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16/03/14
Green Shoots for Garden City: George Osbourne gives backing to Ebsfleet VIEW

01/08/13
Great new ways: Eric Kuhne sheds light on Paxton's grand design VIEW

22/07/13
Building better by example: Headwaters Park encourages good design VIEW

23/05/13
Letter of the week: Eric Kuhne responds to AJ article on Titanic Quarter VIEW

10/05/13
Cracking ad campaign: Wallace and Gromit's Titanic adventure VIEW

02/05/13
Numbers that speak for themselves: Titanic Belfast's maiden statistics VIEW

11/10/12
An exchange of ideas: CivicArts plays host to the APECF delegation VIEW

19/09/12
Headwaters Park Development Symposium: Eric Kuhnes visionary mind to be 'tapped again' VIEW

10/08/12
Let there be Light: Work begins on CivicArts' Tower of Light at Mid Valley Gardens VIEW

03/08/12
Experience Eric: Watch Eric Kuhne's speech at the TILE Experience Economy Forum VIEW

01/05/12
A lot to talk about: Eric Kuhne interviewed in article on 'ReThinking a Lot' VIEW

18/04/12
Blueprint for Belfast icon: Read Blueprint's review of Titanic Belfast VIEW

12/04/12
Titanic plans to transform Belfast's cityscape VIEW

11/04/12
Will Belfast become "Titanic City"? VIEW

05/04/12
Inside Titanic Belfast VIEW

04/04/12
Belfast wagers on Titanic's unsinkable appeal VIEW

02/04/12
Titanic return for 105-year-old VIEW

01/04/12
Derelict Titanic shipyard revitalised for 100th anniversary VIEW

31/03/12
Titanic Belfast opens doors to public VIEW

30/03/12
Titanic Belfast exhibit opening where doomed ship built VIEW

19/03/12
Billboard Belfast: Titanic Belfast becomes platform for promoting Northern Ireland VIEW

11/03/12
Songs from the Shipyards: Titanic Belfast featured on 'Songs of Praise' VIEW

01/03/12
The Opening Draws Near: 30 days till Titanic Belfast launches VIEW

09/02/12
It's a sign! Steel TITANIC installed on Queen's Island VIEW

01/02/12
Two months to Launch: Titanic Belfast nears the end of the rainbow VIEW

20/12/11
Hear the Heartbeat: Titantic Belfast trailer now on YouTube VIEW

11/11/11
Like ships in the night: New nocturnal images of Titanic Belfast VIEW

09/08/11
Clad Tidings: Titanic Signature Project's plates in place VIEW

04/08/11
Signature Project to get the Full Picture: Dr Robert Ballard prepares to return to Titanic VIEW

28/06/11
The Book of the Mall: Two CivicArts projects published in ArtPower's 'More? Mall!' VIEW

03/06/11
Midway Gardens, Istanbul: A blueprint for successful symbiotic activity VIEW

31/05/11
Marking a moment in time: Belfast commemorates Titanic's launch VIEW

24/05/11
Powering through the pipeline: Titanic Signature Project progresses VIEW

06/04/11
Prime Example: Eric to speak at the e.g. 5 conference this Friday VIEW

25/03/11
Coming ashore in style: See CivicArts' scheme for a luxury liner terminal in Istanbul VIEW

23/03/11
Viva Las Vegas: CivicArts' horseshoe scheme deals a new hand to the city of dreams VIEW

22/03/11
Speaking in Stockholm: Eric Kuhne to present '5 CITIES FOR THE FUTURE' at Kopcentrumdagen VIEW

09/02/11
Re-imagining Retail: CivicArts transforms Chadstone into a town centre VIEW

04/02/11
Building Pictures: Donal Mc Cann begins his portrait of the Signature Project VIEW

14/12/10
Water under the bridge?: Read Bluewater press cuttings from the EKA archive VIEW

24/11/10
New face on the net: Al Wady Gardens gets its own Facebook page VIEW

23/11/10
Eric currently being interviewed by Ben Thompson, editor of MENA Infrastructure magazine VIEW

23/11/10
Saving the best till last: Eric closes the first day of The Big 5 VIEW

18/11/10
Book & Blog, Twitter & Tube: Follow our Multidisciplinary Practice through Multiple Media VIEW

16/11/10
New signature on Belfast's skyline: Titanic Signature Project takes shape VIEW

04/11/10
Letter on a Lecture: Paul Finch records his thoughts on Eric's Berlin presentation VIEW

29/10/10
City of Silk and Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens win Arabian Property Awards VIEW

22/10/10
An Eye to the Future: Eric joins the judging panel at the World Retail Conference VIEW

21/10/10
Presenting the Future: Eric addresses the World Retail Conference in Berlin VIEW

14/10/10
A Riverfront Reborn: A vision for Griffintown's renaissance VIEW

12/10/10
Building Narratives in Boston: Eric explains architecture's story-telling qualities at the BBF VIEW

