically throughout is high performance glass.
 

The whole roof of the atrium is transparent, which introduced many additional challenges: "We used lots of high performance glass to maximise the feeling of well-being and to reduce glare and warmth from the sunlight above. It maximises energy-efficiency - the whole construction is unitised, which is a new thing for the UAE.

The light transmission is only 9%." At present the atrium's glass ceiling is covered in fabric sails, but this may be set to change as the design evolves and the hotel moves from its soft launch phase to being fully completed.

The idea behind the atrium was not to have it too bright - you get the advantage of the daylight but it's not overwhelming. We tried to create a warm and cosy interior concept. I love it at night, it's very atmospheric, with lots of candles.

The lighting concept is very subtle, with its cues once again taken from the exterior of the building.

The external lighting is very minimal; Hazel doesn't like light shows, preferring simple and elegant lighting concepts, using white light projecting light onto the stones and diagonal lines on the building, with skytrackers or narrow beam projectors sourced from the UK, which continues the line into the sky making the building appear taller as if reaching for the sky.

Inside the hotel there are lights recessed into the stones, which are sourced from Bega, a German lighting manufacturer, while other suppliers include Donghia and Pagani from the USA, Baker Europe from the UK, Italy-based Flos and Murano Lighting in Dubai.

The furniture placed on the raised podium is deliberately non-uniform.

The items match solely in their richness of texture and colour rather than their style or shape. The upholstery includes very rich aubergines and golds - in keeping with the regal feel, with velvet and beautiful satin silk textures. The majority of the fabrics were sourced from the USA from well-known and renowned suppliers such as: Moore & Giles; Knoll Textile; Dialogica; Edelman Leather and Bergamo.

These were teamed with materials from Maya's Art in Dubai and some items from Italian fabric firm Dedar.

The furniture is from a number of manufacturers including US-based HBF; Canadian company Brent Comber and the locally fabricated casegoods were sourced from SD Concept, Al Nabooda and Zenith.

The brave choice of materials and the quest for implementing new and exciting textures and techniques sets this AED 800million hospitality project apart from the hundreds of others under construction in the region.

From the fossilised mosaic stones outside the hotel sourced from German firm Dura, to the Burma Teak unique patterned stone inside the building, the whole hotel abounds with exciting design details worthy of a such a prestigious name and address.

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