A different idea of the desert

Created by Anarchitect near Sharjah, Al Faya Lodge of the Sharjah Collection ensures exclusive solitude in a primordial natural landscape dense with historical memories

DATA SHEET

Client: SHUROOQ (Sharjah Investment and Development Authority)
Architecture, Interiors & Furniture design: ANARCHITECT
Landscape design: DesertINK
Joinery: Thomas & McQuaid
Exterior oxidized steel cladding: CorTen
Contractor: Alba Tower & Obaid Al Abdi
Lighting: Deltalight
Outdoor furniture: Roda
Bathroom: Kohler
Ironmongery: Manital
Photo: Fernando Guerra

In the desert of the Arab Emirates, about 40 kilometers from Sharjah, the luxury of this ‘retreat’ of the Sharjah Collection is composed precisely of the desert landscape and the small size of the facility. An oddity in these countries, where the idea of hospitality is usually linked to big or even boundless proportions. It is also unusual that the client has decided to renovate a small, solitary desert site for new functions, dating back to the 1960s and once utilized by the oil industry, to create a desert experience in the Mlieha region, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its many archaeological wonders.

The true challenge of the conversion project completed in early 2019 by Anarchitect was above all a matter of extreme climate conditions, as Jonathan Ashmore, principal of the studio located in London and Dubai explains: “Desert sites are exposed to all the elements and not just sunlight. The elements also include driving rain, sandstorms and low temperatures at night. Locally sourced stone or concrete construction provide heavy thermal mass to deal with these extremes with regards to temperature fluctuations.” For this reason, the local stone and concrete of the existing constructions, two volumes with clear, squared lines and a single level that originally contained a medical clinic and a grocery store, have been recycled for the mini-hotel, and combined with the contemporary image with Cor-ten weathering steel, teak and aluminium. Three volumes form the resort, ‘surreally’ cut in half by a highway of access and passage for cars: on one side, the lodge with the concierge, a small library and five guestrooms, next to an addition made specifically for the open-air spa; on the other side, the restaurant for about 40 guests, with an external patio and a fire pit.

The Cor-ten plays a fundamental role in the whose complex, with various meanings. From a chromatic standpoint it suggests the historical presence of iron in this region, while from a programmatic-structural perspective it shapes and underscores the added parts, to reinterpret and enlarge the existing indoor and outdoor spaces. In the overall design, it defines new layers, paths, openings, thresholds, closures of the various volumes, emphasizing what already existed through contrast. A totally new level takes over the rooftops of the lodge and restaurant to create panoramic terraces, or openings that permit a private dialogue with the sky over the desert. The five rooms all have skylights for a view of the starry ‘primordial’ sky, over the desert landscape at the foot of Mount Alvaah.