Certainly, the first thing that the Al Faya Lodge in Sharjah does to you is evoke a sense of exaggerated solitude. If there was ever a quest for how architecture marries luxury, this would be one of our first few examples. The lodge, consisting of five bedrooms, a spa and a saltwater pool, with a restaurant across the road, achieves this with impeccable clarity - there are no doubts about the kind of experience you are going to have from the moment you drive into the property.
The architecture and design of the Al Faya Lodge, by architect Jonathan Ashmore and his Dubai and London-based practice Anarchitect, are paramount to the experience it provides. Incidentally, the lodge in its original forms of two single-storey, stone-built buildings (a clinic and a grocery store) dates back to the 1960s — not something you will be able to guess from the completely re-imagined contemporary boutique lodge and restaurant.
Together with the addition of a newly built saltwater spa building, the design pans out with the obvious intention to enhance the natural landscape, rather than compete with it.
Set at the foot of Mount Alvaah, the Al Faya Lodge is nestled into the United Arab Emirates’s pre-historic crimson desert landscape with close proximity to the UAE’s first petroleum pump. About the location, Jonathan Ashmore says, “Desert conditions present extreme heat in summer with intense and prolonged sun exposure, it was important to consider this while designing the form and mass of the building,” and then naturally, select suitable and robust materials that went hand in hand with the desert conditions.
“Desert sites are exposed to all the elements and not just sunlight. The elements also include driving rain, sand storms 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. Surface materials like Cor-Ten steel, and secondary structure materials like robust hardwoods and aluminium were also explored to add refinement and precision to the design, particularly for over-sailing roofs, shading elements and also terrace decks raised above the level of the sands,” he explains further.
Everything about the architecture and the added interior interventions in the design of the lodge intentionally and distinctly contrasts with the pre-existing fabric of the previous buildings. Cor-Ten steel emphasises the new layers that have been introduced to repurpose and extend the spaces to accommodate a new series of functional spaces. In doing so, the architect inadvertently draws attention to the original structures, creating clearly-defined thresholds and highlighting the juxtaposition between the old and the new.
Other than the five bedrooms, there is a dining room, a reception, a library and a roof terrace. Each of the five bedrooms has been fitted with a skylight for star-gazing. Additionally, the luxe room has the special advantage of a private roof terrace. The purpose-built spa building houses an open-air saltwater pool and three salt spa experiences.
The Al Faya Lodge is to be booked in its entirety, with the spa experience available exclusively to the lodge’s guests. The restaurant and visitors’ reception are located on the other side of the property, and comprise a dining room, an outdoor terrace, fire-pit and a public roof terrace. It isn’t the services we are highlighting here, but the finer and subtlest nuances of heightened luxury that ensures the guests’ privacy, rooted deeply in thoughtful design and planning.
One of the most outstanding features of the property, that incidentally also lays bare the starkness of the surrounding landscape, is the patch of tarmac that rallies around the lodge, spa and restaurant buildings. The sudden dash of urban development that it stands for lends a stunning primordial air to the entire setting. The steel and hardwood in the façade of the buildings make them appear even more elemental, and that’s what the real challenge for Anarchitect was. With their passion for site-responsive projects and affinity to detail and materiality, their deliberate choice of material is contextual and relevant not only to the harsh, arid, desert climate, but also to the historical presence of the iron in the region.
Name of the project: Al Faya Lodge
Location: Mount Alvaah, Mleiha, Sharjah UAE
Area: Plot area 8,000sqm
Year of Completion: Q1 2019
Client: SHUROOQ (Sharjah Investment and Development Authority)
Architecture, interiors and furniture design: Anarchitect
Materials used: CorTen steel, laminam porcelain, polished concrete, Parklex exterior grade timber, TMT ashwood, travertine stone, flamed granite stone
Bespoke interior furniture: Anarchitect
Outdoor chairs: RODA
Exterior oxidized steel cladding: CorTen