Dubai-based T.Zed Architects, founded by Tarik Al Zaharna, aims to reinvent the wheel of spatial architecture in offices with its latest project.
Commissioned by KOA, a new forward-thinking development firm, to design its sales office, the practice was tasked with creating a unique and versatile space. The appointment seems to be an obvious choice since Zaharna is also designing the first property development by KOA, which is similarly projected to redefine the real estate landscape in the UAE.
“The objective in the sales office is to provide users and visitors a sense of what KOA’s projects will offer its clientele,” says Zaharna. “The brief required a more relaxed approach to sales, as well as an opportunity to showcase the multitude of natural materials as well as proximity to nature and landscaping emphasis in KOA’s developments.”
Other requirements in the brief were to create a meeting room for more intimate conversations as well as presentations. It mandated that visitors should feel at home upon entering the sales office, and a home-style functional pantry with a floating kitchen island, where plans will be showcased in a similar manner as if clients were gathered around a dining table at home.
Familiar comfort aside, the project had to address the existing challenges including working around the building’s permissible work hours and schedules. While most material deliveries could take place during the daytime, construction and fit-out could only be carried out in the evening.
“The building also had its own fit-out code, which we were required to adhere to, but following some persuasion through our designs, we were able to arrive at an outcome that suited both the building management’s design guidelines while maintaining our design direction,” says Zaharna. “The project timeline was also very tight as the sales office needed to be operational in time for the show unit launch of KOA’s first development, Canvas.”
Another design review concerned the structural features. The sales office unit has three glazed elevations, which captured sunlight throughout the day. “It made us think of ways in which to control the amount of sunlight entering into the space, as well as the spatial configuration of the project,” says Zaharna.
The unit features structural columns, as well as facade mullions. Rather than treating them as limitations, the design team saw an opportunity to integrate them into their scheme. “The mullions offered a grid, which we then used to derive a rhythm for the entire space to follow,” says Zaharna. “Room sizes and partitions were located based on the mullion location, and columns provided a structural alignment and noted the start and end of material transitions.”
Optimising the restrictive spatial details, Zaharna demarcated the wet areas and pantry, and re-structured the existing space to create a washroom area as well as integrated storage spaces. “Alignment is important to us, and we spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that the ceiling levels matched those set by the external façade of the building,” explains Zaharna about the painstakingly detailed plan for the project.
Working on this niche project also showcases the synchronised philosophy of the design team and the developer. Placing a strong emphasis on the use of natural elements and the values of the ambitious Canvas project, the overall leitmotif was to leverage the context of the upcoming development to create a continuous conversation between public and private, as well as indoor and outdoor, in all its sub-entities.
“We have provided a journey through a processional route that encourages users deep into the sales office,” says Zaharna. “Here, visitors are greeted by a solid white oak panelled wall that showcases the project’s early days of inception to one side, and the cityscape on another.”
With the original brief in mind about challenging the status quo when it comes to real estate, Zaharna was inclined to rethink the user experience. As a result, rather than conventional meeting rooms, there is an open lounge area, where guests are introduced to the KOA projects in detail before they are welcomed at the pantry high counter to review project plans. Evidently, the focus is not just on sales, but on providing a sensorial experience, perhaps as a teaser of what to expect from the luxury residential project. The lounge area offers two settings – indoor and outdoor, determined by the use of different materials.
For serious buyers, a glazed meeting room is accessed through central-pivot doors on to limestone-lined floors that give users the impression of stepping ‘out’ on to the terrace. The glazed meeting room offers buyers a space to view videos on KOA’s developments.
While the office has been designed with a very detailed approach, Zaharna says that the most notable highlight of the project is that “a small space can embody the ethos of such a progressive developer just by the use of natural materials, well-curated lighting and smart spatial configuration”. The view from the office looking out on to The Opus, the highly-anticipated project by the late Zaha Hadid also adds an element of visual interest.
The timber panelling on the ceiling is one feature that immediately makes an impact. Zaharna says that there were several reasons to go with the distinct ceiling. “Firstly, we wanted to exemplify some of the domestic finishes we are using in some of KOA Canvas’ residential units, and the sales office was an opportunity for us to exhibit this,” he shares. “The timber ceilings were also an essential gesture in showcasing the importance of lighting.”
The lighting strategy in the main sales area is that of subtlety, which doesn’t let users identify a direct source of light. “By using natural American white oak planks, we were able to create coves in the ceiling,” says Zaharna. Finally, the timber panelling in the ceiling offered a continuation of the wall panelling as well as the pantry cabinetry, which then ultimately acted as the base material for the entire space.
The overall palette of colours and textures are actually an extension of the final development. These include lava stone as well as limestone floors which are transitioned with brushed stainless steel. Concrete in the structure as well as the customised powder-coated black pivot doors into the meeting room also provide a suitable contrast to the refined material pallet used.
When asked about the industrial influences, the interior architect says that what can be perceived as industrial attributes are really an honest expression of materials and architecture.
“Where some may prefer to clad and cover the existing structure of a building, we decided to accept the history of the site in which we are working in and decided to strip back, expose and celebrate these moments,” says Zaharna, adding that the same gesture is also followed through in the first development under KOA, where all structural columns are revealed to showcase the skeleton of the building.