KOA Canvas is a mix-used development that aims to reinterpret how people live, to re-imagine the public realm of cities, and last but not least to enable social interactions. The project has its own strong identity, compelling context and program, a sounding vision to produce a new model of modern living, whereby boundaries are not defined by where one lives, works and socialises.
T.ZED Architects design approach was anchored in the investigation of the site itself, the opportunity of responding to a diverse set of expectations and programmes – in such a nontypical mixed-use development, as well as materializing the client’s vision into a new architectural language and an urban catalyst for a new type of neighbourhood in a city like Dubai.
KOA Canvas documented the successful and sustainable transformation of an existing office building into a thriving urban space for communal activities alongside the creation of an additional two new-built structures, with a variety of programmes that express contemporary architecture of the region. Despite Dubai’s natural desert landscape, the design approach for such wider context in mind allowed T.ZED Architects to address the architectural proposition by absorbing and being inspired by the natural lush environment surrounding the project, and the elements beyond. This is reflected in the materiality inspired by the lavish eco-system around.
ON THE ARCHITECTURE and T.ZED ARCHITECTS PHILOSOPHY, CREATIVE APPROACH AND CONTRIBUTION
1) From where did you draw your inspirations?
The design brief presented by the client was very interesting to T.ZED Architects. The overall inspiration came from the unique context and the visionary program of the project. The opportunity to intervene architecturally within an existing raw concrete structure while designing two new adjacent buildings allowed us to investigate how a sensible, seamless and successful conversation between the two different buildings could be established. The scale of the project, the design process and the high-level outcomes has led T.ZED Architects to investigate the brief on many levels.
2) and what were your influences in the creation of this project?
The site itself, the diverse set of expectations non-typical of a mix-use development and the client’s passionate vision as well as the opportunity to materialize the context into an architectural were the greatest influences. From an architectural perspective, embedding nature into modern residential areas was also the most compelling driver. This level of accessibility, integration and ‘seamless indoor-outdoor living’ was a great design driver and inspiration to us. This project gave the opportunity for T.ZED Architects to identify a balance between a more traditional culture dictated by an existing framework - to be given a new life - and a modern one anticipating the needs of social customs of our times (internal courtyards and modern majlis). This interesting prospect to redefine the modern language of buildings fits with our practice’s ambition to develop a contemporary architectural framework that is of the region.
3) What is important to you about this project?
Why is it different to others you have worked on? Architecturally, the importance of conceptualizing and delivering a variety of architectural programs for a diverse mix of end-users with no typical formula that is common to most of developments of this scale was paramount. Each living unit is addressed differently allowing multiple scenarios as to how to inhabit a space. The project provides a well formulated architectural basis and orientation for diverse spatial arrangements, allowing personal narratives to emerge. Architecture - as T.ZED Architects interprets it – presents itself and facilitates end-users to own the space. The client’s vision is forward thinking and allows a new type of mixuse developments to be created in the region and beyond.
4) Why did you decide to take this project on / what resonated with you about the vision for KOA?
The project has its own strong identity, compelling context and program, a sounding vision to produce a new model of modern living. Boundaries are not defined by where one lives, works and socialises; all is meshed and integrated in one place. This is a catalyst for a new type of neighbourhood in the city like Dubai where a multitude of cultures coalesce together. KOA’sambition resonates with T.ZED Architects projects’ legacy.
5) With regards to the creative process, from when you receive the original brief to project completion. Can you explain a little of how you go about this?
My philosophy on design is to approach every project with a new and fresh pair of eyes, treating the (design) brief as a new and exciting opportunity while maintaining and referencing to the achievements and learning of past projects. We at T.ZED Architects like drawing, designing, creating, delving into the research phase of any project and understanding the requirements and context to create something unique. The initial phase of any assignment is the most crucial one, as it would define the design evolution. Design is a cyclical and iterative process and the final design is simply the development of that very initial thinking. At T.ZED Architects we believe architects have the responsibility to responding to context as well as users. With each work, we constantly question and investigate how and to what extent a project responds to local socio-economicenvironmental aspects. As we take a research and evidencebased approach, we aim to further understand and contribute to the regional contemporary architecture.
6) When did T.ZED Architects come onboard, and what did you think to the concept? What was the brief?
