U+A Architects designs Middle East’s first design-driven culinary school


The Middle East’s first design-driven culinary arts centre has opened in Dubai, with its conceptual foundation built by one of the region’s leading design and architecture studios U+A Architects.

The Middle East’s first design-driven culinary arts centre has opened in Dubai, with its conceptual foundation built by one of the region’s leading design and architecture studios U+A Architects.

The International Centre for Culinary Arts, ICCA, recently launched in Dubai’s growing Knowledge Village with its design concept and application driven by U+A Architects.


As one of the region’s first culinary art schools that are heavily design-centred and aesthetically principled, the ICCA has a sleek interior that is at once clean, minimal and even a touch glam.

Sunjeh Raja, the CEO of ICCA, had called U+A Architects in to take over an entire floor in one of Knowledge Village’s mid-rise buildings and renovate it into not only an operating institutional centre, but also one that is in tune with the artistry of high-end design.

“So there was this entire floor that we needed to do the whole interior design for and do the renovation of to some extent, but it had a different lay out,” says Eileen Jaffary, senior interior architect and associate, U+A Architects.

She adds: “So we demolished that and came up with a new design that would be suitable for [ICCA’s] needs. They wanted to treat it as an open studio, so that all the chefs, when they’re getting trained, can see each other and interact with one another and everything they’re doing can be seen.”

According to Jaffary, the entire design process for U+A Architects started by analysing the process of cooking. As a chef gathers his ingredients, washes them, prepares the meal and ultimately serves the dish, the designers would gather their data, analyse it and prepare a design that was visually stunning, relevant to the purpose of the space and at its most functioning.

“So we went back to the whole process of cooking and we took it as our reference and as our process of how we’re going to do the design … and we took it as exactly that strategy with regards to the designing the space.

“The whole look, most importantly, had to be very neat and clean. The client really loved a lot of white colours and to represent the neatness that the chef needs to always apply to his cooking environment. On top of that, we tried to introduce some copper-esque colours to relate it to the old tradition of the old cooking pots,” explains Jaffary.

While Jaffary and her team used old cooking pots as inspiration for the copper elements applied through the place, such as the lighting fixtures that hang in the entrance, as well as outside the cafe space, the design team also regarded the actual cooking tools as inspiration for the steel.

Upon walking into the space, you’re immediately welcomed by a feature wall that is followed by a cafe space, classrooms and a large hall where individual kitchen stands are positioned. In the large hall, steel comes to life, with reflections of light bouncing off the metal and bringing to the space an understated glam effect.

“The thing is, this is the first culinary centre in the whole Middle East, so the client wanted to make sure he set a good standard for the whole institution of chef training. It was very important for him to start establishing this as a very artistic place that is very much up to the standards of the high levels of chef training schools that you get throughout other parts of the world. He wanted to compete with those,” explain Jaffary.

Besides the large hall, a stand out element of the ICCA is the feature wall, which exhibits geometric forms that naturally flow into one another and draws visitors further into the corridor. Made of wood with a white lacquered finish, the feature wall displays a fluid continuous movement with each piece contributing to a geometric wave effect.

“With regards to institutional design, the first thing that comes up is how we want the students to be interested in their learning environment because their motivation needs to be kept throughout the whole time instead of losing it at some point. The environment can have an impact on the students’ learning,” explains Jaffary.

She adds: “So the first point was to maximise the interaction between the students and to create a fun environment rather than a boring one. We tried to come up with pops of different colours that relate to actual cooking, especially with regards to fire.”

Throughout the space and especially in the classroom, fiery colours like red, orange and yellow pop out. According to Jaffary, each colour was chosen based on its psychological effect.

While yellow means focus, orange supplies energy to the students and is known to be a mood-lifting visual. Red is also an energising colour, making the combination of all three not only relate to the purpose of the space, but also, further enhance the emotional well-being of those using the space.

U+A Architects also came up with break out spaces for the students to be able to gather and socialise. Jaffary explains: “Like the patisserie area, that’s where the students get a chance to display their new recipes. They can showcase items there and grab small bites too to test the recipes.

“It’s all an open studio, that’s the whole idea—to maximise the interaction—and on top of that we have a semi-closed kitchen at the back, which is for washing dishes, drying them and storing them.

“The whole circulation of the area was studied because when people are in a hurry, they’re bringing the dishes in and drying them. There’s a high risk of breaking the dishes, so the circulation was studied in great detail to see exactly where the position of the person drying should be and so on.”

The patisserie zone not only allows students to test out their latest inventions, but it also exhibits a library encased in transparent glass panels. Here, the client ensured would be training literature for the budding chefs.

The International Centre for Culinary Arts is a prototype to be followed. Its design is intelligent and ensures that it not only meets the needs of its users, but it surpasses them. At the same time, it’s a place where students are happy to be and it creates a fun dynamic to the traditionally avoided notion of ‘going to school’.

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