An architect by profession, Dariush Zandi can be best described as a local legend and an icon in the arts & cultural community. As the founder of the cultural and artistic oasis, The Courtyard in Al Quoz, Dariush's work has included the restoration of historical buildings and their conversion into museums – such as the Naif Fort and Dubai Museum. The former Chairman of The UAE Architectural Heritage Society English Chapter also created urban masterplans for Dubai and worked on projects for landmarks such as Sheikh Saeed House, Safa Park, and Mushrif Park, making him a vital part of the city's architecture & design fabric. Drawing from the history of the region and collecting bits and bobs of interesting artifacts that include a deconstructed yurt, luminaires from churches in New York’s Soho Cast Iron District (where he has also been an active member of the arts community), and unique pieces curated by him and his wife; every piece has its own story. His work is best described as poetic in terms of approach with a distinct nod to his time in Dubai, spanning over 40 years.
To me, he is one of my personal cultural heroes and icons in the local design space; interviewing Dariush is what I consider a career highlight. Dariush was one of the first buyers of the lofts in Jumeirah Beach Residence. Here is how he has curated his home, which I would describe best as minimalist in approach but maximalist by impression.
Dariush: I bought the house shell and core, and at the time, there was no flooring other than just concrete with exposed piping, and wiring everywhere. And then there were pipes everywhere on the floor. The walls were here, but they were very rough. It was great because it allowed me to think of it as an artist would - like a blank canvas.
This floor was not designed to be a loft at all, but a space for things like electrical plumbing facilities and a water tank for the building. There was no special attention paid to the views and only one window was placed downstairs as well as one upstairs. I suggested changes to open up the space with windows because it would be a shame not to have this wonderful view! Luckily, my suggestions were accepted by the developers, and the effort to make sure all of the windows were made. If you look at any of the other buildings in this complex, none have such large windows.
I wanted to make the best utilization of the height and space so adding a floor would have lost these undulating forms that were already there. I added dedicated spotlights because of the numerous artwork and wall hangings that needed luminaries. I also added very simple flooring.
The views from this house are phenomenal. You can view all the action - the planes for Skydive Dubai, incoming storms, and the birds in the morning. There are countless beautiful sunsets to see. Nature in action is the most beautiful thing you can see, especially from a height like this.
I love lofts, it's just the way I like to live. I think it's over 30 years that I haven't been living in a normal apartment. I like the openness, we don't have to fence ourselves. Upstairs is our bedroom, but there is no wall there. And when I'm standing here in the kitchen, I can see the sky. I've placed pieces from a deconstructed Turkmenistani yurt to create a sort of definition of the wall but it would still be considered an open bedroom.
Hand railings in general don’t look good so I’ll try to stay away from them as much as I can; I disagree with anything that forms a barrier, which is why I went with a floating staircase. I kept the shell and core of the loft and didn't try to hide anything or remove anything. I like to consider myself a purist; if it's not there, I don't want to add to it. I thought the more I add, the more I disturb. I just wanted everything to be the simplest and the least cluttered as possible.
The little alcove there in the kitchen was already there, we added parts of a wooden old boat as a kitchen counter and repurposed it. I salvaged this piece from Al Jaddaf while going to take photographs of the docks. I had to cut it in half to bring it to the loft since it was so large and didn’t fit in the elevator. I then filled the crack with lighting. I bought kitchen drawers to fit it out. The front board has been sourced after an exhibition at our gallery that showcased a collaboration between Richard Prince and Gucci.
I work with found objects - the light in the living space is the top part of the Turkmenistani yurt. I filled the holes of the yurt top with lightbulbs to make it into a working chandelier.
I love to collect and save things as well as recycle. The chests in the house are all found in old houses that I used to visit before they were been demolished- they are pearl diver chests. The lamps are from Saint Patrick's church in Soho, New York; they were restoring this church, which was the old Cathedral Of New York before the one on Fifth Avenue got built. These lamps were in the basement of the church where they buried notable people going back to the 1700s to early 1800s.