11/10/10
Hot Property: Eric explores 'The Prophesy of Leisure' at London's Property Investor Show VIEW

30/09/10
New Life along the Lachine: Two weeks till release of Griffintown, Montreal VIEW

23/09/10
A New Pearl in Paradise: Manama Lagoon adds layers of luxury to Bahrain VIEW

16/09/10
Arabian Accolades: CivicArts succeeds in winning two International Property Awards VIEW

15/09/10
Layers, Leaves and Light: New pictures of Mid Valley Gardens VIEW

10/09/10
Something in the Pipeline: Watch Al Wady Gardens on YouTube VIEW

09/09/10
Graceful living by the Gulf: Manama Lagoon to be released in two weeks VIEW

08/09/10
A Land of Luxury Along the Wadi: Al Wady Gardens released online VIEW

01/09/10
Palatial Patterns in the Sand: One week till Al Wady Gardens comes to the website VIEW

27/08/10
A New Reel on Riyadh: Film of Al Wady Gardens released VIEW

11/08/10
Tower in Waiting: New images of the proposed V Building VIEW

04/06/10
Storeys for stories: Titanic Signature Project takes shape VIEW

06/05/10
Lasting Legacy: FX magazine salutes Bluewater's enduring quality VIEW

11/03/10
CTBUH 2009 Chicago Conference video: "Starcatchers versus Skyscrapers" VIEW

22/02/10
CTBUH Summary: 'We are constructing today what had been dreams just a few years ago' VIEW

21/01/10
Leading the Pack: Burj Mubarak al Kabir tops Popular Mechanic's survey of future skyscrapers VIEW

04/12/09
Firm Foundations: 4,000 tons of concrete poured into the Titanic Signature Project VIEW

04/11/09
Executive Decision: Titanic Quarter receives a 10m endorsement from Belfast City Council VIEW

03/11/09
43.5 million pound grant from Government keeps Titanic Quarter steaming ahead VIEW

22/10/09
Eric to present the case for 'Starcatchers versus Skyscrapers' at Chicago conference VIEW

01/07/09
Good news will travel: Titanic Quarter graces easyJet Traveller magazine VIEW

01/05/09
Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens and the debate on Dubai's sustainable future VIEW

31/03/09
Burj Mubarak Al Kabir features in Science Illustrated's lineup of tall buildings VIEW

25/03/09
Eric Kuhne lays out his vision for integrated architecture and civic arts in Landscape VIEW

22/03/09
Flagstone Properties presses ahead with the long-awaited Island Gardens, Miami VIEW

20/02/09
Passionate Visionary: Read the Eric Kuhne interview with Men's Passion magazine VIEW

13/02/09
Extreme Exposure: Burj Mubarak al Kabir graces the cover of Popular Science VIEW

26/01/09
Eric Kuhne attends the Nordic Urban Design Conference in Bergen, Norway as Keynote Speaker VIEW

20/01/09
The Tallest Towers in 2020: The Council on Tall Buildings measures up the Burj Mubarak al Kabir VIEW

07/01/09
Excited bloggers are already posting photos of the newly opened Mid Valley Gardens... VIEW

06/01/09
Island Gardens anticipates wildlife sanctuary for birds at Biscayne Bay and Watson Island VIEW

29/11/08
Belfast News Letter: Titanic building 'will be icon' VIEW

28/11/08
Belfast Telegraph City News : Titanic rises again in 100m plan VIEW

28/11/08
BBC News: Titanic project 'to benefit all' VIEW

27/11/08
BBC News: Executive launches Titanic funds VIEW

24/11/08
The Gulf Magazine, September 6-12, 2008: Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens VIEW

24/11/08
Executive Magazine Special report Oct 08: Kuwait's City of Silk VIEW

18/11/08
Building, Oct 08: Eric Kuhne interview: Aladdin's cave VIEW

14/11/08
Island Gardens Groundbreaking Bash VIEW

17/10/08
Burj Mubarak Al Kabir Tower features in Hyundai Genesis advert VIEW

17/10/08
Kuwait to invest in mega projects - Kuwait Times VIEW

29/08/08
MEA June 08 - Telling Stories: The City of Silk VIEW

29/08/08
Renowned architect slams snub to Arabic heritage VIEW

29/08/08
Arabian Business: City of Silk VIEW

23/07/08
The Guardian: Kuwait plans new 132bn metropolis VIEW

23/07/08
Outdoor Design magazine: Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens VIEW

17/07/08
Journal Gazette: Headwaters Park - A towering idea VIEW

17/07/08
Guardian article: cost of driving impact on out-of-town shopping VIEW

25/06/08
Panoramas of Darling Park's Cockle Bay Wharf VIEW

25/06/08
A Renaissance for Skyscrapers - NYTimes.com VIEW

20/05/08
Hotelier magazine - Middle East May 2008 'Building Dreams' by Lucy Taylor
           

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Hotelier- Middle East May 2008
The Middle East can proudly boast some of the most innovative and ambitious hotel builds in the world.
Now, with the region's building boom in full swing, Lucy Taylor asks just what makes a project a success - and whether the challenges of working under such competitive conditions will eventually see standards slip.

