Nakkash Design Studio Brings Rural Africa to Corporate Dubai

by Ciara Phillips

Compasses Magazine

Nakkash Design Studio’s brings rural Africa to the heart of corporate Dubai with its first office design concept, a welcoming earth-toned headquarters for Lebanese aggrotech company Jade Stone in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lake Towers, a district crowded with steel and glass high rises.

The Dubai-based studio transformed the lacklustre dry corporate fit-out using a palette of sun-bleached, earthy colors and tactile, natural materials like sisal and bronze, stucco paint blended with hay to mimic the colour and texture present in the rural landscapes of East and West Africa in which the organization operates.

The client, Jade Stone, which initiated the project after deciding to move its HQ from Lebanon to the UAE, worked remotely with Nakkash Design Studio’s founder and design director Omar Nakkash, one of Dubai’s most exciting designers known for his rigorous 360-degree and human-centric approach. Nakkash oversaw every aspect of the project, from finding the new office location to creating the layout and choosing the original artworks sourced from Moeshen Art Gallery, Nigeria.

«Before responding to a client brief, I like to get to know each client: from the business in which it operates, the people that work there, their working environment needs, as well as their personal likes and dislikes. Jade Stone is in agrotech with most of its business in Africa so we looked to that continent for reference – sourcing antique agricultural tools and objects, art, colours and textures – and sought to recreate a natural environment in a work environment», said founder and design director Omar Nakkash.

Before Nakkash Design Studio began working, the office space was a standard corporate fit-out: 245-square-meters of acrylic carpet tiles, false ceilings and glass partitions. The Studio reordered the space to create better circulation throughout the office and a mix between an open-plan office space, for the employees who work in different departments to collaborate on common tasks, and closed office spaces for meetings, sensitive work (such as accounting and procurement) and a CEO’s office.

«When fit-out began, a major obstacle was the outdated lease outline drawings provided by the landlord, such as columns that weren’t in the initial drawings and a lot of unforeseen MEP issues came to light. As a solution, we hid columns between walls which served to create a less stiff, more intimate atmosphere. Then we placed all the MEP machines above the closed offices allowing for the height/volume in the common area to be maximized and sight-lines between the various zones improved», said Omar.

Visitors are welcomed to the office at a reception desk clad with sisal panels and framed with olive green-stained walnut. The antique agricultural objects that dot the space were carefully sourced by Nakkash Design Studio, as were the artworks by Nigerian artist Bob Nosa on the walls.

Beyond the reception, a central open-plan space with two boardroom tables sits at the heart of the office, while six offices for both quiet and collaborative work, a pantry, an IT room and a meeting room line the perimeter of the floor plan. Throughout, the interior feels warm and welcoming; more akin to a residential environment than a corporate one thanks to thoughtful details such as sisal wall panels, integrated greenery, weathered timber plinths and benches made from Cambodian door frames that are used to display sculptures.

Floors are finished in a neutral-coloured micro cement while stucco paint blended with hay was applied to the walls to create a tactile and uneven finish. These surface finishes were applied to mimic some of the textures present throughout Africa, such as its traditional clay building techniques, but also to soften the corporate-formal and angular lines of the office’s steel and glass skeleton. Undulating panels with soundproof insulation were also inserted around the base of the glass partitions in some of the offices to further soften the spaces while providing more privacy in meeting rooms.

A sculptural table with a walnut top and an oval-shaped void in its weighty solid walnut base sits at the center of the office’s pantry. It is surrounded by olive green-stained veneer cabinetry that houses the company’s huge archive with spotlight niches for displaying artworks to break the monotony. Overhead, a stainless steel lighting fixture mirrors the shape of the table bringing the focus to the center of the room.

In the central open-plan office portraits by Nigerian artist Slam Austin are inset into the walls creating a gallery-like atmosphere. The bronze trim floating frames that surround the wall-mounted artworks were created by skilled craftsmen from neighboring emirate Sharjah who work with the galleries in Dubai’s art district, Alserkal Avenue. A long walnut boardroom table with an in-built planter at its center stretches the length of the space and is set with white Sayl chairs designed by Yves Béhar for Herman Miller that provide a sleek foil to the office’s more rustic elements.

Concludes Omar, «we’re delighted with the result of our first office project. Jade Stone’s HQ stands out in a city filled with lack-lustre dry office fit outs. We hope this level of detail and care for all those that come into the space on a daily basis, unique corporate environments such as these will be the future of office spaces post-Covid and will encourage more employees to return».

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