Atlantis The Royal’s Architects, KPF, Discuss The Creation Of Dubai’s Most Luxurious New Hotel

"Timelessness was part of the contract."

Atlantis The Royal’s Architects, KPF, Discuss The Creation Of Dubai’s Most Luxurious New Hotel

Dubai’s fanciest new hotel took seven years and $2 billion dollars to construct, opening in spectacular fashion earlier this year (with a Beyonce concert and fireworks). But it wasn’t just this that blew our minds: the design of the place is spectacular. To get the down low on what goes into creating a masterpiece like this, DMARGE sat down with some of the architects behind Atlantis The Royal and had a good old chinwag.

Dubai’s Atlantis The Royal is the height of luxury. But it’s not some faddish facade capturing this decade’s zeitgeist and nothing more. Nor is it a purely business-y offering like the Marriot. It combines detail and big ideas, in a way that its designers say will continue to impress people down the decades – and beyond.

During our trip to Atlantis The Royal (DMARGE visited Dubai as a guest of the hotel), DMARGE sat down with KPF architects James von Klemperer and Elie Gamburg to understand what it takes to build something like this. And it’s more than just time (7 years) and money ($2 billion dollars). You need designers who understand the terrain, culture and customers of such a building. As the architectural duo told DMARGE, what was crucial in this case, was a hotel design that matched the theatrical “hunger for the buzz” of this region.

“I can’t imagine this in New York or London,” James told DMARGE. Not only would any resort environment (of this size and stature) be geographically tricky in those locales, but with Atlantis The Royal, the idea of “blowing the customer away” has been baked into the design “from the very beginning.”

They liken it to a roman viaduct, telling DMARGE the vision was that no matter what happens in the future, “the other buildings may go away and be ruined, but in the ruins, you’d still see this thing.”

In terms of how long it took to make this dream a reality, the pair told DMARGE: “After the first year things were pretty clear. We went to Paris to present a model and it was pretty much what you see today. And that was after 2-3 months of work. Much changed with specifics, but the spirit of it you would certainly recognise.”

Atlantis The Royal
Not too shabby at night, either.

“What was really amazing,” they added, “is as architects in some ways it tends to be easier to show something that’s really sculptural.” In other words, something basic – not detailed, out there and different.

Fortunately for James and Elie, the client was super excited, not intimidated, by their vision, and they got the gig.

“We felt really fortunate. During the presentation we talked about the idea of the arrival, the gateway, a new kind of door arch… and then this idea of breaking a single building up into all these pieces to create sky ports so you could have the experience of swimming underneath the water… in the air … It’s a credit to the client they kind of got it.”

“I remember them leaping up and saying this room can do that and it became part of the journey – the experiences they can create and so the building… brought us all together and that’s the beginning of the journey really.”

The design is particularly special because “not every column comes straight down.” This provided some engineering challenges (“the plumbing has to move this way and that way”) but leads to a healthy sense of awe in every guest who stays there (“we’re hoping every person coming by, even from a distance… there’s a feeling of disbelief”).

This design feature also means the hotel doesn’t block the view of the water so much and the whole idea of the building as a screen – you can see through it – is very nice for the city. It’s like a theatre, almost with its screens and stages. Beyond that, the building is smartly designed, taking advantage of the winds (which flip every 12 hours) with its curves.

Atlantis The Royal
Pool with a view…

“You want to create a space that’s comfortable outdoors,” the architects told DMARGE. “You can keep the outdoor spaces up in the building pretty comfortable for 10 months of the year.” Needless to say, this is quite the feat for Dubai. As well as fitting nicely with the natural environment, the hotel also pays tribute to Arabic architecture (see, for instance, the Alhambra, in the south of Spain), which has a tradition of screens (and beautiful detail).

As the architects put it: “it’s like a finely tailored suit.” They added: “There are details only you know – because it’s in the stitching.” The colonnade screens, for instance, are very important “in terms of creating internal comfort and shading.”

They aren’t just functional either: if you go up to them you’ll notice that every corner is not two pieces of stone – it’s one solid corner block of stone in a traditional way of building. Then if you look outside, the stone on the sides is a texture that catches light that’s different than the horizontal cuts do, so there’s a kind of craft to it.

From a distance, you get the effect of a humungous building but as you zoom in and down to the window portal, you notice the delicate touches, too, which is unusual for a building of this scale.

Indoor-outdoor living at its finest.

As the architects James and Elie explained, these sorts of personal touches you typically find in a boutique hotel in Italy – not in a giant hotel in Dubai.

“A 20-room hotel in Milan with a couple of fashion designers behind it… you would expect the leather and the bronze but in an 800 room hotel you expect more of a Marriot or a business person’s hotel… but here there are distinctive touches.”

“The school of architecture we come from embraces modernism – there is a certain level of abstraction, clean lines, not overly decorated or a specific character – it’s not a themed building.”

“There’s something abstract or archetypal about the design. That kind of stuff doesn’t really date. You don’t go to a viaduct and say that’s dated. You say it’s got bones – you want to know it represented an empire and a great achievement of building public works.”

“Timelessness was part of the contract.”

“We didn’t want it to be cheesy or overly glitzy,” the architects told DMARGE, which was a step in a slightly different direction for a developer with a history with casinos, and part of what has helped Atlantis The Royal transcend the zeitgeist and not be a mere splash in the pan.

See the resemblance to a screen?

On top of this, its aesthetic isn’t just aesthetic. What do we mean by that? We’ll allow the experts to take it from here: “What the building does (or makes you do) is something changes in style cannot take away – meaning the vagaries of style come and go, but the experience of being up in one of those sky courts with the view, the water, the way that you experience indoor-outdoor living is not going to change regardless of whether a particular aesthetic mode is in or out.”

“If you kind of look through the great buildings of history, whether it’s the modernist Los Angeles style houses… those houses never stopped being appreciated because of the experience they can create.”

“It’s not that easy to do, vertically speaking, [but] we specialise in that… to get that to work at the lower level and then sprinkle it above.”

There you have it: now you know what goes into building a $2 billion hotel. If you’re keen to check out what it’s like inside, check out our review of Atlantis The Royal, here.