Building dreams

Architecture can define the character and set the tone of a place; it should be simultaneously functional and attractive, sustainable and opulent, and hold appeal for locals and travellers alike.

A successful project can build communities, shape lives and boost a country's travel and tourism market; indeed the Dubai boom over the past decade is a prime example of this phenomenon.

Conversely, an architectural flop will have nowhere to hide, remaining on display for the general public to see and censor for years to come; a fate suffered, some might suggest, by the UK's notorious Millennium Dome.

For a big project, fulfilling all the correct criteria whilst avoiding the pitfalls is no mean feat - particularly in the Middle East.

We are in a region where the tourism industry has received an incredible boost from the surge in iconic architecture, and where the building bug is still spreading like wildfire. But with so many design and time constraints, plus the pressure of regional competition, how easy is it to produce a truly successful development?

Pioneering projects

Research and design firm CivicArts/Eric R Kuhne and Associates (EKA) is an international design consultancy with several ground-breaking projects under its belt.

The company is currently working on a few large-scale projects in the Middle East, one of which is Madinat al Hareer, or the 'City of Silk', located in the Subiya district of Kuwait.

The City of Silk comprises four city centres: the City of Commerce, which EKA managing partner and founder Eric Kuhne describes as "the equivalent of London's Canary Wharf for Kuwait", situated on the bay overlooking downtown Kuwait City; the City of Leisure on the banks of the River Delta, 16 miles from Iraq, containing resorts, an Olympic village built in anticipation of Kuwait eventually hosting the games, an athletics and entertainment centre, and a media district; Ecology City, which includes a 60km² wildlife refuge - a sanctuary for migratory birds as well as indigenous flora and fauna - a desert reclamation centre, a wetlands ecology centre, and a collection of research universities dealing with botanical and zoological sciences; and last but not least the Diplomatic Cultural Centre, comprising higher education, graduate education, a centre for archeology, diplomatic missions, cultural centres, the major opera house and a performing arts centre.

"The original concept for the City of Silk was actually that it would be one of seven city sites to accommodate the explosion of the ex-pat population living in Kuwait, as well as a larger number of Kuwaitis returning after the invasion," explains Kuhne.

"They have an enviable need here, which is to provide major new communities on a scale which is pretty much unprecedented.

The project, set for completion in 2011, will also include the Burj Mubarak al-Kabir, a tower which, standing at an epic 1001m, is set to be one of the tallest in the world.

EKA's Kuhne elaborates: "The tower is actually seven villages stacked one on top of the other - seven thirty-storey buildings on top of one another - and between each of these 30-storey buildings are four levels of gardens, recreation facilities, shops, healthcare facilities, education facilities, police, fire and maintenance facilities.

So they become the town squares and the high streets; they're just vertically stacked as opposed to being horizontal.

"We use the exact same principles in the tower as we're using in the 25 communities, and that is to build self-contained communities with residential, office, hotels and retail and all the support amenities within walking distance," says Kuhne.

Working on such a building, one of EKA's first steps was to consider how to manage the sway that a tower of this height would incur in high winds.

"In terms of its design, it's a three-bladed propeller, sort of like a Mercedes symbol," explains Kuhne. "What that means is it works like a tripod, so no matter which way the wind is blowing, two of the three blades brace it.

The second thing is that you have to deal with not only the straight-on force of wind but also the turbulent wind that curls around corners of the tower, just like turbulence is a problem on wings.

So we were talking about this with the engineers and what we came up with was that we'd install vertical wing ailerons, so as the turbulence increases they're counter-balanced to adjust themselves to provide smooth flow of air around the tower; that is a major innovation."

So was the incentive to usurp the Burj Dubai's title of 'tallest building in the world'? Kuhne says not, adding that it would have been a short-lived title, since Saudi Arabia recently announced its intention to build a mile-high tower.

"When they approached me with this idea, I said they didn't want the tallest building in the world - they wanted a building that would be among the tallest," says Kuhne. "I also told them I knew exactly how tall it should be: 1001m, for 1001 Arabian Nights. So the architecture ties itself in to the folk literature of the entire civilization."

The London-based company is also currently working on a project in Kazakhstan. "All the work that we're doing up there is to build a new luxury collection of resorts, with golf courses, in the high mountain lakes on the high steps of Kazakhstan," reveals Kuhne.

"So on the roof of the world we're going to build one of the most exotic resort destinations in the world, for gambling and winter and summer sports and prestige recreation.

Right now we're just working through the structural details and where the infrastructure's going, and we're completing schematic design in the next couple of months".

