In­fin­ity and be­yond

New hori­zons from a very pri­vate Per­sian Gulf guest house

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Perched on a fun­nel-shaped slice of land on the coast of Bahrain’s man­made Reef Is­land, the sculp­tural Reef guest house is some­thing of an ‘alien in its sur­round­ings’, ad­mits its ar­chi­tect Jalal Al­na­j­jar. From the street, its vast an­gu­lar en­trance – four tilt­ing planes of pris­tine plas­ter an­gled to­wards a tow­er­ing 3m door – makes for an in­trigu­ing spec­ta­cle along­side its more con­ven­tional neigh­bours. The Bahrain-based ar­chi­tect, whose port­fo­lio in­cludes lux­ury res­i­dences and show­stop­ping pub­lic build­ings, de­signed the five-bed­room prop­erty for a lo­cal client who wanted a spec­tac­u­lar but pri­vate space for en­ter­tain­ing high-pro­file guests. ‘Al­most ev­ery­thing in the house was cus­tom made,’ says Al­na­j­jar of the four-year project. ‘It was the most com­plex and am­bi­tious project of my ca­reer to date.

‘With the en­trance, the idea was to have this re­ally mono­lithic vol­ume, even the door, all ren­dered in the same ma­te­rial, a plas­ter that we im­ported from Italy,’ he says. ‘The span of the top of the en­trance is 26m, but you get this pa­per-thin line.’

Be­yond the prop­erty’s walls are villas, glossy tow­ers, ho­tels, shops, a yacht club and a ma­rina, nes­tled amid land­scaped gar­dens. How­ever, once you’re in­side the house, none of this is ap­par­ent. Al­na­j­jar, who worked along­side Chris Briffa Ar­chi­tects on the

‘Peo­ple ex­pect to walk into the house; in­stead they are blown away by this view’

early con­cept and in­te­ri­ors stages of the project, says he wanted the house to of­fer guests a ‘tran­scen­dent ex­pe­ri­ence’.

Upon en­ter­ing, vis­i­tors find them­selves in a court­yard where a tan­ta­lis­ing strip of turquoise sea is per­fectly framed by the build­ing’s three traver­tine and con­crete vol­umes. On the left is a pool house with a dra­mat­i­cally slop­ing roof, on the right is the main liv­ing area and, above, its can­tilevered first floor jut­ting across the walk­way. The build­ings bow to­wards each other, with the cor­ner of the first floor just mil­lime­tres from the pool house roof. The ar­range­ment cre­ates a very pri­vate space at the plot’s cen­tre, where an in­fin­ity pool blurs with the Per­sian Gulf. ‘Peo­ple ex­pect to walk into the house, but in­stead they are met with this court­yard and view,’ says Al­na­j­jar. ‘There is no way any­one could not be blown away by it.’

With glazed façades ori­ented to­wards the sea, the build­ings are in­spired by tra­di­tional Bahraini court­yard houses that used wind tow­ers to catch the cool­ing, pre­vail­ing north­west winds. ‘Here you have a sim­i­lar ef­fect with a V-shaped floor plan,’ ex­plains Al­na­j­jar. ‘So, as the wind comes in over the wa­ter, it speeds up and cools the space.’

In the liv­ing area, an en­ter­tain­ing space is backed by a wall of glass and teak slats that of­fer pri­vacy and fea­ture in­te­grated light­ing and shelv­ing. ‘This wall was cre­ated to soften the ef­fect of the mas­sive can­tilevered vol­ume above,’ says Al­na­j­jar. ‘We used slen­der columns on the ground floor to make the first floor ap­pear al­most to be float­ing.’ Run­ning along­side the glass and teak wall is a 33m-long in­door-to-out­door break­fast bar carved from a sin­gle piece of traver­tine. It ex­tends out­side through the floor-to­ceil­ing win­dows, where it morphs into a pool­side bar be­fore slop­ing down into the pool to ac­com­mo­date bathing guests. ‘We wanted to merge the in­side with the out­side,’ states Al­na­j­jar. ‘The win­dows in the lounge slide to cre­ate a 4m open­ing.’

The first floor, which over­hangs the ground floor to cre­ate shaded ar­eas below, hosts five be­d­rooms with bal­conies. These are an­gled to­wards the sea, ben­e­fit­ing from com­plete pri­vacy and the pre­vail­ing winds. The mas­ter bed­room’s bal­cony is po­si­tioned above the sea, of­fer­ing un­in­ter­rupted views. Fur­ther into the first floor, sky­lights fun­nel light into the teak-lined bath­rooms and late-night lounge, where a large tree is an un­ex­pected cen­tre­piece.

Over in the pool house, a lounge area is backed by a brass-lined bar. Above the bar and tucked un­der the slop­ing roof is a 40 sq m gym, while in the base­ment, Al­na­j­jar has in­serted a spa clad in teak and traver­tine with a mas­sage room and ham­mam.

For all its ameni­ties, Al­na­j­jar be­lieves the build­ing’s true ap­peal lies in its per­fectly cal­i­brated pro­por­tions. ‘It’s the in­ter­ac­tion of its sim­ple lines and strik­ing vol­umes,’ he re­flects. ‘This is a struc­ture that is not only breath­tak­ing in its lo­cal con­text, but it could also be trans­posed any­where else in the world with sim­i­lar ef­fect.’∂

once through the main en­trance, guests are greeted by a view of the sea framed by the house’s three vol­umes, the Pool house (left), the liv­ing area (right) and the can­tilevered first floor, Which houses the be­d­rooms. out of sight, the court­yard opens up into an ex­pan­sive out­door space With an in­fin­ity Pool

Clock­wise from top, the 3m-tall front door is set within an en­trance, ren­dered in plas­ter; a teak-lined bath­room with sky­light; a Con­crete and fumed oak stair­case Con­nects the ground-floor lounge with the first-floor be­d­rooms

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