Minimalism in the Middle East: explore design destinations taking root in the desert

See a different side of the United Arab Emirates

The UAE is known for its opulent and maximalist approach to design and architecture, with the tallest building and the largest shopping mall in the world both located in Dubai. But for those seeking clean lines and simplicity, there are plenty of sophisticated gems to be discovered.

From converted clinics to secluded art galleries, desert retreats to design hotels, the UAE has plenty to offer those with a minimalist sensibility.

Form Hotel Dubai

Form Hotel
Courtesy DesignHotels

Found behind a striking white façade conceived by the internationally renowned Architecture-Studio, Form Hotel Dubai is the Middle East’s only destination accredited by Design Hotels. Note how the exterior reflects the structure of traditional boats, known as Dhows, found in the area.

Form Hotel restaurant interior
Courtesy DesignHotels

Al Jadaf, Dubai Canal, Al Jaddaf Waterfront, Dubai


Concrete – Al Quoz art hub on Alserkel Avenue
Photography: Mohamed Somji courtesy Alserkal Avenue

Concrete is a multi-disciplinary event space located in Dubai’s Al Quoz art hub, on Alserkel Avenue. OMA replaced the warehouse’s exterior with poly-carbonate cladding and sprayed it with a customized mix of concrete with glass and mirror aggregates found in the UAE – a welcomed juxtaposition to the city’s skyscrapers and over-developed skylines.

Al Quoz art hub on Alserkel Avenue
Photography: Mohamed Somji courtesy Alserkal Avenue

Alserkel Avenue, 17th Street, Al Quoz, Dubai

106 Cafe

Via 106 Cafe

The 106 Cafe is a homegrown, Emirati-owned speciality coffee shop with super-slick interiors that fuse Middle Eastern nuances with a strong minimalist and monochromatic aesthetic. Its off-the-beaten-track location of Al Awir – a town usually known for camel breeding and agriculture – makes it a true hidden gem in the Emirate.

Al Awir 2, Al Awir & Beyond, Dubai

Al Faya Lodge

Al Faya Lodge - a minimalist spa in the desert
Photography: Fernando Guerra

London and Dubai-based studio Anarchitect renovated abandoned buildings along a stretch of road in the Maliha Desert to create this five-room boutique hotel and saltwater spa, one of which was a petrol-pumping site which gives the retreat its minimalist motel aesthetic.

The concrete swimming pool and area at Al Faya Lodge, UAE

The previous clinic and grocery shop have been reimagined in locally sourced concrete and stone to withstand the elements and weather attractively in the extreme sun-drenched climate.

Al Batayeh, Al Faya Road, Sharjah

The Louvre

Louvre Abu Dhabi roof dome
Photography: Mohamed Somji

Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel designed the grand Louvre Abu Dhabi to fuse traditional Arabic architectural culture with modern minimalism. The geometric dome creates abstract shadowplay, while the series of white buildings found underneath take inspiration from the medina and low-lying Arab settlements.

Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

Hoof Cafe

Hoof cafe designed by Bone Studio
Courtesy of Bone

Bone Studio explored the minimalist design of horse stalls when imagining the Hoof Cafe in Ras Al Khaimah. The warm, muted hues of the cove-like interior contrast stainless-steel sink fittings and concrete floors.

Grove Village, 3 19B Street, Dafan Al Khor, Ras al Khaimah

Sharjah Art Foundation

Sharjah Art Foundation
Courtesy of the Sharjah Art Foundation

The Sharjah Art Foundation is made up of a collection of buildings clustered in close proximity. Historical Emirati architecture, such as restored courtyard houses, are juxtaposed by the simple exteriors, glass facades and skylights of the new gallery builds – a fusion of past and present.

Al Mureijah Square, Corniche Street, Al Mareija, Sharjah

Jameel Art Centre

The waterfront Jameel Art Centre in Dubai
Courtesy Jameel Arts Centre

Taking inspiration from local Sha’abi houses built in the Gulf in the 1970s and 1980s, Serie Architects designed the Jameel Art Centre in Dubai as a long, low-level and understated building that puts the art it houses at the forefront. It is one of the first independent not-for-profit contemporary art institutions in the city.

Jaddaf Waterfront, Bur Dubai, Dubai

La Petite Cafe

La Petite Cafe in the Al Ain, UEA
Photography: Oculus Project

With a warm yet muted colour palette that reflects the Al Ain desert landscape, Bone Studio’s La Petite Cafe is a subtle celebration of its surroundings. Simple materials such as natural wood, sandy plaster and creamy soft furnishings combine to create a sense of comfort.

La Petite Cafe in the Al Ain, UEA
Photography: Oculus Project

Alain Square, Building 9, Alain City, Abu Dhabi

Rain Room

Rain Room - on display in Dubai in a custom-built space in the city's art quarter
Photography: Leva Saudargaite

SpaceContinuum Design Studio and Shape Architecture Practice and Research designed a clean-lined concrete and glass building in the Emirate of Sharjah to house Random International’s Rain Room installation. It sits amongst modest buildings on an unassuming street.

Al Sharq, Al Mujarrah, Sharjah

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