EKA also recently revealed plans for a new project in Dubai - Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens.

Kuhne explains: "For Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens we were the master planners and designers and the concept architects on that, and it's the equivalent for Dubai to what we're doing in Kuwait.

"It's 88km², a huge chunk of land right in the heart of Dubai...for us to build four city centres there based on what we felt were the missing ingredients for Dubai," he continues. "[The project] is a gift - there's no other way to describe it".

Initial inspiration

Of course the starting point for any building, be it a hotel, a mixed-use development, a residence or anything else, is to establish what the aim of the project is.

In order for it to be a success, it is essential for the designer to appreciate what the project is intended to achieve, and how it is intended to affect its observers and end users. In addition to the aim, the location can also play a big part in inspiring, as EKA's Kuhne explains.

"Originally this site wasn't one of the ones on offer. But we said we'd prefer to work in the city closest to Iraq and Iran, the trouble spots, because we knew that the architecture and the work we would do would become in a sense the new diplomacy: it would become a new way to articulate Kuwait's generosity to help re-build the war-torn countries.

And also they were interested in building prime infrastructure, pipelines and roads and railroads, all the way up to Kazakhstan. So we said we'd like to work on this gateway city.

I started drawing diagrams on a map, showing all these connections that Kuwait was going to be able to do, and you very quickly realise that Kuwait sits right in the middle of the 30 Middle Eastern countries, which extend from Kazakhstan in the north to really the Middle of Africa in the south, Morocco in the west and all the way over to China in the east.

So the idea of recreating the silk routes for the twenty-first century is where the name of the city came from".

Kuhne goes on to explain that one of the key strategies the company employed was a method borrowed from Singapore and Korea, which advocates building mixed-use developments around the hospitality elements of the project.

"Singapore set a new agenda for rebuilding after World War Two, and of course Korea after the Korean War, and they both initiated a city-building strategy that moved leisure into prime infrastructure," Kuhne explains.

"Now, nobody writes about this, nobody talks about this, but it's one of the most monumental changes that has happened in the history of the world regarding the strategic planning of cities that become almost independent states, and it's based on a very simple idea.

We build airports, we build pipelines, we build roads, we build bridges - all those things including the utilities, the pipe lines and so on that is traditional infrastructure.

The big thing that Korea and Singapore did is decide to also build the finest quality [elements] of the hospitality industry. Because if we're going to ask the world to come here and invest and help rebuild our cities, then we will take care of those men and women that travel half way around the world to do this.

Sheikh Mohammed did the exact same thing for Dubai, and that now is a modern economic miracle. And of course now Sheikh Sabah, who was the prime minister of Kuwait then after the death of the Emir ascended to become Emir, he is now doing the same thing".

Kuhne believes that recognising the importance of the hospitality elements in a project is key. "The basic point is that the hospitality industry in the most advanced countries in the world is seen as primary infrastructure, and all the care and consideration that is going into creating these economic miracles also includes the building of some of the finest hotels and resorts anywhere in the world".

That may be a starting point for a large city development, but what about when the project is simply a hotel?

A major player in the region's architecture industry, with plenty of hotel building experience, is Atkins:an international provider of technology-based consultancy and support services, which plans, designs and supports projects across the Middle East, Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.

Arguably one of their best known projects is the Burj Al Arab, although they have been involved in many other regional builds, including Dubai's three Ibis hotels.

According to Naveen Dath, senior architect for Atkins in Dubai, it all comes back to aim and location. "The type of hotel, whether resort, city hotel, budget hotel or whatever, its location/context and the desired star rating are extremely important for the overall architectural philosophy and vision for the development," Dath explains.

Hotel operator's requirements are quite specific and onerous as well, and it is important for a successful hotel development that the hotel operator is involved in the design from the very initial concept stage.

"When we started [on the Burj al Arab] the client asked us to design a building that would become a symbol for Dubai," he explains. "In the same way that Sydney has its Opera House and New York has the Statue of Liberty, [they wanted] Dubai to also have a building that people would associate with the place.

Again the starting point was about effect on the end user, points out Dath. "We wanted a building that was totally unique in shape and had a simple easily recognisable form. We decided that the test to determine if a building is symbolic is if you can draw it in five seconds and everyone recognises it.

"We made the building look like a giant sail because Dubai is becoming a world resort location, so the building had to say holiday, fun and sophistication - all things associated with yachting. Combine that with Dubai's nautical heritage, and [the sail] seemed an appropriate shape," he explains.

Regarding the Ibis hotel buildings, Dath says the central locations of all the projects also played a part.

In response to the prominent location of all three hotels in the heart of active, vibrant neighbourhoods, the Ibis hotels were designed as modern, contemporary buildings that not only contribute to community, but also help lift the urban fabric of their neighbourhoods," he explains.

