We sit down with founder and director of ANARCHITECT, Jonathan Ashmore, to find out more about his award-winning boutique practice.
Based in Dubai and set up in 2013, ANARCHITECT is a multi-award winning architecture, interior architecture and design practice that specialises in creating bespoke projects for their international clients. Working within a range of industries, ANARCHITECT’s previous projects range from high-end residential properties, restaurants and bars to wellness spas, gyms - and even the first architectural intervention at Art Dubai week.
After working for an assortment of renowned architectural practices in the UK and Dubai, ANARCHITECT’s founder and director, Jonathan Ashmore, decided to set up the practice when he realised the UAE had a need for interiors and architecture to connect in a more meaningful way. With the boutique practice soon to be revealing two exciting projects, and launching a range of designer furniture, DesignCurial sat down with Ashmore to find out more.
Photo: Ieva Saudargaite
The first question posed is where did the idea for such a unique practice come from? His passion for ANARCHITECT clear in his mannerisms, Ashmore launches straight in to the explanation. “After spending about 4 years working for another company, I wanted find out what opportunities were [around]. I created the whole idea [for ANARCHITECT out of] what was interesting to me – synergising architecture and interiors for clients that were end users or design folk.”
“ANARCHITECT is focused on craft, materiality and detail,” continues Ashmore. “The main focus is about approaching everything we do with an architectural approach. It’s thinking like an architect when solving solutions; it’s about practicality, aesthetics, detail – and it’s also about understanding that you’re building something. When we went out to the UAE – I moved out there in 2009 – there was a lot of disconnect between what was architecture and what was interiors. They didn’t interrelate. It felt like the natural time to take a chance, jump in and set up a practice based on what I was interested in.”
ANARCHITECT’s small team might be headed by Ashmore on the creative design side, but his wife Militza leads the studio's operations and communications. “Militza’s background is in luxury PR and communications,” Ashmore says with a smile. “She joined 3 years ago to help me grow the business, and she’s a non-architect. The beauty of that is she gives this… client perspective, which keeps us on our toes and makes us challenge things.”
"There’s a danger within architecture that you can keep to your peers, but forget about the reality – so my wife makes sure we know that,” the practice’s founder laughs. “She challenges everyone in the office. She critiques and asks questions – if she can’t understand it, in a pragmatic way, if she decides it’s not clear enough, it’s a very good indicator that the person on the receiving side - the client - will also have those issues.”
Photo: Misha Obradovic
As well as Militza, ANARCHITECT have a small team of four other architects. “It’s very important for me that [the team] feel they have responsibility, but also for them to engage in each of their projects respectively, and to create this diversity in the office – at the end of the day, we’re in an absolute melting pot in Dubai,” says Ashmore. But the practice’s diverse team is not where their love of variety ends – this need for diversity stretches into the industries they create projects for, and the different locations they find themselves working in.
“Dubai is very strategically located geographically,” Ashmore explains. He says that, as a result of being based in Dubai, ANARCHITECT has “done quite a lot of work in Lebanon and Beirut. [We’ve worked] in the UAE - from Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi; all around the region, and now [we have expanded] to Asia, [and are] looking into Sri Lanka with clients.”
“Diversity is important to me,” Ashmore says. “[We work in] residential, hospitality, leisure, cultural and workplace and I usually take on a project that interests me. I don’t like to pigeon hole what it’s going to be; it’s really based on where we feel that there’s an opportunity to develop that particular function through architecture, and to provide a new experience for people. What I quite like is where different projects and different typologies meet - the fringes; which basically means you can start to learn from other projects in different disciplines, and you can start to create new experiences. The difficulty and worry is with singular projects [is that] you end up producing very similar results.”
ANARCHITECT also have another unique skill which makes this boutique practice all the more appealing for potential clients – when it comes to their projects, they can do everything. For many of their previous ventures, ANARCHITECT have been responsible for all elements of the work, from the initial concept to the final pieces of furniture that live in the space. “That’s where the whole concept of ‘ANARCHITECT’ comes from,” explains Ashmore.
“It’s what architecture is, I believe - pen to paper is the first process of actually making something physical at the end. If you think of it that way, every decision that you make is critical. Everything that you discuss with your client is about ending up with a final, physical building which delivers for them and starts a new process for them to build their business around. For us, it’s always about relationships between how a person engages with the space, how they use it, how it functions – not just the aesthetics.”
On the topic of creating engaging spaces, Ashmore mentions one of ANARCHITECT’s extra challenges: the furniture they often create for their projects. Although Ashmore and his team have worked on this extra element for a number of their past projects, their latest foray into furniture design – made for their upcoming boutique spa project, Fossil Rock – is going to be launched as a collection later this year. “We’ve built up a 12 piece collection [for Fossil Rock],” says Ashmore, “but it could actually exist elsewhere, because all these pieces are individual pieces themselves. There is the idea that eventually we will look at different material combinations to be able to contextualise it in another space.”
With so much happening this year for ANARCHITECT, what will be left for the future to hold? For this pioneering boutique, there’s still a lot of excitement, says Ashmore – the practice is looking to do more work in the West. “I think we’ll always be [in the UAE], but [there is] a natural progression; I think for us there’s a diversity between the UK and Dubai which works quite well as design and office hubs. They work in tandem – busy summers and quiet winters [in the UK], and busy winters and quiet summers [in the UAE]. There’s a huge amount of business that runs between the two.”
Photo: Ieva Saudargaite
“I’m intrigued [to learn] how my team’s understanding of what we’ve learnt in the last decade [in the UAE] will apply to working on projects within the UK and Europe,” continues Ashmore. “It could be an interesting challenge; people’s cultures in the East are completely different to Western cultures; the way you do business and negotiate is very personal out there. The way we get recommended is from people’s relatives or close friends, you have to build a relationship. Here, maybe it’s a bit more straight cut; skills sets, contracts and such. It makes a difference.”
“In a way,” Ashmore muses, “I believe that the way we have been out there is true to the context and material, and craft of architecture. I think wherever we work, or wherever we’re working from, these things will always apply. Whether it’s a guidance process or it’s a complete process for [our client], it’s about being true to the project and them, not forcing something on them – understanding the relevance of why they’re doing it.”
With two major projects on the go and a furniture collection soon to be launched, it seems Ashmore has his hands full with his flourishing boutique design practice. We just can’t wait for ANARCHITECT - and its focus on details and materiality - to hit our shores; Ashmore and his team are sure to cause a stir.