Opus by Omniyat, UAE

Pic: Laurian Ghinitoiu

The marriage of Zaha Hadid’s iconic architectural vision, and the ever-expanding opulence of Dubai would seem to be a perfect match to most architecture aficionados. This dream pairing was brought to life with the completion of the Opus earlier this year.

Home to the new ME Dubai Hotel, the Opus is located in the Burj Khalifa district adjacent to Downtown Dubai and Business Bay on the Dubai Water Canal. Exploring the balance between solid and void, opaque and transparent, interior and exterior, the design was presented by the late Zaha Hadid herself way back in 2007, and is notable in that it is the only hotel in which she created both its architecture and interiors.

Spanning 84,300sqm, the Opus was designed as two separate towers that “coalesce into a singular whole”, taking the form of a cube. The cube has been “eroded” in its centre, creating a typically Zaha Hadid free-form void that is an important volume of the design in its own right. The two halves of the building on either side of the void are linked by a four-storey atrium at ground level, as well as an asymmetric, 38-metre-wide, three-storey bridge 71-metres above the ground.

“The precise orthogonal geometries of the Opus’ elemental glass cube contrast dramatically with the fluidity of the eight-storey void at its centre,” explained Christos Passas, Project Director at Zaha Hadid Architects.

The cube’s double-glazed insulating façades incorporate a UV coating and a mirrored frit pattern to reduce solar gain. Applied around the entire building, this dotted frit patterning emphasises the clarity of the building’s form, while at the same time dissolving its volume through the continuous play of light varying between ever-changing reflections and transparency.

The void’s 6,000sqm façade is created from 4,300 individual units of flat, single-curved or double-curved glass. This curved façade was designed using digital 3D modelling that also identified specific zones that required tempered glass. During the day, the cube’s façade reflects the sky, the sun and the surrounding city, while at night, the void is illuminated by a dynamic light installation of individually controllable LEDs within each glass panel.

The lighting design for the exterior void was developed by dpa lighting consultants, who were asked to provide “an interesting and practical solution to the façade lighting, and to take into consideration the visual appearance during the day and night, and the desired seamless appearance and integration into the façade,” explained Michael Curry, Senior Associate at dpa lighting consultants.

A critical design consideration for dpa was to ensure that the lighting equipment did not detract from or compromise the beautiful, smooth flowing form of the internal void. Maintenance and energy were also important considerations, as well as the infrastructure and integration into such an elegantly detailed façade.

Curry continued: “The void forms an important volume and canvas to which the lighting could complement by only lighting this void, leaving the outer body of the building to sit like a monumental mirrored sculpture. Our intentions were to provide dynamic lighting options with the LED pixels being used to create visual interest that could be used on a day-to-day basis as a sophisticated solution or subtle and soft colour, through to providing more dynamic event lighting solutions and specific designs used for specific dates within the UAE and world calendar, for example.”

For dpa, the project spanned several years from concept to completion, first joining the project in 2013, with various interesting challenges to illuminate such a unique and complicated piece of architecture. And while the brief called for a relatively simple solution, Curry added that “there was a lot of detailed work carried out post-design stage with the manufacturer’s design team with regards to visual and technical development”.

As such, dpa collaborated closely with ZHA and other team members, alongside lighting manufacturers Vexica to develop a unique, bespoke product that would integrate seamlessly into the façade of the void. This resulted in the installation of 5,000 individually controllable 1.5W LED ‘points’ of light, which provide a sophisticated and dynamic lighting solution. Using Pharos’ DMX lighting control system, programmed by Creation, enabled unique tailoring of the content, with the LED ‘pixels’ acting as a creative tool with which to paint light across the inner void of the façade.

Inside, the ME Dubai hotel incorporates 74 rooms and 19 suites, while the Opus building also houses office floors, serviced residences and restaurants, cafés and bars, including contemporary Japanese robatayaki restaurant ROKA and the Maine Land Brasserie.

Typical Zaha Hadid flourishes and themes permeate the interior of the Opus, as undulating curves and unusual shapes feature throughout the building. 

While dpa lighting consultants designed the lighting for the external void, the interior lighting design was developed by Illuminate Lighting Design. Rikus De Kock, Lighting Project Director at Illuminate, explained: “Illuminate was signed on the back end of 2014 to work with ZHA and our interior parent company, HBA, to take ZHA’s design direction and implement it for construction documentation.

“Opus was a bit different to our usual projects in the way that we typically have one lead design consultant and we just work with them on the lighting side. Here we had a very specific design direction from ZHA that included the overall lighting mood, and we had to work out all the technicalities with HBA to make it a reality.”

The brief for the interior lighting design, De Kock explained, came more in a “language of renders and visuals”, rather than a specific narrative. However, “through the visuals it was clear that the lighting design was extremely clean, with typical ZHA curved lines. The same language flowed from the rooms throughout the public areas.”

De Kock added that while the design changed during the timeline of the project, the overall intent of clean ceilings and curved lines remained the main focus. This is evident throughout, with the use of hidden linear fixtures creating flowing lines of light that seamlessly blend into the fabric of the building.

This feeling of flow is something that stood out to De Kock while working on the project – particularly considering the typically atypical interior design from ZHA. “It was refreshing to work on a design that is not typical,” he said. “I come from the theatrical side of lighting, and back then we deliberately strived to make everything unusual. A typical ZHA design is always ‘flowing’, and the form of the design is a driving factor. Once you get into the ‘flow’ of the design, it is quite remarkable how the lighting design just follows.

“The main challenge was to match the technical specifications of the lighting to match the design intent and still achieve the correct lux levels where needed. Luckily in the age we are in with lighting and technology, we could overcome this quite easily.”

While ZHA presented De Kock and the Illuminate team with a series of visuals to guide the lighting design, he explained that the entire process felt more collaborative, rather than the architects dictating what they wanted. “It was mainly a two-way street,” he said. “ZHA would provide us with the visuals of their design intent, and some elements of the lighting design were then ‘fixed’, so to speak.

“For example, if we had a cove or pendant in an area from their design intent, we would work to keep it, but we would also do the lighting study and add or modify the lighting where it was needed. We would then get back to the ZHA team with our comments. However, in some areas we had more of a free reign as the ZHA design was purely interior and no lighting was added, therefore we had to do the lighting concept based on that.”

In these instances, De Kock took inspiration from the wider work of Zaha Hadid to create a lighting scheme that would live up to the striking architecture. “I did a lot of studies on all of her designs, and how they evolved into the Opus,” he said. “As the actual architecture of the building is a masterpiece, I drew from that for the lighting design.”

Throughout the building, Illuminate specified a combination of spotlights and downlights from the likes of Reggiani, Ecosense, iGuzzini and LightGraphix to complement linear light strips from LED Flex. “The fixture selection was 100% driven by the design and technical performance that we had to get out of it to still make the lighting functional,” explained De Kock. “We wanted to keep it as clean as possible, and used low glare fixtures wherever possible.”

Although the fixtures specified by Illuminate were eventually value engineered out of the project due to budget restrictions, De Kock is pleased with the final outcome, believing that the “overall lighting design intent can be seen, and it complements the architecture”.

Indeed for a project such as this, so driven by the remarkable architecture and interior design, it is important that the lighting design doesn’t draw focus; instead it needs to serve as an accompaniment, highlighting Hadid’s beautiful architectural design. In both the interior and exterior lighting design, Illuminate and dpa respectively developed seamless lighting solutions, showcasing the latest jewel in the Zaha Hadid crown.