"From the onset, the design was driven by the need for a fresh architectural language and styling, quite different to the standard, regimental style associated with budget city hotels around the world.

Consequently, the buildings are visualised as bright, clean-line, crisp landmarks punctuating and enhancing the urban environment in their vicinity".

Dath adds that right from the initial stages, careful consideration was been given to employing passive sustainable design. "The building facades are pre-dominantly solid with limited glazing to reduce solar gains," he says.

The winged approach to the massing provides inherently shaded facades around landscaped courtyards; the trademark of all three hotels is the landscaped signature courtyard fronting the street and arrival experience, providing a secure space for social interaction and gathering.

RMJM architect Enzo Messina, responsible for designing new hotel on the block The Monarch Dubai, says the ‘inspiration from location' method played a big part in his design.

You should see it as Number One Sheikh Zayed Road: the cornerstone of the row of towers that begins at Trade Centre Roundabout. Its location is the inspiration," he asserts.

Facing up to challenges

However in the Middle East, where new developments are constantly popping up, clients make increasingly outlandish demands and the cost of construction materials is soaring, architectural firms must be prepared to face some challenges.

Atkins' Dath expounds: "Regarding Ibis, the hotels are classified as budget hotels and place a very high importance on economy of design and construction. The challenge, therefore, has been in terms of limiting and even avoiding constructional complexities and evolving a simple, economical form."

It was a different scenario for the complex design of the Burj al Arab, Dath continues, where the team had to find viable structural solutions whilst staying true to the shape of the design.

"The solution to overcoming the complex three-dimensional shape of the atrium wall whilst maintaining the overall sail-like form of the building was to provide a series of shaped membrane panels that could be pattered to the defined geometry," Dath explains.

"The membrane is constructed from two skins of PTFE coated fibreglass, separated by an air gap of approximately 500mm and pre-tensioned over a series of trussed arches.

These arches span up to 50m between the outer bedroom wings of the hotel which frame the atrium, and are aligned with the vertical geometry of the building.

The double-curved membrane panels are thereby able to take positive wind pressures by spanning from truss to truss, and negative wind pressures by spanning sideways.

This handy membrane also acts as a canvas for the myriad of different coloured lighting effects projected onto the hotel at night."

Another challenge, reveals Dath, was ensuring that the huge structure could maintain an ambient temperature throughout. "Groups of four jet-nozzle chilled air supply vents appear regularly over the height of the building at the sides of the membrane wall," he says.

These nozzles deliver and maintain a cold air curtain that effectively provides the insulating layer and the ambient environmental control for the whole atrium, without the need to continuously supply cold air to the total volume of this enormous space.

RMJM's Messina adds: "In every complex project there are many challenges that need to be overcome, both from the design and the construction side...The design process is always an iterative one where you need to satisfy many contrasting requirements.

"Happily we never had to compromise quality, although I must say it required many long meetings and a lot of effort to keep the design intent of the building intact during construction".

Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa general manager Arbind K Shrestha agrees that challenges are bound to crop up in any property under construction.

"You run into numerous day-to-day practical challenges, from erratic power and water supplies to transportation accessibility and the timely delivery of goods," he says.

"But from the very beginning, the pioneer team at Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa has maintained a very high level of energy and enthusiasm...and together with the new team members who have joined since then, they have helped build the property from a dusty construction site to the beautiful, fully integrated resort it is today.'

Happily one problem which may not be as pressing as it first appears is the issue of rising construction costs, as EKA's Kuhne explains.

"We've always believed better architecture comes out of tighter economies as opposed to boom economies," he says. "In boom economies no one cares about quality, they're just throwing out quantity. But in a tighter economy, quality endures."

RMJM's Messina adds that regarding construction of The Monarch Dubai, tender prices were fixed in 2004 for both the architecture and interior packages.

"In general the market is more mature now and prices are getting more in line with the ones of, say, North America or Europe," he points out. "[Increased costs] is no excuse for not delivering an outstanding product."

A further issue for Middle East architects, however, is the competitive element of the design industry, and with that meeting a client's demands.

Dubai may have headed up the rush for unique, hyper-opulent projects, but this superlative theme of creating the biggest, boldest and most expensive products is one which has carried across the region.

Atkins' Dath elaborates: "Very often the challenge to create unique projects that are completely different to anything else leads designers to come up with solutions that are not economical, not contextual and not sustainable.

The biggest challenge therefore in creating unique projects is not necessarily to be different from others, but to be innovative and creative within the parameters of sustainable and contextual design".

However RMJM's Messina believes the region's increasingly demanding clients are benefiting the industry as a whole. "Clients trying to push the envelope on hotel architecture are benefiting the whole sector.

We need to move the boundaries above and beyond the conventional solutions and we need visionary clients to be able to do it. The challenges are many but they are all most welcome," he says.

Appealing to the end-user

Knowing your market even before they know the product is key for architects, as ultimately the building's function is to cater to the end user.

