Ok. It didn’t really happen that way, but it sort of did. Back in 2013 we received an inquiry through Houzz from Dubai based Emaar Properties who wanted to work with us on designing a series of 6 Villas to be built in Dubai. You might know Emaar as the company that manages the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. NO BIG.


This building is very, very tall.

Suffice it to say, there were some skeptics in the Studio. After all, do giant foreign companies really trawl Houzz looking for architects? 

The short answer is: Yes.

After a lot of back and forth and much “contracting” (the part that happens before the “architecting”) we had the task of designing 2 versions each of 6 Villas in a country on the other side of the world.

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So there we were with the 2nd largest project ever to come into the studio and a pretty full docket. Naturally, we turned and handed it over to Studio designer Stefan Bader. And it went great. The end!

Just kidding.

Not only was this the 2nd largest project for the studio, it was the largest Stefan had managed.  And it wasn’t just managing the details of the project, it meant managing over half of the Studio. It also meant a LOT of research.

First, we were given this document. 


If you’ve misplaced your copy, we have duplicates.

Don’t let the jazzy name and font treatment fool you, this is a very serious document full of everything we had to learn about designing and building in Dubai. We were also given a very robust matrix for the interiors. Number of bedrooms, dimensions, etc.

Emaar requested two versions of the Villas because they wanted to see the interior program with two different exteriors. One exterior that would fit into a modern aesthetic and a second version more representative of traditional Islamic design. Commence office wide research on traditional Islamic architecture. That part was fun. We learned about the historic use of towers surrounding interior courtyards that draw hot air in, up, and out of their tops – a Middle Eastern version of the dog trot! These internal courtyards are a hallmark of Islamic design. In fact, Islamic architecture is sometimes called the “architecture of the veil” because of the emphasis placed on the beauty of the inner spaces and rooms not seen from the street. These inner sanctuaries are also places where the women of the house can relax and enjoy being outside without wearing their hijab.

Then we had to figure out, in addition to the client’s program requirements, what on earth we were going to put into a 20,000 sq.ft. Villa. That’s right. 20,000 sq.ft. The average home size in the U.S. in 2013 was 2,600 sq.ft. Through our research we learned that homes this size have a lot of “non-standard” features. In the homes of the ultra rich, glass walled car barns and indoor basketball courts and pools are de rigueur.

[spacer height=”20px”]Also, the METRIC SYSTEM. Stefan (a native German) was ahead of the curve on that one but the rest of his team, a little less so. That said, because we design on an 8 inch grid here in the Studio and that nicely translates to a 20 cm grid, it wasn’t nearly the stumbling block it could have been. As an added bonus we now have an office of full of metric scales waiting to confuse the designers at every turn!

[spacer height=”20px”]Stefan and the team jumped in and took the puzzle pieces given to them by the client and after 6 months of collaboration, crazy long days/nights, and ALL OF THE CAFFEINE, there they were. Two versions of 6 Villas that not only made the client happy, but became a project that we are very proud of. Below are Stefan’s favorite renderings of the Villas but if you’d like to see the alternate versions of each of them you can click —-> here.

[spacer height=”20px”]Stefan and his team saw these designs through the SD (Schematic Design) Phase and we’re hoping to be involved when they move on to construction. “Road trip” anyone?

As the team neared completion on these 6 Villas Emaar called again and were like, “HEY GUYS! We love these! Can you design 6 more?!” And of course we said “Absolutely!” The timing was perfect! Stefan and his wife Jen were just about to have their first baby so he had TONS of free time.

Stay tuned for Dubai: Part Two (Now with new Management!)

Through a very precise combination of caffeine and really loud running shoes, Stefan has managed to bend the arc of time and add about 100 hours to any given work week. Loving husband, and proud Papi to his boy Augi, Stefan doesn’t need to be told to bring his A-Game. He’s German.