Architect and owner of one of Dubai’s few boutique architecture firms. Here he shows us inside his home
The whitewashed walls reaching towards Dubai’s ubiquitous blue sky betray nothing of the breathtaking exterior. In a dusty plot to the south of the city, in a suburb called Al Barsha, lies Khalid Najjar’s villa, which upon entering feels like stepping into another world. The 15,000-square-foot property is floating on a panel of 1×1 metre marble and the vast floor to ceiling windows reveal the entire living space curved around a courtyard and a large pool. It has been designed and built so as to reveal the rituals of everyday life from every angle.
‘The house is like a stage,’ says Najjar with a sweeping gesture. ‘It is a set for your domestic activities; the theatrics of everyday life.’
The founder and owner of the boutique architecture firm DXB-Lab revels in the enjoyment of life and his eyes sparkle as he describes his space. ‘Everything is very spatial,’ he continues. ‘It is not about rooms, it is about spaces and the house has been designed on a loop so that all of it is used.’
The property is an open plan with two layers designed to have distinctly separate functions. Downstairs, the space comprises a living and dining room that surround a large kitchen, internal courtyard and open onto the pool. It is positioned in such a way that throughout the day the shadows play on the exterior and interior walls and bathe the entire ground floor in light. Upstairs, where the master bedroom and three smaller bedrooms are located, is divided and it is purposely darker. ‘This is to force everyone to come downstairs and use the communal areas,’ he explains. ‘We have three children and my wife and I love cooking so we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. The whole house is visually connected because of the use of glass and in it we enjoy our daily theatrics.’
The marble or travertine that Najjar sourced for the exterior plate and another similar bench that runs around the entire ground floor level, came from a quarry in Germany but the rest of the house is made from concrete and simpler materials. ‘It is not opulent in terms of material,’ he says. ‘It is actually a play with mostly humble material and a few noble ones. At the end of the day,’ he shrugs, ‘it is an architect’s house.’
Despite displaying dream-like qualities in many aspects, Najjar says this is not so much a Utopian living space, more of an experiment. ‘The house marks a phase in the development of my ideas,’ says the Emirati, who studied in Columbia University in New York. ‘There were several different concepts and it was continuously evolving until it got to the point where I had to stop and build it. I think you could call this a first generation house.’
The house is like a stage for the theatrics of everyday life
Contemporary, spatial and open plan might seem to be at odds with the more traditional houses in the Emirati community, but Najjar explains that the concept is actually one firmly grounded in his roots. ‘It is essentially a courtyard house and the design is very similar to domestic, Arabian architecture, where the elements are turned inwards, creating an environment for the people living there, but not for outsiders to see. This is very much part of our culture.’
Since building the house over 18 months and completing it in 2009, Najjar says he has designed four or five others for his friends and contemporaries and is currently working on a few commercial properties in his native Dubai. ‘We do many different properties, some private, some commercial and some residential but nothing on a large scale,’ he says. ‘I like to keep things on a small to medium level and develop my style.’
Although his days are filled with appointments and site viewings that can stretch on for hours, the architect says there is nothing that makes him happier than reaching home, switching off and cooking a meal for his family. He is a selfconfessed home addict.
‘Living like this makes you very aware of your every day life,’ he muses. ‘You don’t take anything for granted. It might look simple but it is truly an experience that you have to live to understand it. Our house might not do everything but it does a few things very well and we are very happy.’