EKA's Kuhne explains: "The family is [the central focus] in the Middle East; everything needs to be designed around the family. And it's unusual because in America and the UK it's not like that; it's a different world.

"Dubai in particular has for years been mostly focused on resort tourists and businessmen...or ex-pats, while the amenities for residents in Dubai are slim. The work we did on the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens project is all about creating that quality of lifestyle for the residents of Dubai, rather than solely the visitors.

Health and education are at the top of the agenda for both City of Silk and Rashid Gardens," he continues. "The moment you make such facilities part of these communities, then you get footfall for not only healthcare and education, but also footfall for the shops and the leisure experiences and the cafes and restaurants. It completely changes the travel patterns."

Kuhne also believes that green areas play a major part in attracting people to a project.

"When we're doing Rashid Gardens, the entire effort was to make the public spaces one of the most generous park systems ever conceived; that's the genius behind the Gardens project.

In City of Silk it's exactly the same thing; there are 30 communities, each of about 256,000 people, and in between them are green belts...that contain recreational playing fields, wetlands, retention reservoirs.

By doing that, the green fingers of the City form this emerald necklace around the entire peninsula, while the ribbon of lakes and parks stitch all the communities together like charms on a bracelet.

Atkins' Dath says catering to the correct demographic is a big challenge in hotel design. "The key lies in finding a common denominator across various cultures and creating socially sustainable architecture with spaces for cultural interaction and communication," he says.

RMJM's Messina suggests that attention to customer needs is the key principle. "You should see everything from the eyes of the guest," he asserts. "This applies not only to the practical issues but also to the guest expectations to be thrilled and excited by the architectural experience.

"People from different cultures and backgrounds tend to respond very well when exposed to quality design. It's a bit like with cars: a Ferrari has the same appeal in India, in Russia or in Japan, despite all the cultural differences. I think the most important thing to do is to concentrate on the quality of the final product," Messina continues.

"I believe in the universal appeal of architecture. Good architecture should inspire and convey emotions to very different people instead of trying to simply meet the expectations of a particular group."

Staying true to tradition

So in these Middle Eastern cities which are looking to develop new and unique products, just how much room is there for local architecture styles - are they even important in the modern world?

According to EKA's Kuhne, incorporating local, traditional themes is vital. "We are definitely against the minimalist aesthetic," he says. "We think that sterility is a tired and cheap way out.

We believe you should tap into everything from arts and crafts, folk songs, ceremonial robes from festivals, architectural building types, ornamental patterns that are used in everything from fabrics to tiles.

Every culture, every civilization, has a fingerprint of those things unique to itself.

If we can take these things on, re-interpret them with contemporary building systems and contemporary materials, we can refresh the genius of that place and teach the rest of the world about it, as opposed to importing in North American or European predictable solutions, which to me is nothing short of cultural imperialism."

Kuhne says he believes the best hotels "speak to the character of a place; they stand the test of time".

But he still believes there's room for innovation. "We believe you can add fresh forms to [buildings] so you're not just doing a pastiche of the past, but you honour the past by re-interpreting it and in doing so teach those who have inherited the past and the rest of the world about how the artistry of that culture has lived on into the twenty-first century.

Modernism is just starting to realise that it strips the story-telling quality of architecture, and in doing so creates cities that are boring, sterile, austere and antiseptic; we need to restore the richness of cities and their capacity to tell great stories through the civic art-works that they've put in place."

This, says Kuhne, is a deep-rooted EKA philosophy.

"All the projects that we build include this authenticity of place and this educational component that stimulates the imagination and the creative faculties...it seems like something so new, but all you've got to do is walk inside Notre Dame cathedral [in Paris] and look at those stained glass windows, the carved altar screens and the quotations on the walls, and you see that that richness of telling great stories was going on for centuries up until about 150 years ago, and then it all stopped.

Buildings became stripped of their content in terms of stories, and cities and architecture lost their capacity to tell great epic tales. It was an era that was forsaken for a machine aesthetic that never worked and never will work.

Atkins' Dath holds similar views. "Location and context of the hotel are extremely important to the success of the project and local architecture can offer many clues to creating well thought out, sustainable design solutions," he says.

"Furthermore, architectural styles themed on local architecture have also been successfully used in many up-market hotel and resort developments as a means of attracting guests and providing a first-hand glimpse of the local culture and way of life."

In his role as general manager, Shangri-La's Shrestha has the pleasure of being reminded daily of how successful staying true to local architectural themes can be. "The design of the resort was based on the Sultanate's rich heritage and traditions," he explains.

The three hotels are inspired by Oman's distinctive architecture and the colours of each building are inspired by the shades of the surrounding mountains.

"The design concept of Al Waha (the oasis) was drawn from the oasis settlements that have been in Oman for over 5,000 years. Al Bandar (the main port city) reflects the impressive architecture that was found in historic port cities.

