Squared Off

Squared Off

AK Design, Bluehaus, KPS, Sowwah Square

Sowwah Square, in the heart of Abu Dhabi’s new business district, has opened its doors to the first wave of tenants. CID takes a look at some of its interiors

Sowwah Square, located on Al Maryah Island (previously Sowwah Island) in Abu Dhabi, has been modeled after the world’s mixed-use 24-hour central business districts (CBDs), by its developers Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality.

Forming a key component of Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council’s (UPC) Capital 2030 Plan, it comprises four international Grade A office towers with Tower 1, Al Sila, already home to a mix of blue-chip global companies including Deloitte, Clifford Chance, Al Tamimi & Company, Latham & Watkins, Mubadala GE Capital, Norton Rose, Baker Botts, King & Spalding and the Regulation & Supervision Bureau (RSB).

With another 24 tenants, now over 80% of Al Sila (Tower 1) and 48% of Al Maqam (Tower 3) are leased.

Sowwah Square will also incorporate the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX), two business hotels (Rosewood Abu Dhabi and Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi) and The Galleria at Sowwah Square, a 33,000m2 retail and dining precinct that connects the entire mixed-use development to the waterfront.

“The vision for Sowwah Square has always been for a vibrant urban community supported by local and international businesses,” said Ali Eid AlMheiri, executive director, Mubadala Real Estate and Hospitality.

“Given the financial and corporate focus of Al Tamimi & Company there was no question that when we were looking to move to a new premises in Abu Dhabi we would move to Sowwah Square,” said Stephen Forster, partner and head – Abu Dhabi, Al Tamimi & Company.

“In our opinion, it offers unparalleled commercial space in Abu Dhabi. The on-site facilities are second to none; our office offers amazing panoramic views across the island and the business community relocating there is thriving.”

Interview with Leo Mills, design director

How did you win the project?
We were invited to tender for the design and build through the client and appointed project manager, EC Harris. We knew that to win the project we had to produce a design that met the client brief from a functional perspective, yet far exceed their expectations with the design concept and remain within budget. Our previous experience of working in Sowwah Square and our reputation in interiors in the region helped our case.

What was your brief?
EC Harris was appointed by the Regulation and Supervision Bureau (RSB) — the Power, Water and Wastewater Regulator in Abu Dhabi — to manage the project, and as such distributed the basic information required to plan the office space efficiently, such as number of staff, number of open-plan spaces and closed offices, required number and size of meeting spaces, individual and departmental relationships and, specialised areas; such as IT server room and functionality, and basic functions which include the canteen, storage and equipment areas.

From this information, we were asked to develop a concept based around each department within RSB — water, wastewater and electricity. We were also tasked with incorporating RSB logo colours as the base theme — blue for water, green for waste, and red for electricity.

RSB also asked us to create an organic, functional and an inspiring work space that encourages good communication; a place where people enjoy coming to work.

Where did you get your inspiration from?
Our starting point came from the departments within the business — water, waste and electricity. From there we wanted to create the illusion of movement throughout the space.

This concept developed into a jolting volt meter representing electricity, a meandering river representing water, and a swirling vortex reflecting waste. We took these basic ideas and used them to make the space tell a story.

We wanted to transform the rectilinear area by substituting straight corridors with angled walls, partitions and soft curves. Each department was given its own identity through vivid colours and dramatic feature walls ensuring instant recognition upon arrival.

Zigzagging corridors and angled partitions were installed to add a sense of drama — a feature stripe in the floor draws individuals along the corridor inviting them to look around the next corner.

A two-tiered pantry provides a flexible environment for employees to dine or have a chat. A retractable acoustic partition allows the room to be segregated or completely open.

A large scale meeting room suite next to the reception has a quiet sanctuary for internal and client meetings, the customised joinery houses technology.

What challenges did you face in the design process?
We faced various challenges during the concept development stage one, of which was the colour palette — red, blue and green. It was important that these colours were used effectively but also sympathetically as there was a concern they could become over-bearing if used in excess.

We introduced a stained zebrano finish to the scheme, which we felt added warmth and a calming influence, as well as a bright white to counter balance the bold use of primary colours in the palette.

Interview with Katrina Eden, senior designer

How did you win the project?
AK Design was approached by GE and given the opportunity to qualify for this project based on previous award-winning office interiors. Following various meetings with GE, we were fortunate to be selected to take the job.

What was your brief?
The brief included full interior design services for a highly efficient and cleverly designed office, whilst also accommodating a maximum number of employees and meeting facilities. Constantly expanding, economical planning was important in ensuring the best environment for work productivity was achieved.

Environmental considerations were to be considered wherever possible, through the use of sustainable materials and efficient mechanical design, with the use of GE products.

Where did you get your inspiration from?
Ecomagination is GE’s commitment to imagine and build innovative solutions that solve today’s environmental challenges and benefit customers and society at large. Their website dedicated to these initiatives formed the foundation for the concepts presented.

To promote creativity and interaction amongst employees, we created a floor plan based on openness and transparency. Closed offices were a requirement, however these were kept as open as possible, and the open plan spaces were located close to the façade txzo allow light to come through and maximise external views.

The choice of finishes translate GE’s sustainable design ethos into an interior design. Materials used are recycled, recyclable, renewable, or sustainable. The carpet is from Interface flooring, selected for its recycled content and commitment to sustainable developments.

