Design Talk: Anarchitect

Founder Jonathan Ashmore discusses shifts in the UAE real estate market and the Anarchitect approach to aesthetics

27 Jun 2022, words by Laura Cherrie Beaney in Design & Architecture

Jonathan Ashmore, Anarchitect

Based in Dubai and London, Anarchitect is an award-winning architecture, interior architecture and design practice. Their international projects span private residences, leisure, hospitality, workplace and culture. A boutique Sri Lankan hotel that mines tropical modernism and the visual legacy of Bawa and the striking Al Faya Desert Retreat and Spa in Sharjah - a project that pioneers the region’s architectural movement towards adaptive reuse of heritage buildings - are just some of the firm's recent accomplishments. Their projects, at the crux of understated luxury and contextually modern architecture challenge and blend disciplinary confines. 

Founding Principal Jonathan Ashmore is a regular contributor to discourse surrounding architecture and design, a design critic and speaker at international academic institutions. We sit down with him to discover the “Anarchitect approach” and the recent shifts in the UAE’s luxury property market.

Jonathan: I’m originally from the UK and completed my architectural education at the renowned Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London almost two decades ago. 

My two early passions were design and athletics. Together they helped me to carve my competitive focus and professionalism into a prospective career in architecture from a young age. Architects that embrace craftsmanship and tactility such as Carlo Scarpa and Peter Zumthor first captured my imagination. 

A life balance of physical wellness, a fair dose of drive and a creative work process have followed me throughout my career and pushed me to work for a number of highly recognised architecture practices in the UK and the Middle East before I founded my own now award-winning RIBA Chartered practice; Anarchitect in Dubai in 2013. We subsequently expanded to open the London studio in 2019 and are currently designing and completing internationally published projects across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe.

Al Faya by Anarchitect
Al Faya Desert Retreat & Spa | Photography by Fernando Guerra
Anarchitect is an approach. The practice considers all scales of design across architecture, interiors and bespoke design through the eyes of an architect; meticulous in detail and aesthetics, rational in form and function and inspired by context, natural light and materiality.
Photography by Fernando Guerra
Al Faya Desert Retreat & Spa in Sharjah | Photography by Fernando Guerra

Jonathan: Anarchitect is an approach. The practice considers all scales of design across architecture, interiors and bespoke design through the eyes of an architect; meticulous in detail and aesthetics, rational in form and function and inspired by context, natural light and materiality. We pursue the emotional influence that buildings and spaces have upon humankind and the considerate creation of the built environment. 

Our clients are international, travelled and aesthete individuals or organisations who believe in great design that is timeless, refined and understated. Their pursuit is to create buildings, projects and spaces that challenge the every day and make a lasting impression on society, culture and future context. 

Anarchitect's work is diverse, working across multiple typologies and scales. The practice engages a progressive and passionate approach to architecture and design working internationally. The studio has become highly regarded for carving its own niche of destination architecture and hospitality with high-end private residences and boutique hotels and retreats that draw clients and visitors into unique and breath-taking contexts. For our award-winning Al Faya Desert Retreat & Spa in Sharjah’s prehistoric desert landscape we turned two abandoned structures; a derelict clinic and a grocery store into a 5-rooms luxury desert boutique hotel which made waves across the design industry with its primordial and experiential richness. Similarly, the Harding Boutique Hotel in Sri Lanka we recently designed with a contemporary take on Tropical Modernism got published globally. These opposing contexts (desert and tropics) excite us and unleash creative purists for both entrepreneurial clients and our Anarchitect team.

Harding Boutique Hotel
Harding Boutique Hotel | Photography by Edmund Sumner
Harding Boutique Hotel | Photography by Edmund Sumner
Harding Boutique Hotel, Ahangama, Sri Lanka | Photography by Edmund Sumner

Jonathan: Whether natural or man-made; context influences and drives the approach for all our projects. The suitability of program, function and relevance ensure projects have a positive impact and long-term contribution to the place in which they are built, enhancing life for its residents, guests, and occupants. 

Each project is an opportunity to challenge convention; this is explored through a rigorous and thorough design process and with a creative passion. Understanding our role and responsibility as architects and interior designers helps shape the lives of our clients and the built world around us. 

The UAE’s UHNW property market has really accelerated again over the last year with many new international clients looking to become residents in Dubai. Many of our clients were looking at plot purchases to then build a highly-tailored private residence for themselves as their new permanent residence following relocation. Other HNW clients are looking at large duplex and penthouse properties for full redesign and renovation for their second/third homes as they reside between various countries and properties throughout the year. Many of them are reaching out to premier luxury realtors like LUXHABITAT Sotheby’s to help them not just identify their dream property but to advise them and guide them through the challenging process and introduce them to the best in the class professionals. 

We believe the recent wave of international private investment and relocation to be more long-term than previous waves as the Dubai and the UAE property market has further matured over the years and the innovative leadership has put in place new measures that further support growth and freedom to reside and prosper in the UAE.  

Jonathan Ashmore, Anarchitect
We see design aficionados, both international and local, moving past a predicated opulence and now looking towards more understated luxury properties that are sensitive to context, nature and modern with an honest material palette which we are always passionate about and excited to pursue.
Al Faya Desert Retreat & Spa in Sharjah | Photography by Fernando Guerra
Al Faya Desert Retreat & Spa in Sharjah | Photography by Fernando Guerra

Jonathan: Each of Anarchitect’s clients are looking to us for bespoke, high-tailored projects across all scales and typologies that deliver on quality and design integrity that is aligned with the very highest standards and expectations of any global destination. We see design aficionados, both international and local, moving past a predicated opulence and now looking towards more understated luxury properties that are sensitive to context, nature and modern with an honest material palette which we are always passionate about and excited to pursue. 

Anarchitect is currently working on the architecture and interiors of a private new-build beachfront villa on Jumeira Bay Island for an international client. The interiors, remodelling and furniture design for a private duplex penthouse in Dubai, alongside a luxury boutique hotel extension and a fifty-key coastal eco-retreat with international hotel operators in the UAE. In London, we are working on a large high-end health club and spa in a London landmark and a Private mews house and conversion in Belgravia, London. While in central and eastern Europe we are exploring a number of new destination architecture and hospitality projects that include a rural wine retreat on the edge of the national park north of Belgrade, Serbia. In Asia, we have just completed and globally published our Sri Lanka Boutique Hotel that opened in February this year and in Africa, we have two private residences on-site in Nairobi Kenya and Kampala in Uganda for the UHNW clients based between Africa and Dubai.