Dubai is known as one of the world’s fastest growing economies, being the undisputed shopping capital of the Middle East, the city with the tallest skyscrapers (at 828 metres high, Burj Khalifa is the most impressive), and home to the super rich with their lifestyle of soulless luxury and showing off. Meanwhile, the report on the United Arab Emirates by Human Rights Watch doesn’t read like a fairy tale for many women, immigrant workers, and other outcasts. However, with the Dubai Design District, the city has been attempting to establish itself on the international map in design, art, and architecture for the last couple of years. Many contemporary entrepreneurs understand that a new, forward-thinking generation has different desires.
With this in mind, T.ZED Architects’ newest project, KOA Canvas, must be what Al Zaharna has always dreamed of. Designed for KOA Real Estate, a company founded by young entrepreneur Mohammed Bin Zaal, Canvas is a property with 71 apartments – of which 42 have a completely different lay-out – and a co-working space, aiming to bring together regional entrepreneurs, talented creatives, and business people in an “inspiring, supportive, state-of-the-art communal facility that will become a hub for the kind of new ideas, productivity, and creativity that will drive the UAE forward”, according to KOA. “The brief was to create a place where people can feel at home, that they can customise and grow into”, Al Zaharna explains. “We wanted to contextualise the project by using local, natural materials – like oak and Grey Quartzite stone. And, in collaboration with landscape architect Kamelia Zaal, we created sky-gardens with a majority of indigenous plants, which is unheard of here. Climate, surroundings, levels of privacy and – at the same time – openness, were major drives. As was creating a sort of blank canvas so that residents could really develop their own identity and live in a place that feels like what they would design for themselves. Equally important is that it’s reasonably priced – often creatives can’t afford these types of settlements, but KOA makes sure they can.” Constructing in a hot, humid, desert climate with an excessive amount of burning sunshine is a challenge for all architects in the region. Especially if you want to keep everything brand new and super expensive-looking all the time. However, T.ZED Architects chose another direction: “We usually shut ourselves off from the elements, but I wanted to re-establish that connection. I wanted to show the ageing of natural materials.” Quite a statement in Dubai.