Nestled in Sharjah’s crimson desert, Al Faya Lodge by Dubai-and-London-based studio Anarchitect, is a boutique hotel and spa that holistically merges the architecture with its interiors. It uses design to create a continuity of experiences through materiality, form, and tonality.
“We don’t see architecture and interiors as separate from one another,” says Jonathan Ashmore, founder of Anarchitect. “From the initial concepts to the final execution, we aim for unity and connection across all scales of the project.”
Al Faya Lodge is a restoration of two single-story buildings from the 1960s that were previously a clinic and grocery store, with the addition of a new building comprising a saltwater spa, which merges with the existing architecture. It features five bedrooms with skylights, a reception lounge, a dining area, a library, and a roof terrace, with the aim of bringing guests closer to nature.
“Corten steel, hardwoods, and stone create a trio of tactile materials which together tell a story of Sharjah and its natural environment,” Ashmore explains. “From the natural warmth of the wood, the cool comforting feeling of stone to the raw, rusted surface of Corten steel, together, these materials and the site – given the iron oxide content in the surrounding crimson dunes and the nostalgia of one of the UAE’s first petrol pumps – connect your mind back to the historic past of the region,” he says.
The core material selection can be detected across all scales of the project, right through to the bespoke furniture – also designed by the architects.
The fossilised limestone mountain range backdrop inspired the use of natural travertine stone for its colour and tonality. The crimson iron ore present in the surrounding sand dunes, on the other hand, influenced the use of Corten steel for the exteriors while the teak-natural hardwoods were already present on site, although Ashmore says they were beyond repair.
Architectural interventions have also been designed to help the exterior protect the indoor spaces, keeping in mind the extreme weather conditions, such as harsh sunlight, wind, and infrequent rain storms.
The front of Al Faya Lodge features a building-wide colonnade, offering shade as visitors exit their bedrooms as well as protecting the walls from the heat. The back of the building features Corten steel extensions to further protect the bedrooms from the heat and other natural elements, as well as framing the view from inside the room.
Corten steel was also used to define the modern additions to the existing buildings and as a means to facilitate their new functional use. In order to translate the texture and tonality of the Corten steel used in the exterior of the building into the interiors, the architects continued the look and feel of this material indoors, with large-format porcelain tiles in an oxide finish.
The bedroom floors are completed in natural travertine limestone throughout and the ceilings are crisp white to emphasise the sky-light projections.
“For the guest areas including the reception lounge, dining room, concierge, library, and the exterior colonnade leading to the guest areas from the rooms, we recreated solid timber beam ceilings to reflect the historical past of the building,” Ashmore adds.
“For the restaurant, we had to effectively double the size of the original footprint of the 1960s clinic building in order to allow for functional space for kitchen areas, a dining room, and exterior terrace. To do this, we designed a contemporary Corten-clad extension across the entire rear of the property. This enclosure inherently frames the historic façade of the original building within the public dining room to create a unique feature within the space that now preserves the past layers of history for all visitors to enjoy.”
The adjacent spa and pool is defined by its dense cast-in-situ concrete form and the statement use of Corten steel continues in this space in the form of perforated butterfly doors.
Besides being a first-of-its-kind property in the UAE, Al Faya Lodge also seeks to challenge the common perception of what “luxury” is within the region’s hospitality landscape – one that is hardly bereft of high-end hotels and resorts.
“Luxury is a term that can be overused, not only in the region but across the globe. The notion of what truly is ‘luxury’ has rapidly changed in the past decade,” Ashmore explains. “For us, our clients and the Al Faya Lodge visitors, time, comfort, and serenity mean luxury. Being able to disconnect from our busy work and social lives and connect back with ourselves, friends, families, and nature. Interiors which aid that, are comfortable, natural, reconnecting us to the sense of touch. These are interiors which provide a safe haven and bring us closer to nature.”