Architecture Interviews Lifestyle

A Day In The Life Of: Jonathan Ashmore

February 5, 2020

Jonathan Ashmore (above, left) is the founder and principal architect at Dubai- and London-based architectural practice ANARCHITECT. After completing his education and training in the UK, Ashmore moved to Dubai, UAE, where he established his own studio in 2013. Having designed several award-winning projects in the Middle East over the past seven years, Ashmore is working on his first project in Asia – the much-anticipated Harding Boutique Hotel in Ahangama, Sri Lanka, which is expected to open this year.

His contextual and simplified modernist architecture and the use of honest materials have won him much acclaim worldwide. One of the most recent examples is the stunning Al Faya Lodge, a six-room eco-resort and spa in the desert that was commissioned by Sharjah Investment Authority (Shurooq). Located within a former petrol station in the emirate of Sharjah in the UAE, Ashmore’s project highlights his emphasis on sustainable and passive building – minimising its impact on the surroundings while creating an experiential space for the users.

Al Faya Lodge, Sharjah by ANARCHITECT; photo: Fernando Guerra

“Architecture started for me at an early age and has been a lifelong passion,” says Ashmore, who lives in Dubai with his wife Militza, ANARCHITECT’s head of communications. “I love the creative process, the fine, professional balance between design and making, individuality and collaboration, and the responsibility of creating buildings, spaces and objects that enhance people’s lives and perceptions of their context and human emotions.”

In the third interview in this series, DE5IGN gives you a glimpse into Ashmore’s inspiring daily routine.

Jonathan Ashmore, founding principal of ANARCHITECT, in his London office.

My day starts at 6am. I like to have an efficient routine in the morning that involves preparing breakfast and lunch for the day ahead. During the winter months, I’ll go out onto the terrace, 29 floors up, overlooking the Dubai Marina to do my 20 minutes morning stretch and deep breathing exercises to wake up my body and mind ready for a busy day ahead.

I have the luxury ( in Dubai particularly) of walking to the office to be in and sat at my desk by 8am. Our projects and studios currently span four different times zones – Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa – so I go through the plan in my diary for the day ahead and coordinate the various tasks with the senior architects and the rest of our team and spend about 30 minutes checking emails and messages that I didn’t get through the day before.

Just before the Dubai team arrives at the office at 9am, I will make a strong espresso. We usually have a 15-20 minute catch up with everyone to go over projects and scheduled meetings and submissions for the working day, in the background BBC 6 music digital radio will be playing to create a productive studio environment.

Akin at the Beach Barbershop by ANARCHITECT showcases an extensive use of sustainably-sourced American Hardwood. Photo: Marc Goodwin

If it is a studio day for me (sketchbook, pen, trace and computer) then I love to spend two to three hours uninterrupted working on the designs for current and new projects, I try to book most of my meetings for mid-afternoon so that I can maximise the creative time and the time spent with the Dubai team before lunch and then connect with London or various project sites at the beginning of their days (depending upon the time zone).

I often prepare lunch in the morning or the night before so that I always have it ready in case there is a chance that I am caught in meetings or on a site visit and so that my lunch is also healthy and nutritious to help me get through the busy days. Lunch is usually a protein; meat, poultry or fish with quinoa, sweet potato or whole grain rice so that it is filling, but not too heavy for the afternoon work session.

When I have lunch in the Dubai studio, I will often use the office communal area to take a break away from my desk. If I am in the London office, then I will eat out at one of the many restaurants and cafes in the new King’s Cross area where our office is located; we are spoilt for choice.

Jonathan Ashmore says he enjoys the solitude on flights during his travels and puts this time to use by working on sketches and design concepts for the studio’s various projects across Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa.

If it’s a travel day for either a project site visit or an international client workshop (there have been a lot this year) I might be settled in an airport lounge or on-board the flight always with my sketchbook and a Surface Pro (computer) close by so that I can utilise the quiet time for thinking and sketching out new ideas as they come to me. Even when travelling, I try to maintain the same morning routines wherever in the world I might be.

I feel privileged to be able to travel with my work, one day in the desert, the next on-site in the Sri Lankan tropics. As a practice, we embrace context and continuously translate a global-local architectural approach to our projects ensuring they are of-place, relevant and connected to their environment and culture.