Bolon vinyl flooring used within the pantries, manufacturing techniques are dedicated towards a future in which their products create zero impact on the climate, and the phone booth sliding doors are made from a recycled acrylic from 3form.

The feature timber used is a Plexwood Timber from the Netherlands, whose processes are not only sustainable but all chemicals used in the process are non-VOC and 98% of waste from the production process is recycled. Glass partitions from Select Partitions are demountable and reusable. Lighting is set up on daylight control sensors, as well as movement sensors to ensure it is as efficient as possible.

All appliances and lighting for the most part are GE products. A series of tulip-like lamps hang from green cables, which then continue as lines branching out across the ceiling. The circular reception desk itself is derived from the form of the lightbulb with its reflective materials and vertical fins.

To each side of the reception desk are two forms of installation, one of which is a felt wall panel with leaf pattern from UK artist Anne Kyyro, and the other is a TV wall, which will display GE’s latest news through international broadcasts.

What challenges did you face in the design process?
With such a large number of people to fit within the given space, it meant there was less opportunity to create zones of interest, such as open breakout spaces, which we would normally build into our office design. We overcame this by creating points of interest wherever possible in the open circulation areas.

For example, the print zones are defined by a series of timber fins and have a large graphic wall promoting the various GE initiatives. Built-in cabinetry incorporates the GE green to break up the long corridor spaces and maple veneer timber panels are incorporated within the glazing to add an element of nature. The pantry areas also provide a breakout zone with long timber tables, and all required kitchen and coffee facilities.

Creating a more open plan working environment raised concerns amongst staff members regarding noise and travelling of sound. To ensure people could make private phone conversations, ‘phone booths’ were designed and located around the office. These appear as a small timber wrapped acoustic quiet room, with banquette seating and phone table.

The time between the confirmation of design and completion was very short, therefore there were many lead time issues, specifically with the furniture order. Haworth was the supplier for the furniture for this specific project and fortunately worked very hard to get everything available and installed on time.

How do you feel about the overall look of the design and why?
On entering the office, the environment instantly feels clean, fresh, light and contemporary. The design features create interest, and promote creativity.

As is often the case, there are some compromises due to things such as lead times, however these are minimal, therefore the final product is very much in line with what we had intended.

The reaction has been very positive and we have formed some fantastic relationships through the process, which makes a design even more rewarding.

What’s next?
We are currently working with the same team on the expansion of the GE Dubai offices, following a further development on the same concept. This has a very tight timeframe so it will be an interesting challenge. AK Design is also involved in many projects from the Smart City offices in Malta, to master planning in China as well as projects in the Middle East.

Interview with Ben Corrigan, group director

How did you win the project?
The project was won by competitive tender, with Bluehaus Group being awarded the contract.

What was your brief?
Our client, Al Tamimi & Company, the largest law firm in the Middle East, worked with Bluehaus Group to develop the brief. Our team ran a series of targeted interviews with key team members of the firm to fully ensure all requirements were met.

Al Tamimi leases a full floor at Sowwah Square which spans approximately 18,000 square feet. Al Tamimi was seeking to present a contemporary and highly professional environment which reflected the firm’s new brand and strong Arabic culture.

The space required needed to accommodate meeting rooms, closed offices and open plan workstations with comfortable amenities for clients and employees. Being a law firm, confidentiality and privacy was key and a clear designation between front and back-of-house without compromising the design, and ease of circulation was imperative to the fit-out.

The project team assigned by Al Tamimi was not only very professional and knowledgeable, but an absolute pleasure to work with, which we believe was a major contributing factor to the success of this project. From the outset they gave us a clear direction along with a creative license and ample time to effectively complete the work. We believe time, understanding and effective coordination are the key ingredients to any successful project.

Where did you get your inspiration from?
With all projects we focus on meeting our client needs rather than designing to trends, although they appreciate our knowledge of the latest workplace designs, which we feel is important to creating a professional environment. When working with clients with very clear growth plans such as Al Tamimi, it’s important to develop something which will stand the test of time.

What challenges did you face in the design process?
Al Tamimi was one of the first organisations to take the decision to make Sowwah Square its home. The project team had to familiarise themselves with the nuances of the development, including approval requirements and procedures, base-build services, and understand how the design would interface with the base-build services.

The landlord installed ceiling system, whilst a good quality system and aesthetically pleasing solution, required careful coordination as Al Tamimi, being a law firm, is cellularised in nature and function. A budget was developed at the outset of the project and, with careful monitoring by the project manager, did not prove to be challenging. As designers, we are careful to allocate the budget between client-facing areas and back-of-house.

How do you feel about the overall look of the design and why?
Both Al Tamimi and Bluehaus Group are very pleased with the outcome.

Not only did we achieve an office environment that matched the clients brief but we also managed to achieve this within the budget allocated. We have been told that our project is being used as a benchmark for expectations of future design and fit-out within Sowwah Square which is a real compliment. This is a great example of a belief we have within Bluehaus Group and the success of this project is an excellent example of strong collaboration between design consultant, project manager, fit-out contractor and suppliers. All performed well and worked harmoniously on the project.

What’s next?
The firm has asked us to develop a Standards Document using this project as a benchmark for future Al Tamimi offices across the Middle East.

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