The newly opened ME Dubai hotel at the Opus by Zaha Hadid Architects is set in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa district. The Opus is a mirrored glass building occupied by a hotel, offices, serviced apartments and several restaurants. Leading Dubai based real estate developer Omniyat chose famed architect Zaha Hadid as early as 2007, to create a landmark building which would stand out as an icon in the heart of the metropolis.
Without any doubt, the complicated building is spectacular from every angle and at any time of the day. Externally the building appears to be a giant cube with an amorphous hole pushing through its centre, although it is in fact a pair of towers connected at the top and bottom to create the void effect. The precise orthogonal geometries of the Opus’ elemental glass cube contrast dramatically with the fluidity of the eight-storey void at its centre explained Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) project director Christos Passas.
A four-storey atrium sits at the base of the two towers. Above the gap, a three-storey bridge starts 71 metres from the ground. The inside of the void is lit up at night by a constellation of lights, each individually controllable, set into the undulating glass. Its lobby sits directly under the Opus’ signature void, which forms its glass ceiling. Three stories of galleries with projecting balconies ring the perimeter of the space.
Spanish group Melia International is operating the hotel at the Opus under its luxury lifestyle brand ME by Melia operates the ME Dubai hotel at the Opus is the only hotel in the world that can claim to have had both its exterior and interiors designed by the late Zaha Hadid. The five star ranked hotel features an ideal accommodations inventory with 74 rooms and 19 suites, allowing for a high standards of personalised service. This is the second such statement five star property under the ME by Melia brand, after ME London which was designed by Foster & Partners.
The majestic lobby or better to say atrium, is breathtaking, beyond what some call a ”WOW factor”. Every single inch has been carefully conceived, with a most intricate lighting, recreating certain ”moods” from subdued and understated during day-time, with predominant natural light, while the afternoon and evenings transform into a spectacle of colours – reflective, sleek and even dramatic. The lobby is almost like a catwalk, making anyone feel ‘under a spotlight’ – just stand by in the evenings and watch guests descend from their rooms all dressed up for dinner.
Gleaming white marble floors are highlighted by the golden edges of plush curved seating areas, upholstered in a rich burgundy. Called Ottomans, these seating pods are by Zaha Hadid Design, the design wing of ZHA. A golden wall curves behind the white hotel reception desks, which are angled and lit by strips of lighting that match the balconies above. Slim golden edges top the glass balustrades of the balconies, which are set at an angle tilting back from the undulating edges. Benches on the balconies, with deep navy cushions set in curving golden frames, are from Zaha Hadid Design’s Petalinas collection.
There is an intentional ‘sleek’ factor enhanced by the superb quality of furnishings which is obvious even to the naked eye in all public areas. One can instantly realise that with such an intricate and complex structure, the functionality of the building would be an exceptional architectural achievement. The building features most of the ‘essentials’ of a luxury hotel such as a silent AC adapting instantly to the desired temperature, high water pressure in the shower and soundproofing.
The outdoor pool falls short of the same WOW factor, with a rather bohemian feel. Being at a relatively low floor, the pool area is quite noisy due to Dubai’s intense traffic at almost any time of the day. The hotel operates a breakfast venue, a Latin American inspired restaurant called DESEO which also has an outdoor space and BOTANICA an Italian flavoured gin & tonic bar on the lobby level. During my stay, there was also a ‘station’ (round vitrine) of Belgian chocolaterie brand MARCOLINI,
Without an extensive experienced in designing dining venues, Zaha Hadid created two rather lacklustre spaces. Ironically, the two venues are completely overshadowed by the highly successful diners, The MAINE Brasserie (locally developed concept with already 3 locations) and ROKA (the famed international concept), which are not operated by the hotel. Because of the positioning of the two restaurants, guests can access them without even crossing the lobby of the hotel. This is not a negative feature, the two non-operated restaurants being a major attraction especially for locals.
Zaha Hadid Design’s lack of experience with hotel interiors is also evident in the accommodations which almost seem like not belonging to the same hotel, featuring nothing from immense WOW factor of the outdoor (facade / exteriors) and public spaces. Zaha Hadid Design overtly admit that ME Dubai was their first project for which they designed the interiors too, specifically referring to accommodations. It could also be that the initial plans did not include a hotel, hence the odd structuring of some rooms and suites as well as the outdoor pool. In a video from 2015, posted by Zaha Hadid on YouTube, the title is Opus Offices Dubai.
The aesthetic of the accommodation looks very similar to the lifestyle brands of other groups such as Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. The quality of furnishings, especially the furniture is average when compared to all the custom-made pieces in the public spaces. Beds are rather uncomfortable, not only the mattress but also the ‘frame’ made of wood cover in faux leather. The apparent ‘intricate’ lighting, the colour schemes and direct short-distance views over a construction site (still in foundation phase) make the rooms feel cold and impersonal.
In my suite, a Chic Suite, the separate living room felt more like a waiting area with a basic faux leather couch. Bathrooms compensate in size, with large walk in showers and hers and his sinks. Another plus, is the choice of amenities are by Natura Bisse, the Spanish luxury skincare brand.
With a property so much dominated by the product, guests may have mixed expectations, which could be an advantage for both Melia Internarional and Roya International which operate the hotel to have a laser focus at positioning, especially in Dubai over-saturate five-star / luxury hotel sectors.
Nowadays, Dubai’s luxury hotels are very much split between city location and beach location, a preference given to beach / resort type of hotels. ME Dubai could very well establish itself as an urban resort, with a strong lifestyle component anchored in architecture and the arts – the hotel already features an rather small space dedicated to ephemeral art exhibitions.
Front Office, Guest Relations, Spa and housekeeping provide high service standards with highly skilled ‘Aura Managers’ acting as butlers. Except the dramatic atrium design, the breakfast venue felt austere, with mediocre service and limited selection of dishes, oddly motivated by the pandemic.
During my stay, I learned that the owners and operators have major plans to reconfigure the lobby and how F&B venues are integrated and there were plans to open an expansive luxury night club lounge (covering an entire floor), the franchise of a major international brand originating from Ibiza, where Melia also operated a ME by Melia property.
Oliver Petcu in Dubai
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