A Strong Sense of Community

An interview with Randa Tukan, director of hospitality at global architecture firm HOK, about design concepts in the Arab region and sustainability as a continuing goal.

Mrs. Tukan, HOK has designed a broad range of projects in the Arab region. The office was lead designer of the master plan for the Dubai World Expo 2020. Your Marina Mall in Doha is under construction. How do concepts of living and architecture in the Arab region differ from those in the U.S.?
One remarkable aspect of the Arab culture is the importance of human relationships and strong sense of community. Life revolves around social interactions. By contrast, the U.S. is experiencing a cultural trend toward a more disconnected, isolated existence. These social trends translate into architecture. Many North American shopping malls are being replaced by online shopping and urban city centers. Yet malls in the Middle East are being developed at a fast pace because they remain interactive communities with entertainment and programmed activities, from shopping, eating and entertainment to healthcare, leisure activities and prayer. Inspired by the souk tradition, these civic centers have been at the heart of the Middle Eastern culture for centuries.
We see similar trends in residential developments. In North America, living spaces in residential units are shrinking. In the Middle East, living spaces remain generous. Inviting someone into one’s home is still a symbol of hospitality. At a larger scale, successful residential communities integrate a mixed-use component that combines multiple buildings that share retail spaces. Dubai Marina was one of the region’s first developments to embody this concept.

The Marina Mall will combine retail areas with cinemas, spa facilities, restaurants and exhibition spaces. What are the main aims of the design?
The design supports Doha’s vision for a vibrant, community-oriented lifestyle for the Lusail waterfront and its 19 mixed-use districts. The iconic design is inspired by the natural forms created as the land meets the sea. These building forms represent pebbles that have been eroded by the sea’s waves lapping against the shore. This sea theme is reiterated throughout the structure with water features and organic shapes. An internal body of water guides visitors through the mall, with waterfalls linking different levels. Sustainable design strategies will contribute to a QSAS 5 rating, equivalent to LEED Platinum.

Your office designed the interior for the new luxurious Rosewood Hotel in Abu Dhabi. How did you merge spaces, materials and cultural influences to achieve a specific atmosphere?
The interior spaces take cues from the local topography and culture, merging the vastness of the desert’s white sand dunes with the crystal blue of the Arabian Sea. This sleek, modern aesthetic creates a feeling of understated elegance. The grand lobby, with a backdrop of the surrounding waterways and sea, is bordered by a flowing water feature and a dramatic wall of art. Soft tonal colors are inspired by the textural essence of the desert landscape and balanced by bursts of blues and greens. Full-height windows in guestrooms offer 360-degree panoramas. Local artwork is on display throughout the hotel.

Where do you see the main challenges for the near future for the design of living spaces in this region?
Designing for energy efficiency and overall sustainability continues to be a primary goal. Though the Middle East is home to several highly sustainable buildings, many more consume an enormous amount of energy. An increased focus on the history of design and construction in the region can provide inspiration and lessons for innovative, place-based sustainability strategies.


Randa Tukan, IDC, LEED AP BD+C, is a director of hospitality at HOK, a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm with 23 offices. HOK‘s projects in the Arab region include the master plan for the Opera District in Dubai, the new Hamad International Airport Passenger Terminal Complex in Doha and the expansion of the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, originally designed by HOK 30 years ago.


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