T.ZED Architects are the lead design architects for KOA Canvas and have presented with the client’s design brief at the very initial stages of inception. Given the client's vision and ethos towards re-thinking the status-quo of the development industry, while creating contextually-relevant architecture, we immediately realized that not only is the project unique and interesting, but also very much in line with T.ZED Architect's design approach from an architectural and a cultural viewpoint. The client’s sounding vision and the project’s strong identity was a compelling opportunity to have an impact on the Dubai construction scene with a fresh approach to the urban context and architectural propositions.
7) What opportunities and challenges does Canvas pose for T.ZED Architects?
KOA Canvas, the first development under KOA needed to set the precedent not only for future developments under KOA,but also needed to challenge the status quo of how developments are thought of regionally. We were set the task of creating a culturally and contextually-rich project that allows people to live, work and socialize in a space that will be familiar to all, while remaining unique and personalized to each user's needs.
8) Why / what excites you about Canvas?
Amongst many things points that excite me about Canvas, one of them is the fact that this building will weather and will stand the test of time in this arid desert climate. This is due to a fine balance between using the right materials for external cladding, landscaping and moulding the architecture in a way that relates to the sun-path and wind direction. For the first time in the Middle East, thermally modified Tulipwood will be used as a cladding element that transforms into outdoor shaded walk ways, as well as an elevated public balcony. Out of the 70 living units designed, 43 are unique and have been designed individually to a high level of detail. The public and social aspect of the architecture has really resulted in us walking through the design time and again to ensure that experiences are rarely repeated as the building transforms use depending on the time of day.
9) How is Canvas distinct from your other projects?
Canvas is a project that is initiated by a highly motivated, visionary client who is very much in line with our ethos at T.ZED Architects. It is contextually relevant and aims to contemporarise regional architecture. Although a large-scale project it is approached with all the finesse, craft and detailing to the level of a niche-scale design. KOA Canvas allows showcasing our skill set when it comes to renovating an existing structure, building a five-storey plus penthouse level new-build, as well as designing villas. This project is truly program-rich and much attention is paid to the public aspects as was private living units.
10) What were the biggest considerations?
The biggest considerations for T.ZED Architects while designing were: the site itself, the diverse set of expectations in such a non-typical mixed-use development, and the client’s passionate vision as well as the opportunity to materialize this vision into a new architectural language and an urban catalyst for a new type of neighborhood in a city like Dubai. This project allowed us to balance between a modern and traditional culture. Dictated by an existing framework (literally) the previous office building has been given a new life, purpose and program. Working in and around such complex parameters adds value in the narrative of KOA Canvas as we have needed to problem-solve every step along the way in order to ensure that neither structural integrity of the previously existing building, nor our design was not compromised. We viewed these constants not as limiting factors, but more as catalysis's for interesting spaces to be born. While we are always open to constructive criticism, reception has been extremely positive.
11)What have you liked most about this project, and what do you feel were the biggest challenges?
The opportunity to work with this visionary client, to showcase our capabilities and to produce good architecture in the region. As for the challenges - they become secondary when one enjoys what they do, and we love what we do. Any project with such significance will come with its fair share of challenges and we welcome them.
12) What do you think this project will bring to Dubai?
KOA Canvas brings a new model of living where boundaries are not defined by where one lives, works or socialises. Locally, it will also be a project whereby architects and developers will re-think the current way of approaching developments and design. While internationally, KOA Canvas will be an example to reference and precedent as a new way of living that has not turned its back on the regions' traditions and norms.
13) What do you think of KOA, and will you be involved in any more of its projects?
KOA deeply reflects T.ZED Architects’ legacy and ambition to develop a contemporary architectural framework that is of the region. Needless to say, involvements with design-driven and informed clients such as Mr. Zaal are precious and rare, since they allow us to excel and continuously challenge our design decisions. T.ZED Architects are keen to be involved in projects with such visionary agendas and architecturally forwardthinking programmes under the KOA umbrella.
ON KOA CANVAS (EXTERIOR and INTERIOR): COMPONENTS, PROGRAMMES, AND ITS END-USERS
14)What are the KOA Canvas architectural components and programmes?
