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The Monarch Dubai
RMJM's newest offering aims for timelessness.
One of the key tasks in the design brief given to architects RMJM for its project at One Sheikh Zayed Road was to make the most of its unique location at the entrance to Dubai's iconic main thoroughfare.
It's a mandate that project architect Enzo Messina believes RMJM has achieved in creating The Monarch Dubai and its neighbouring office tower.
Foremost in his mind when developing the initial concept was using the site to represent a transition from old to new-from the low-rise environment of Bur Dubai to the modern elegance of the towers lining Sheikh Zayed Road.
At the same time, it had to compete with a few of the city's major icons, namely the Emirates Towers (designed by RMJM's regional director Hazel Wong) and the Burj Dubai.
To achieve this, Hazel Wong, Enzo Messina and their international team decided on an L-shaped configuration that would firmly demarcate the line between old and new by positioning the higher office tower as a curtain to create a physical termination from Bur Dubai.
The Monarch Dubai hotel tower is oriented to face Sheikh Zayed Road and while it makes a definitive design statement by itself, Messina says its true elegance will be fully appreciated once the neighbouring towers have been completed. "At the moment it's a bit like a smile with a few teeth missing," he says.
A product of the combined vision of Wong and Messina, timelessness was a key element of the client's brief and a driving force behind the final product.
"This is what you get with good architecture," says Messina.
"For a great example, one only has to look at Mies van der Rohe's skyscrapers of Chicago and New York that were built in the 1950s."
They were built so long ago but still make a major design statement today.
With The Monarch Dubai, RMJM has created separate but related buildings with strong lines, which, according to Messina, is a relative rarity on Sheikh Zayed Road.
"You see a lot of recycled ideas there, but we have gone for a very bold design that works in both sun and shade."
"It's the goal of all architects to use light to its best advantage, so you see the reflections more than the buildings," explains Messina.
The strong lines are continued at night by the use of lighting to accentuate the façade transition on the office tower, which is then projected skyward toward the stars.
"Even at night there is strong competition for attention from a design perspective. We've chosen to use only simple white lighting in keeping with our overall minimalist approach," explains Messina.
In keeping with the overall engineering requirements of the unusual building configuration, RMJM chose a mix of materials that are both simple and complex.
High-performance glazed glass and aluminium are strongly contrasted by the use of textured marble. The marble is a geological oddity that dates from the Jurassic period and features fossilised remains of creatures from around 180 million years ago.
The buildings seem to be connected visually but, in fact, they are independent towers, kept separate to maintain integrity in the event of seismic activity.
There is an illusion that the two towers are joined structurally by a 29th floor ‘Sky Suite' but, in fact, the suite merely cantilevers from the hotel tower and supports no load transfer.
Similarly, the seemingly solid aluminium arms that bisect the frontage actually retract and rotate to manage ≤1m of movement in the unlikely event of a major earthquake.
In an effort to ameliorate the effects of the sun, high performance glass was chosen for its ability to cut thermal transmission by 90% and increase the hotel's air conditioning efficiency.
Despite its location on one of the busiest traffic routes in the Gulf, clever landscaping has been utilised to create a sense of serenity, even amidst the gridlock.
"It's the use of undulations that does it," says Messina. "You can see some of Sheikh Zayed Road even from the hotel lobby, but you can't hear the traffic noise and you certainly feel at peace and well removed from outside hustle and bustle."
Creating a sense of welcome and wellbeing was crucial, as guests make the transition from the outside world to the lobby of The Monarch.
To that end, the main entrance is made from limousine to lobby on the same level-there are no stairs to climb-contributing to its sense of accessibility and hospitality.
The lobby also features a 14m waterfall, which flows through channels around the lobby and contributes to the overall fluidity of the interior materials.
The signature element
The marble floor inside the lobby is a geological masterpiece and one of the elements of the project that Messina speaks very passionately about.
From a distance, the exterior stone work resembles a simple rough cast finish but, on second glance, the fossilized remains of Jurassic period creatures become clear.
"You can see the history of the planet. There are shells, some large and some small creatures from 180 million years ago. It's fantastic," says Messina.
While the aptly-named Bavarian ‘Jura marble' is somewhat controversial given its geological value and scientific significance, Messina's decision to use Pakistani ‘Burma Teak' marble for the lobby floor was even more so.
Usually used for small decorative applications-including cremation urns-Burma Teak is a marlstone that looks like wood, the "grain" of which was created when iron seeped into natural fractures in the stone 250 million years ago.
"Even the suppliers were sceptical about the end use I proposed for the marble-they very clearly stated that it was for decorative use only and for small objects at that-but I knew it was the right choice," says Messina.
"Every piece [of Burma Teak] is different and you can see the movement of the Earth perfectly recorded in the lines. I love walking around looking at the different patterns...I have my favourites," he adds.
The Burma Teak floor makes its greatest statement in the staircase leading down to the Almaza Ballroom below. The marble floor is offset by the rich coconut timber floor that separates the hotel lobby from the office tower beneath the third-storey skylights.
Levels one and two are open to the lobby to articulate a vibrant space for social interaction. The intention is to encourage people in the lobby to be drawn into the atmosphere created by the adjoining restaurant and business spaces.
Coming to life
For Messina and his team, The Monarch Dubai-a work in progress for a little over four years-is slowly drawing to a close.
When asked about his best experience over the course of the project, Messina pointed not to an architectural element or process, but to a communal one. By his own accord, Messina's greatest moment of satisfaction in the Monarch project came when the entire staff of the hotel gathered together to give the banqueting crew a test.
The gathering was a trial of the gastronomical capability of the hotel but also recognition of the entire team's effort in helping to bring The Monarch Dubai alive.
"That's exactly what it felt like," says Messina. "After a huge amount of work by thousands of people, The Monarch Dubai has finally come to life."