The design and architecture of Al Husn (the castle) is based on the luxury palaces that can still be seen all around the country," Shrestha says.

"[The resort] appeals to guests in the same way the country does, precisely because the design reflects all there is to be seen in the Sultanate's rich land."

So local architecture still plays an important role. It seems that, as RMJM's Messina remarks, "the best buildings are the ones who respond to their location and enrich it".

The growth of 'green'

Although in many parts of the world green legislation was laid down several years ago, the Middle East is still comparatively new to eco-enforcements, which may explain why 'green' is such a buzz-word at the moment.

Civic Art's Kuhne does not see this as a problem or a challenge for architects; in fact he believes you cannot build today without being conscientious about the environment.

"Why wouldn't you make your building the most sustainable possible? Ecological sense is good business sense. It's always been that way," he says.

Kuhne believes the region's focus on green development may actually be detracting from more important factors.

"What's peculiar to me is that all of a sudden now it's a big deal," he says. "It's absolutely essential, but it's not the most important thing; the most important thing is unlocking the creative capacity of every citizen and every visitor - that's the way the world is going to get better."

Kuhne describes City of Silk as "a city for the twenty-first century that is based around human resources instead of natural resources".

"The sad part about this current obsession with green cities and sustainability is that it's all focused on energy and material, and it's not focused on the temperaments and quality of life of the citizens.

And the great thing about the hospitality industry is that it says: 'of course we're going to be as green as we can be, but our purpose is to dignify people's lives with great leisure experiences'. So all we've done is take that philosophy and spread it through the routine of everyday life," Kuhne says.

"Whenever we go into a new community, the first thing we do is benchmark all the best hotels there, because they're the ones who've established the quality of customer service...the elements that are being offered up as the best of what that community has to offer. And instead of limiting that to the guests that stay there, we try to bring that into all the projects we work on.

"The result of that is that all the projects just become runaway successes, because when you dignify people's lives they reward you with the most precious thing of all: loyalty. And the hospitality industry's known that all along, it's just that it's never been used on cities.

"Nobody is going to write home about an extra kilowatt saved," he continues. "Of course everybody will save as many as possible. But they're going to write home if they can describe that they had an astonishing experience they haven't had anywhere else, and that's the basis of all the city and civic sites that we do around the world.

RMJM's Messina argues that the growing interest in green development is an opportunity for architects. "The issue of sustainability has grown and will continue to grow and influence the design process at every level," he says.

This is another field where we need to push the boundaries with better and more intelligent design solutions. At the same time luxury and quality can still be achieved in a sustainable and responsible way.

Shangri-La's Shrestha adds: "The Barr Al Jissah bay is renowned for one particular natural phenomenon: it is the nesting ground of the green and hawksbill turtles.

Every effort was made to ensure that this annual occurrence was not disrupted in any way by the construction of the resort or, post-opening, by the activities once the resort was open.

"Our owners, the Zubair Corporation, are firmly committed to environmentally friendly methods and practices and this was evident from the beginning of this resort's design and planning phases," he says.

It seems that, despite increasing demands on architectural firms, they know where they stand. It's a question of allying numerous factors, from guests to green practices, and making sure that every base is covered.

And with so many visionaries upping the ante, creating new and exciting structures and keeping the industry on its toes, it seems there will be plenty more eye-popping examples of architecture to come in the Middle East.


20/05/08
The National, Peter C Baker meets Eric Kuhne, the architectural evangelist VIEW

14/04/08
Video of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens launch VIEW

19/03/08
Kuwait details US$77 billion 'City of Silk' VIEW

06/03/08
Headwaters Park to announce possible new structures VIEW

06/03/08
A Towering Idea - Headwaters Park VIEW

04/03/08
City of Silk featured in Emirates' Portfolio Magazine VIEW

01/03/08
Architecture is the New Diplomacy VIEW

29/02/08
From Belfast to Kuwait comes the City of Silk VIEW

29/02/08
Camp David at Lake Borobay VIEW

22/02/08
World press reacts to City of Silk and 1001-Metre High Tower VIEW

14/01/08
Malaysian Business magazine on Mid Valley Gardens VIEW

13/12/07
Island Gardens web site launches with new images VIEW

04/12/07
Silk City sketches get final approval VIEW

26/11/07
Perspective magazine case studies Titanic Signature Project VIEW

25/11/07
Kuwait Burj-beater plans get green light VIEW

08/10/07
Birmingham press herald V Tower a landmark VIEW

03/10/07
Mid Valley Gardens opens in Kuala Lumpur VIEW

03/10/07
The Edge 24/09/07 Mid Valley Gardens: Breathing life into public spaces VIEW

28/09/07
Future of NI ports to be resolved in months VIEW

26/09/07
Mid-Valley Gardens scheme nears completion VIEW

15/08/07
Belfast’s Titanic Quarter on BBC ONE NI in Building Britain VIEW

15/08/07
Titanic Quarter hope big lottery deal floats: The Irish Times 16/07/07 VIEW