• The KOA Canvas master plan brings a new cultural model of living and working through a visionary agenda and forwardthinking design. The project documents the successful and sustainable transformation of an existing office building into a thriving urban space for communal activity. KOA Canvas represents a contemporary architectural framework that is of the region. In Dubai’s natural desert landscape, elements such as hammered stone, copper mesh and thermally modified tulipwood have been selected to naturally weather through time. The mixed-use programme provided an opportunity for the design to merge complexities in interesting ways providing an overlap of residential, co working, leisure and natural spaces.
• NASAB co-working space is a spatial response to changing working habits in the region. Our challenge was not only to offer effective work spaces but also set up a thriving environment for entrepreneurs to connect and collaborate. Users are greeted by a lively spacious core which utilises the building’s double height space and natural light, using the library book shelves as soft dividers of the space. In order to design within the existing curved structure, the workspace physically frames an external amphitheatre designed for creative gatherings. The use of natural materials and texture such as oak, travertine and tundra grey stone help to create a welcoming atmosphere. These materials provide thresholds to a compelling sequence of spaces, which allow a variety of work, social and private activities to take place.
• KOA DAYCARE is nestled in the natural landscape; the day care centre is an organic building form, which embodies a playfulness and warmth in its architectural design. The curved sequence of spaces creates a soft, enveloping and interactive environment for children to inhabit, play and grow. The earthy material selection offers engaging textural qualities and a grounded sensitivity. Tulip wood louvers filter daylight in to a large open and flexible space. Consequent rooms and courtyards create surprising moments of light play and texture for the little ones.
• KOA Boutique Hotel offers a unique luxurious experience for guests. Spacious and elegantly styled rooms look out on to impressive views of the Dubai skyline and natural landscape. The architecture and interior offer an intimate and sophisticated setting combining comfort with leisure.The distinctive lobby is created through a void which allows light to penetrate deep into the building. The combined café creates a soft and bright space which becomes a social anchor to the buildings front elevation. Externally the building continues the textured stone language distinctive of KOA whilst internally the design language creates a bright and inviting environment for guests to feel at home.
15) What can you say on the aesthetic of the units in the residences? (Mohammed talked about exposed concrete and creating a space that the homeowner would furnish as they so wish- if you can reference that also it would be great.) Architecture - as T.ZED Architects interprets it – presents itself and facilitates end-users to own and interpret their own space. So, each living unit has been addressed differently allowing multiple scenarios to inhabit a space. The project provides a well-formulated architectural basis and orientation for diverse spatial arrangements, allowing personal narratives and interpretations to emerge. The overall choice of palette of colours and textures is therefore born out of the nature of the site, and is continued in a natural, stone, timber and metal applications used throughout the exteriors and interiors. The spaces are far from lacking character or defining the environment in a pre-set manner, they embrace an honestexpression of materials so that the end-user can define their own space. The units aspire to resonate with today’s living and life-style, as well as the future ones.
16) You say "an aim was to re-imagine the home, without the traditional borders." Can you comment further on this in terms of design element?
The mix-used development aims to re-interpret how people live, to re-imagine the public realm of cities, and last but not least to enable social interactions. The project has its own strong identity, compelling context and program, a sounding vision to produce a new model of modern living. Boundaries are not defined by where one lives, works and socializes. From the client’s vision to create a continuous conversation throughout various spaces, we have addressed the way: - the living space is layout and traditional architectural features typical of the region are re-invented (courtyards and majlis) - the building is receptive to the external environment and open to welcome the lush greenery indoor - the programs of the mixed-development fit purposely with each other – allowing the architectural language and the social dynamics to be coherently represented - privacy is guaranteed between private domestic spaces and shared domestic spaces All is meshed and integrated in one place. This is a catalyst for a new type of neighborhood in the city like Dubai where a multitude of cultures coalesce together.
17) What trends and technologies. Will Canvas incorporate / reflect?
We hope that Canvas will really shift the mindset of how Architects and Developers think about these types of projects. On our part, we are happy to demonstrate the benefits of using natural materials wherever possible, and to demonstrate that through craft, responding to context and the environment. As far as trends are concerned, Canvas offers the opportunity for open public, social spaces to occur. Many times the importance of these areas has been overlooked. At Canvas priority is given to them through good design and an appreciation that they are key components to a successful development.
