Pyramid scheme

Different cultures have come together as a Persian restaurant has been designed to fit in an unusual Egyptian-themed space.

abrics from Atmosphere and Lelievre Middle East were used to create structure in a place where structural changes were not permitted.
abrics from Atmosphere and Lelievre Middle East were used to create structure in a place where structural changes were not permitted.

Different cultures have come together as a Persian restaurant has been designed to fit in an unusual Egyptian-themed space.

Designing an interior for the top of a pyramid is always going to be tricky.

In the case of Persia Persia, a restaurant at Wafi designed by Bishop Design Associates, the job had the added challenges of leaving the existing decoration and structure intact.

Venues at Wafi are defined by the pervading Egyptian theme.

It is seen in stained glass windows, murals, fixed décorr and of course the pyramid itself. Up top, the restaurant had to be built into a single large open space, fragmented by an unusual floor plan.

"The whole space was very fragmented before, with no spatial interaction going on, just one open area within the huge apex of the pyramid," said Paul Bishop, Bishop Design Associates' project designer.

"We had to work around what we inherited and give it a more human scale."

"We couldn't touch the pyramid murals or other Egyptian elements. What we had to do was humanise it, bring it down to a scale people are comfortable with and bring the space together."

The brief was to create a Persian restaurant.

Wafi was flexible and while it could have been heavily themed, we looked at how we cold take this musical, poetic, artistic culture and give it a space that is a bit more contemporary.

This wasn't a conflict with what Wafi wanted, which was a comfortable, chic family-oriented restaurant.

Key to achieving what was required was a series of layers.

"We opted to try and mask the murals, so people don't see them but are still exposed to them," said Bishop.

"If you like, we've put a veil over [the space] to create its own identity and autonomy, instead of the restaurant just being completely alienated within that area."

"People are exposed to different areas, not just left in a giant space, with no connection to anything. We also had to create a connection between the two wings of the space and the main dining area."

The design was created using some cost-effective ideas.

This was possible because the restaurant uses existing kitchen facilities and there were no real civil works to be carried out.

Instead the design uses clever solutions in the shape of fabrics, claddings and overlays to change and unite the appearance of the space.

The design focuses on creating texture and leaves few surfaces flat.

For example, wall panels are MDF finished with a high-gloss white lacquer and carved with traditional Persian patterns.

One side of the dining room is screened off from the lobby using large cast-glass panels, which are opaque and decorated with a geometric pattern.

"These create a textured feeling to the space, which doesn't need elaborate finishes," said Bishop.

"What we've achieved through carving, indirect light, accents of material and decorative lighting means we don't have to overplay the space; there is detail everywhere but it all blends."

Other touches include an embossed leather floor, part of an effort to create more private dining areas on platforms slightly above the main dining floor.

Fabrics feature heavily, not only do they cast a veil over some of the existing décor, they are used to create structure in a space where structural changes were not permitted.

"They are beautiful materials, but it's not solid; it could all be removed because it's completely demountable," said Bishop.

The fabrics combine with the mass of natural light, which floods in from the terraced areas, as well as the central core of the pyramid.

"By layering sheers of colour, we built up more and more layers, so the space becomes more animated," said Bishop.

"Lighting is isolated to areas where we want it to be, with directionals and pendant lights creating atmosphere in specific areas. Diffused light comes through the fabrics, which create an envelope of space."

Creating a distinctly Persian look was a key part of the challenge.

With a strong and clearly identifiable culture to represent, Bishop had to balance elements of the traditional and modern to please both the old guard and the young and fashionable.

Bishop's feeling was that the culture's design language would be recognizable, it would just be a question of application that would make the design contemporary or classic.

"The space had to encompass all these influences, yet still remain generic," said Bishop.

"We have used traditional elements and accessories, but we have treated them in interesting ways."

"For instance, it would be kitsch to hang a rug on the wall. But we took that language and created a different feel by getting looms with carpet still on them - just at the beginning stages of the weaving - and hanging them."

Instead of just being a carpet on the wall, it becomes a very linear element.

It shows that yes, you can use traditional elements in a contemporary way and vice versa, it's the fusion of elements that gives the space a soul.

Other hints at tradition include printing blocks framed in alcoves along one wall and hand-painted tiles decorating a bread-making station, as well as inlaid into dining tables.

Slices of a traditional four-pointed arch add an intricate detail to the corner spaces.

Floor finishes are relatively maintenance free. A stone patterned carpet mimics a cobbled entranceway and leads diners to a solid-wood parquet floor.

Big surface areas mean there are no tight nooks and crannies to make maintenance difficult.

Furnishings are decorated with a neutral palette, featuring off-whites and creams.

But these neutral shades are juxtaposed with bursts of colour and detail.

"We tried to create an original solution," said Bishop.

"We didn't want a kitsch environment. But by blending tradition with a modern approach the space is integrated and it doesn't feel like the apex of a pyramid anymore."

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