Jonathan and Militza Ashmore in their London office

At the moment I enjoy spending time in London where we recently set up our second office. I lived and worked in London for eight years before moving to Dubai, so walking the dynamic, bustling streets of the city between meetings re-connects me and inspires me with a new, invigorated perspective. It allows ANARCHITECT and our clients and projects to benefit from both – inside and outside – perspectives simultaneously which leads to really exciting architecture and interiors in my opinion.

The upcoming Harding Boutique Hotel in Ahangama, Sri Lanka by ANARCHITECT emphasises Ashmore’s contextual design philosophy

We have a number of diverse projects currently on site of different typologies and scales including a pair of private desert villas in the UAE, a co-working space in Bahrain, but the project I am most excited about is the Harding Boutique Hotel in Ahangama, Southern Sri Lanka. The project is due to complete by Q2 2020 and it has been a passion for both the design team and the client as it has an interesting story behind it and a genuine purpose. On the drawing board are two further contemporary private villas in Kuwait, a London property and a destination urban hotel (150 keys) in Nairobi, Kenya to name a few.

Dubai Hills private villa project by ANARCHITECT. Photo: Leva Saudargaite

Local meetings are usually scheduled for the afternoons between 3pm and 6pm. These are typically consultant, UAE project workshops, suppliers or new project inquiry meetings. Important site meetings or client meetings are often first thing (9am) in the morning to ensure maximum productivity as it also leaves more hours in the day for coordination and follow up with various other parties if required. Meetings with the media (if any) are often scheduled for me for around 7pm, once I am home as I prefer to do the 30-minute telephone interviews in peace and quiet, plus often the journalists are in Europe, so the time difference tends to also work well for their mid-afternoons.

Our Sri Lanka projects are an hour and half ahead, although our clients are based in the UAE. We schedule a VOIP call twice a week for general site catch-ups, although most day-to-day correspondence is by email with instant group messaging via WhatsApp for immediate coordination live from site. Nairobi, Kenya is one hour behind and the project is currently in the design phases, so we schedule a regular conference call with the local consultants once a week to take place mid-morning to ensure there are a few hours remaining in the day to coordinate further if required. Daily communication is by email. The same one hour time difference applies for our projects in Kuwait and also Bahrain. London is three hours behind Dubai in summer and four hours in winter, so our bi-weekly team skype conference calls are scheduled just after lunchtime in Dubai.

Al Faya Lodge, Sharjah by ANARCHITECT. The eco-resort boutique hotel is located in the Arabian Desert surrounded by rugged mountains; Photo: Fernando Guerra

At the end of my working day, I try to wrap up any pending tasks or emails from the day and plan the next day’s agenda. If I am in the Dubai office, then it’s a pleasurable short walk home.

In the evenings I train for about 45 minutes in the gym, headphones on, listening to a house music podcast I subscribe to. Training is mainly a combination of bodyweight exercises and more stretching to clear any fatigue and reset my mind so Militza and I can relax, cook or head out for dinner or drinks with friends somewhere local in the Marina area.

Militza and Jonathan Ashmore. Photo by Misha Obradovic

If we are staying in for dinner, we generally cook healthy. We will re-stock the fridge with fresh food twice a week with a local grocery shop. We both like eating, so portions are generous but mainly light food with a good balance of protein, carbs and vitamins from fresh vegetables with steamed or grilled. If we are out, our destinations are always based on the ambiance or atmosphere and not particularly the design. Our regular favourites in Dubai include The Maine and also 21grams.

Although Militza and I met in London, she is originally Serbian from Belgrade. Whenever we get the opportunity to do so, we will travel to Belgrade where we also have an apartment and of course, her family to see. I love the city, it is probably one of my most inspiring destinations right now. The raw energy, brutalist architecture, joie de vivre attitude of the people and its burgeoning design and architecture scene is really exciting for me and full of new opportunities.

Harding Boutique Hotel by ANARCHITECT in Ahangama, Sri Lanka

In the evenings before going to bed I will often gather my thoughts from the day, or maybe grab my pen and sketchbook to produce a quick sketch to record an idea. Sleep is important, and I am very fortunate that I sleep deeply. Bedtime can be anything from 11pm through to 1am depending on the day, but wake up is always 6am so I always try to get a minimum of six hours preferably.

See more images of the Al Faya Lodge project by ANARCHITECT below. All photos by Fernando Guerro.

See more images of the Dubai Hills villa project by ANARCHITECT below. All photos by Leva Saudargaite.

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