American red oak used in interiors of Dubai-based headquarters

The centrepiece is a 3.5m-high element, made with American red oak, that suggests an ancient tree

Boutique design studio NIU has unveiled the interiors of the new Umm Al Quwain Free Trade Zone Authority Headquarters, which used timber slabs made of American red oak.

According to the press release by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), who provided advice to NIU on what kind of species to use, the design phase of the Dubai-based headquarters began in September 2020 and ended in May 2021, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of this, the design had to include specific details for the safety of the guests and the employees. The challenge was to create a stimulating and visually appealing interior around the already existing structural columns that could allow visitors to maintain their social distancing and comply with flow guidelines, within the limited space.

NIU used American red oak, upon being advised by AHEC, to create louvres to conceal the structural columns, but also to provide discreet lighting and suggest separate areas while maintaining open sightlines. The centerpiece is a 3.5m-high organic element suggesting an ancient tree.

The suspended floor-to-ceiling organic shaped oak elements add drama and elegance to the area, and also serve to create partitions and to divide the space while maintaining an open-plan concept. In addition, the louvred oak provides visual privacy and sound absorption.

“In our projects we pay a lot of attention to the issue of sustainability, for this reason we like to consider this material for its qualitative aspects both from an aesthetic and technical point of view. A natural material capable of creating a visual and tactile relationship with the users of the space in which it is used. From the design point of view, in this specific project it was used to create elements of organic shape to emphasise the very origin of the material in nature,” said Giorgio Palermo, founder, NIU.

Commenting on the decision to use American red oak, the architects said: “The particular natural colour and veins of this species were selected and incorporated into the project since the concept design and it remained a characterising element of the project, giving it a plus value highly appreciated by the customer and above all by the users of the space.”