18) Canvas is aimed at a particular customer base – can you talk about their needs and expectations, and how that shaped your ideas?
KOA Canvas aims to create individualized liveable spaces that reflect the lifestyles of a new-forward thinking generation of the UAE residents. Being the creation of diverse spaces and the layering of human experiences within a well designed, spatially unique, and culturally relevant environment is one of the project’s strengths T.ZED Architects approached the design with the end-users' narrative and ownership of a space to emerge naturally, in mind. The use of the materials, the flexibility of the various spatial arrangements, together with the material palette allow end-users to define their own living, working and social space.
19) What are some of the stand-out features, and how do they look?
What about some of the materials used? More importantly than how the project looks, we are fascinated by creating a timeless architecture that "contemporarises" regional architecture. From an architectural perspective, this project brings timeless architecture that is of place, a culturally and socially relevant anchor point that sets the precedent as to how urban developments will be thought of and addressed in the future. The approach of design with such wider context in mind, aims to address nature and the elements beyond. This is reflected in the materiality inspired by the lush eco-system surrounding the area.
T.ZED Architects leverage the natural elements and context to create a continuous conversation throughout various spaces: open planted-courtyards, natural lights, fluid and continuous lines of spaces. Materials such as natural stone cladding, copper mesh and thermally modified tulipwood have ben utilised on the exterior envelop of the development. It will be the first time that thermally tulipwood will be used in these quantities in the region. We are not afraid to let the development weather gracefully as has been communicated in the design brief provided by the Client.
20) Those living and working within the property will be creative themselves – does that mean high expectations, and how T.ZED Architects managed to meet these needs?
The client’s vision is to cater to the expanding, professional creative community that calls Dubai home. The contemporary craftsmanship implemented in the interior environments as well as the exterior envelops of the structures’ details reflect this. At T.ZED Architects we looked to create an environment that will flourish with time, and offer a unique and comfortable experience for any discerning community member. With all the focus and attention that has been paid to creating a well balanced living and working environment at KOA Canvas, we are confident that it will be received well by the scrutinizing eye.
21) From an architectural perspective, what will this project bring to the region that is not here already?
Good architecture. The project’s strength of creating diverse spaces and layering various human experiences is designed to be spatially unique. Socially dynamic, this project also sustains itself in the longterm in view of its flexibility of spaces usage. The development – comprising of a co-working space, adjacent to living spaces, a multi-purpose amphitheater and a gourmet market – lends itself to creating human engagement and social collaborations. It also brings timeless architecture that is of place, a culturally and socially relevant anchor point that sets the precedent as to how developments will be thought of and addressed in the future. Finally, the approach to design with the wider context in mind, down to internal spatial configurations, addresses nature and the elements beyond.
22) What are the key materials, colours, textures and features that will be used?
The materiality of this project was heavily inspired by the rich, buoyant and lush eco-system surrounding the area. Appreciating the client’s vision, the overall leitmotif was to leverage the neighbouring natural elements and context to create a continuous conversation throughout various spaces. Water features, open planted-courtyards, natural lights, fluid and continuous lines are used to enhance the whole landscape. The overall palette of colours and textures is born out of the nature of the site, and is continued in a natural, stone, timber and metal applications used throughout the exteriors and interiors.
23) On natural materials, can you please share more information?
The use of natural materials stems from the appreciation of the client’s vision: to leverage the neighboring natural elements and local context in order to create a continuous conversation throughout various spaces. With this design brief, water features, open planted-courtyards, natural lights, fluid and continuous lines are used to enhance the whole landscape. In particular, we will be saving the structural elements of the building, recycling and reinstating some of the existing materials found in the old building as well as its site.
Furthermore, materials such as grey quartzite stone cladding, copper mesh and thermally modified tulipwood have been utilized on the exterior envelop of the development. This will inevitably reduce AC consumption due to the thermal properties of the materials as well as shading they provide. Natural sandstone, used for the amphitheater, crosses the threshold of the exterior and interior, by penetrating into the co-working spaces and merging the outdoor and the indoor. Last but not least, the flora of the flourishing gardens is made of 80% of indigenous plants. The overall choice of materials follows our philosophy to create environments that are contextually relevant to the region.