It’s easy to get lost in the maze of art galleries in Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz, but when one stumbles across The Shelter, it’s not something you forget.
The facility is a gallery/collaborative space which used to exist in a different part of Al Quoz until April 2011. It closed down to move to another location, which was unknown at that time.
It wasn’t until September 2011 that a brand new Shelter opened as part of the Al Serkal Arts Complex. The second location, while retaining the woodsy and warm character of the erstwhile location, had converted itself into a very different interiors style.
On entering the building, people see what looks like a wooden barn or shed centrally placed inside the gallery-like space. The structure is enveloped by lanes for people to walk through, which can also be used as an exhibition arena. A coffee shop on the right adds to the industrial and natural interiors.
The constructed building within the gallery has openings on the ground floor, including a barn-like swinging door and large windows that people can jump through to get to the middle section. In the centre is a work-space, with wooden tables and chairs, with a wall on the far end acting as an outlet for a wide-screen projector.
A crushed papier-mâché chandelier hangs from the ceiling, with a floor-to-ceiling diagonal bookshelf, filled with various books and magazines dealing with all forms of art, lining the side of one of the walls.
A long staircase, situated behind the bookshelf, leads people up to the next level, which houses a working area. A desk lines one side with bright red chairs brought over from the old Shelter sitting next to power plugs for those who want to work. There is a conference room for those who need privacy.
The roof is slanted, mimicking what a real wooden outhouse would look like. This has openings as well, to give people a sense of space and a connection to the rest of the gallery.
The interiors were carried out by freelance interior designer, Takeshi Maruyama, who was hired by the owners of The Shelter to create something that would resonate with its users who were already used to the previous open feel of the gallery.
Maruyama, who has over 15 years experience in interior design and architecture, said the main concept of the building was to develop “a shed inside a shed”. The idea was to fit a new structure inside an existing warehouse, which Maruyama admitted was an interesting challenge.
“The design brief focused on giving life to an interior that is not typical and this was definitely a challenge I had to face,” he said.
“The old Shelter was a multi-functional space and for the new location, I tried to create an area that was flexible and varied, by using the walls and roof of the shed and having openings strategically placed to soften the boundaries. At the end of the design, the shed is enclosed and somehow open at the same time and that’s the beauty of the concept,” added Maruyama.
He began creating the basic designs for the facility in March 2011 and it opened at the end of August 2011.
“The most characteristic and striking thing people notice about The Shelter is that when they go in, they see that there’s an extra space of sorts around the shed which works as the gallery area,” said Maruyama.
He highlighted the interior of the structure on the ground level, which doubles as the collaborative/work area and said that brought about an “exterior-interior relationship” into the venue which is connected to each other by its many openings.
“It’s a very interesting perspective. When people walk through, the scenery changes according to the location and that’s a different experience in this gallery from any other,” he said.
Before putting pen to paper, Maruyama visited the old location to see what he had to go on. He knew he had to base his work on the mainframe of the original concept when the client requested similar touches to be used in the design. However, the size was completely different. The location in Al Serkal Avenue is of a lesser dimension compared to the Al Quoz warehouse.
“I looked at the old building and realised the sizes were not the same.
The new one is smaller than the old one, but despite this, I tried to soak in the same atmosphere as much as possible,” said Maruyama.
One of the main things he was asked to recreate was the bookshelf. In the former warehouse where The
Shelter was housed, a similar diagonal bookshelf was its main feature which could be seen by people as soon as they walked in. It was this signature look that the designer was tasked with bringing back to life. The new bookshelf is not as large as its previous counterpart, but this was due to limitations on space.
These restrictions concerned the client. “We talked about how the differences in size of the two locations would affect the design, but I reassured them. I told the client I would be creating one continuous space with many openings, so that each part of the gallery looks like it is connected to the next part. This is also perhaps why people who go there don’t realise what the actual size of the shed is,” he added.
However, Maruyama said carrying out this part of the design was not the main obstacle he had to face. What he did find difficult occurred afterwards, when it came to getting final approval from various authorities such as Dubai Municipality and the Civil Defense.
As the design called for the construction of a shed within a warehouse, Maruyama said his work fell between the realm of interior and architectural design and this proved to be a point of confusion for the Government bodies.
“I think because of the dichotomy of the design, the authorities were unsure how to estimate or judge it for approval because it’s not something that is very common in this region.
“We had to explain the project and its concepts to the necessary bodies.But even so, it took a lot of time to pass all the checks,” he said.
Maruyama, who has worked for more than five years in the UAE, is also working on a private villa’s schematic design in Abu Dhabi, a Japanese restaurant in Egypt, Cairo which will open in January 2012 and a commercial project in Japan.
He said The Shelter is his first project as a freelance interior designer, and hopes to set up his own firm soon.
The client was very happy with the completed look, according to Maruyama, who also dealt with advising them on how they could deal with any expansion of furniture usage and lighting if they needed to. “They listened to my ideas and valued my opinion, which is something I really appreciated.”
The Shelter is meant to be a collaborative space that encourages people to work there as long as they wish and as comfortably as possible. It is for this reason the designer tried to leave the space as open-ended as he could.
“I tried not to define areas in The Shelter specifically. I tried to keep it ambiguous and flexible. The rest I left to the users’ imagination. How they want to use it is more important than how I wanted to define it.
I see the space as being completed by them. Since The Shelter is meant for people to work together, the design is a collaboration of the space and the work the user wants to carry out,” he added.