15/08/07
TQ magazine interviews Eric Kuhne about the Titanic Signature Project VIEW

09/07/07
Mid Valley Gardens progress: Office Towers take shape VIEW

25/06/07
Financial Times - Birmingham skyscraper plans rise again VIEW

19/06/07
The Birmingham Post - V Building plans submitted VIEW

17/06/07
AJ: Eric Kuhne reveals Titantic visitor centre in Belfast VIEW

06/06/07
DETI - Executive Backs Lottery Application For Titanic Project VIEW

24/04/07
Building For Life March 2007: The V Building VIEW

24/04/07
Lake Borovoye in The Independent MORE

16/04/07
V Building - Jersy Evening post article 27/03/07 VIEW

26/03/07
Birmingham looks up: The Times on the V Building VIEW

21/03/07
Civic Life Pageantry called for at Mixed-Use Conference 2006 VIEW

20/03/07
Building magazine: Kuhne's Arena Central tower unveiled at MIPIM MORE

20/03/07
New Statesman on Bluewater and the V&A's new architecture gallery VIEW

20/03/07
AJ: Kuhne unveils 50-storey tower for Birmingham VIEW

20/03/07
LunchoverIP: City of Silk at TED2007 MORE

20/03/07
V Tower in Sunday Times article on skyscraper spree VIEW

16/03/07
City of Silk (Madinat al Hareer) presentation receives standing ovation at TEDTalks 2007 VIEW

15/03/07
Birmingham Post reports on Brum’s V for victory VIEW

15/03/07
BBC news site reports on Arena Square’s V Tower VIEW

07/03/07
Estates Gazette profiles Eric Kuhne, March 2007 VIEW

05/03/07
D'Luxe magazine features Island Gardens, March 2006 VIEW

07/02/07
Photos from the Titanic Quarter launch event, 18th Jan 07 VIEW

06/02/07
Times article on Titanic Quarter, 2 Feb 2007 VIEW

27/11/06
The Mall of Kuwait is launched at Mapic VIEW

27/11/06
Mid Valley Gardens progress. Works through months October and November 2006 VIEW

16/08/06
Mid Valley Gardens progress VIEW

14/07/06
Telegraph article on development in Dubai, 6 May 2006 VIEW

10/07/06
Press announces Birmingam Tower VIEW

18/04/06
Madinat Al Hareer - Al Anbaa, Al Watan, Al Seyassah press clippings VIEW

18/04/06
Madinat Al Hareer - AJ, New Scientist, New York Times press clippings VIEW

31/03/06
Kuwait press announce plans for Madinat Al Hareer (City of Silk) VIEW

13/03/06
Titanic Quarter Belfast presentation fly-through video and masterplan VIEW

12/10/05
Titanic Quarter Belfast launched by Harcourt and Harbour Commission VIEW

12/10/05
Shangri-La announced at Island Gardens, Miami VIEW

29/09/05
Mid Valley Gardens flythrough, panorama and excavation works: August and September VIEW

09/09/05
Mid Valley Gardens progress. Excavation works through months July and August VIEW

16/08/05
Mall of Kuwait launched by the Tamdeen Shopping Centre Development Co, Kuwait VIEW

02/08/05
Photos of Darling Harbour packed with luxury yachts for the Sydney International Boat Show VIEW

01/08/05
The Sydney Morning Herald on a packed Sydney International Boat Show, Darling Harbour VIEW

28/06/05
Jersey's new Castle Quay waterfront announced at St Helier's Opera House VIEW

27/06/05
Mid Valley Gardens progress. Excavation works through months May and June VIEW

20/04/05
Mid Valley Gardens by IGB Corp. excavates 4-basements for major expansion VIEW

22/04/05
Updated photos of BurJuman in Dubai VIEW

07/01/05
Bur Juman In Vogue article VIEW

13/04/05
St Helier Waterfront Plans by Dandara revealed at Opera House VIEW

18/04/05
Intricate Leisure & Retail Destination planned for Kuwait City by Tamdeen VIEW

16/07/04
Latest construction photos of BurJuman Gardens in Dubai, set for late 2004 opening VIEW

02/09/04
Stage 2 of Mid Valley Gardens in Kuala Lumpur commences construction this September

02/09/04
Bluewater comes to the National Portrait Gallery in the exhibition - A Blueprint VIEW

27/09/04
Bluewater comes to the Victoria and Albert Museum's new Architectural Gallery VIEW

01/10/04
Updated photos of BurJuman in Dubai, Now Open VIEW

29/09/04
The identity of the puzzling New campaign is revealed today as the BurJuman shopping centre MORE

30/09/04
Advertising Campaign for the opening of Burjuman in Dubai VIEW

 
 

A(C) CivicArts LLP, 2011