The aim with the refurbishment of existing buildings or spaces is to use design as a tool to breathe new life into existing and possibly forgotten spaces; unlocking potential and creating new opportunities for business to thrive.


It is important to create a space that has purposeful meaning, and respond appropriately to the constraints of the site. Refurbishment should make logical sense for the client in terms of value proposition and effective application and designers should therefore look for efficiencies and longevity in the design.

To try and create a solid narrative around the redesign is also vital and often refurbishments can be inspired by the existing building fabric and really give soul back to a space. The smallest element can strike a chord with a designer and inspire them to conjure up something that’s really quite beautiful and creative, whilst still being respectful to the existing building.

Honest materiality, where ceilings, walls or floors are stripped down to expose their original raw materials can often add intrinsic value and character to a space whilst being very economical for a client at the same time. A nice example of this in this region would be the Alserkal Avenue art district in Al Quoz. A cool arts and cultural hub repurposed from old industrial warehouses that now features a collection of galleries.

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Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz


All of these terms are ways in which to approach the redesign of an existing building but they do have some key differences.


A refurbishment may be carried out to update the aesthetic appeal of a space by updating the style/décor, or to integrate sustainable design elements or new technology.


A restoration will likely take place on a building that is more depleted or aged and requires updating to meet current standards.

In September 2019 the heritage-inspired Al Bait hotel located in the largest historical preservation site in Sharjah opened its doors. The design reflects traditional culture, architecture, design and Emarati history.

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Al Bait hotel


A conversion refers to taking something of a former use and applying it in a new way to give the building a new use or lease of life.


An extension adds something new or additional to an existing building. For example, dwp were engaged to renovate the 200sqm Author’s Wing of the acclaimed Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. This architectural project was aimed at enhancing the value of the overall hotel, by creating an extension of the presidential suite and retail area.

The successful result ensured harmony with the main existing building and a tangible asset to the legacy of the property and its brand.

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Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok. Extension design by dwp.


Modernisation on the other hand is quite interesting. Overarchingly, modernisation can encompass all of the above elements and can be applied to each one of those situations. For instance, you can modernise a building through restoring, converting and extending; the possibilities with modernisation are therefore much more broad.


There are arguments for both sides here, however it tends to be that once you have created a very efficient building, especially of a vertical nature, that there is a lot more logic around working within those constraints such as the land space and existing building fabric to create new experiences within the existing framework of the building.

The cost to demolish such vertical types of buildings and start over would require a far too high amount of capital investment. In hospitality for example, there has usually been significant capital investment initially so to extend the life of a building through renovation and refurbishment may be a much more economical decision.

An owner or operator can invest a relatively small amount of capital but still reap a good return. For more horizontal types of architecture however, there can be arguments to re-plan these types of sites to gain greater efficiency and build new to replace existing, or at least add onto a portion of these types of sites.

These types of sites would be the likes of resorts, or coastal locations (such as The Palm Jumeirah) which are filled with more horizontally expansive and not so vertically tall architecture and would not require as much capital investment to knock down and re-build.

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The Palm Jumeirah Signature and Garden Home Villas.

A final benefit is through the activation of dead spaces. At dwp we have successfully renovated a number of rooftop venues which have become famous bar and restaurant offerings.

These spaces previously offered very little or nothing to the existing building and owner but are now lucrative projects in their own right.

Bangkok’s iconic Lebua Hotel for example offers ‘the world’s first vertical destination’, including the well-known Sirocco and Sky Bar plus newly launched Lebua No. 3, Pink Bar and Chef’s Table, all designed by dwp.

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Lebua. No.3, the world's tallest Gin, Caviar & Vodka Bar, Lebua State Tower, Bangkok - design by dwp.


I personally think what creates great restoration is history and context. Imagine as a user you knew that an existing building had a previous life operating in a particular way and the planning of that building was still evident. It’s great to see that there has been some retention of the story and context of those former uses through the design.

Implementing original fabrics, structures and elements such as old beams and columns into the new design can help to establish that story and deepen the experience for the user.

In Myanmar, dwp were contracted to restore an old Tea Factory. The design keeps the historic building’s features intact with just a dash of modern Myanmar’s architectural detailing.

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The Tea Factory, Yangon, Myanmar. Design by dwp.


Once a city reaches a certain stage of its life cycle the opportunities for refurbishment become more readily available. I believe the UAE, and Dubai in particular, has now arrived at this stage. Some hotels are reaching 15 - 20 years of age and renovation and refurbishment are required to optimise value, reflect brand development, maintain a competitive market position, or simply modernise the facility.

For example, the city has recently seen some of its most loved hotels such as Jumeirah Beach Hotel, The Address Dubai Mall and Atlantis, The Palm undergo makeovers. The Jumeirah Beach Hotel celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017 and closed the following May 2018 for a well deserved refurbishment of guest bedrooms and suites as well as public areas and restaurants.

It is also worth noting that the lifespan of UAE hotels is comparatively shorter to other countries due to high year-round occupancy and aggressive environmental conditions.

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Jumeirah Beach Hotel reopened in October 2018 following a 5-month refurbishment.

Challenging economic times may also mean that more hotels are good candidates for renovation. An active renovation market fuels activity in the hospitality sector but due to no substantial off-peak season in Dubai, it is essential that as designers we explore the options with both owner and operator to reach a decision on the best way to carry out the renovation works. At dwp we find this is often best done in phases to allow the existing business to operate throughout the renovation process.

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