Interview: Kevin McLachlan, GAJ

“Knowing about everything that is going on in the office is sometimes very challenging, but it is quite difficult to let go. I generally set the direction of the design and most recently I was involved in redesigning of the Bab Al Yam restaurant in Burj Al Arab. The interiors are quite contemporary and sophisticated with lots of whites, wood and beautiful marble with metal inlays.”

Throughout its 25 year history, GAJ has created some of the UAE iconic buildings, such as Dubai Creek Golf Club, Bab Al Shams and the Arabian Court Residence and Spa at The One and Only Royal Mirage, Dubai. McLachlan says that design can be deeply rooted in the local vernacular, but still be contemporary. Most recently, his team designed Al Bait hotel in Sharjah, offering modern interiors within a traditional Arabic souk.


“Some may call it Disneyland, but we create experiences. In the past, we’ve created a lot of Arabic architecture and designs, but it doesn’t stop us from doing very contemporary projects. Brian Johnson, founder of GAJ, has a very holistic view and approach, we are a service to deliver client’s needs.

“One of the reasons people travel to Dubai is to see the Royal Mirage. They don’t come just for the Burj Khalifa, but also for the sense of place. Life is colourful all around the globe and we focus on the storytelling, representing in that local sensibilities.”

Dubai Creek is set to be transformed and GAJ has been appointed as design consultants for the Jewel of the Creek project, which comprises hotel, food and beverage outlets and residential buildings.

“This project pays tribute to the historic importance of the Creek and local heritage. We have done a completely different design for more than a dozen restaurants, which will be located within a destination food and beverage mall on the Creek side. We are currently designing a three-star hotel, a four-star hotel, and a non-alcoholic one, which are targeting different types of guests,” says McLachlan.


For its work on JA Manafaru Resort Maldives, GAJ won last year’s CID award for International Project of the Year.


McLachlan says: “One of most fundamental design directives was to change the philosophy of the maintenance of the island since the buildings were continually painted, sometimes twice a year. We proposed to change the colour and finishes for the whole resort from orange stained timber to natural oiled grey accepting the beauty and habitat of the island, which resulted in maintenance reduced to less than once a year.”

With projects in Marrakesh and the Maldives and the potential to design a 900-bed hotel in London and a resort in Seychelles, McLachlan says GAJ is now focussing on building a global design practice.

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