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The Well-Serviced Apartment

Serviced apartments aren’t new. In one of the older parts of Dubai there’s an entire area of these apartment-hotel hybrids. Just like a hotel, your apartment is cleaned and your room made each day. There’s laundry and dry-cleaning services, a newspaper outside your door in the morning and you leave your key at the front desk when you go out.

The apartment bit comes from having a full-sized kitchen with basic equipment for cooking and eating. The financials make this arrangement less expensive than hotels and suitable for stays of, say, a fortnight to six months. For less than a week or two it’s not worth paying the premium for the sake of cooking, and for any stay over six months it’s cheaper to rent.

• • •

I recently wrote about the many services and facilities now being made available as part of the new communal living and, in doing so, putting the fun into Functionalism. This post is about the extended range of services facilities now available for the owners or renters of larger apartments. Let’s take the most upmarket example first – One Hyde Park by joke socialist Richard Roger’s company Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners.

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What do you get for a record-breaking £6,000 per square foot? Naturally, the fittings are state of the art. In the penthouses, alarm clocks can be set to slowly open the skylights to the sound of soothing music, and artworks rotate to reveal TV screens. There is a 22m pool, a sauna, steam rooms, a gym, a squash court, and a golf simulator able to conjure up all the world’s great courses.

The facade glass is “bulletproof”. This is sweet, redolent of Prohibition-era drive-by shootings. But is it sniper-resistant? And no, I’m not about to google One Hyde Park glazing specifications or what the well-equipped modern sniper packs. There are panic rooms to avoid more personal rumblings but where they are on plan is not for me or you to know. I reckon one of those bathrooms is pressed into double-duty. Security are “SAS-trained”, they say.

On the smiley side of life, there’s a wine cellar, and a tunnel to the Mandarin Oriental [and!] through which meals can be served – after appropriate security checks, hopefully. Perhaps the 21st century will see a food-taster revival?

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Candy [of developers Candy & Candy] sees the link-up with the Mandarin, which has 60 staff dedicated to servicing the apartments, as crucial.

We’re obviously not talking about employees on six-month contracts, or even with jobs. We’re talking about people who can have lunch in Mumbai or Doha, aperitifs in Palma and dinner in London. Not your average can’t-cook-won’t-cook. Why have a personal chef making a daily selection of things for whenever you might want to eat, when Heston Blumenthal and his team at London’s Mandarin Oriental can deliver?

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A nice touch is the private elevators from the car park so your driver can do discreet pickups and/or dropoffs. The lobby is just for show as any true ultra-high net worth individual would have their security OK the car park before making that potentially fatal leap from armoured car to private elevator. Anyone coming though the lobby door off the street is a likely assassin. I expect that lobby entrance door has multiple continuous recording cameras focussed on it, as well as metal detectors, explosives detectors and probably even a radiation detector – even though it won’t detect polonium-210. Still, you can’t be too careful.

Mandarin Oriental’s webpage has a link to its Residences around the world – all serviced by a Mandarin Oriental.

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The principle of safe refuges for flight capital was probably established in someplace like Switzerland, and perfected in London with an array of on-call services for intermittent residents and upmarket refugee housing. One Hyde Park is one large panic room.

An investigation by the Guardian discovered that 80% of the apartments had been purchased by offshore entities based in the British Virgin Islands, with ownership layered through sophisticated tax-avoidance schemes. The Observer revealed that only nine of 62 apartments were registered for council tax, with five of those nine paying the 50% reduced tariff for second homes.

Sheikh Hamad, via a Cayman-registered company, has a triplex on floors 11-13 of one of the block’s four towers. Other residents are Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and a close ally of deposed former president Viktor Yanukovych. He bought one of the more expensive apartments for £136m. Also listed are a number of Kazakhs, including Vladimir Kim, a copper billionaire and former politician; Russians, among them Vladislav Doronin, who is stepping out with Naomi Campbell; Chinese, Malaysians and Nigerians.

What constitutes a safe haven for flight capital is relative. Dubai still looks good to many more moderately monied Middle Easterners and it’s probably Dubai where the money, the land, and the reason to build combine like heat, fuel and oxygen to make the superserviced apartment-hotel combination flare into an architectural type. Offhand, I can think of five developments where a apartment tower and a hotel tower are or were to have been paired for servicing by a hotel operator. I’ll list them in historical order.

2007-ish: Four Seasons Hotel and Residences
Architects: Arquitectonica; Operator: Four Seasons

A hotel tower and an apartment tower joined by amenities at the bottom and an array of lasers at the top. Nice idea. Didn’t happen.

2008: Icon Hotel
Architects: ATKINS

Didn’t happen either. Structurally, this apparent torus was two bended towers connected by a bridge. It had various entertainments top and bottom. [ICON HOTEL pdf] A guilty pleasure.

2013: 48 Burj Gate & Sofitel Downtown Dubai
Architects: Fentress Architects; Operator: Sofitel Hotels

This one’s live, but only after some value-engineering that, to my mind, improved it. The building on the right is the Sofitel Dubai Downtown hotel. The building on the left is offices until the 22nd floor and apartments 23–48. Both are managed by the hotel. Here’s what’s on offer.  

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It’s not just food, laundry and cleaning, but interior redecorating, appliance maintenance, electrical troubleshooting, drain clearing, router wiring and IT setup, and all the usual tasks that owning property and living in it generally entail. The hotel will cook and deliver you any meal, bake cakes for special occasions and at Christmastime they’ll cook you and your guests a full Christmas dinner, trolley it along the service corridor and serve it in your apartment.

Within a 50m radius, two similar twin developments are underway.

The Address Sky View Towers
Developer: Emaar Properties; Architects: SOM; Operator: The Address Hotels + Resorts

It’s coming along nicely.

Burj Vista
Developer: Emaar Properties; Operator: The Address Hotels + Resorts

This one isn’t as far along yet, but it’s the same deal. A hotel tower and an apartment tower managed by the hotel – The Address group of hotels in these last two cases.

• • •

A decade ago, serviced apartments were neither fish nor fowl but they’ve now come into their own as an identifiable type. They’re no longer apartment buildings with a front desk and a gym on the ground floor and a pool on the roof like in that corner of Dubai I mentioned at the start.

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This shift started as soon as hotels and apartments began to coexist in the same building. They may have been on different floors and with different banks of elevators but they were serviced by the same operator. There may have been earlier examples but the original The Address hotel was one such building.

In neighbouring Burj Khalifa it’s more confusing. On the website of The Armani Hotel Dubai, there isn’t much difference between staying in one of the Armani Hotel Dubai Residences and staying in The Armani Hotel.

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The residences are on levels 9–16 and for sale (at market-defying prices, apparently) and the hotel is on levels 1–8. Here’s a plan of a residences level. You can tell it’s residences because of the kitchens physically and conceptually separated from the living space. As foretold, these kitchens are mere alcoves for a microwave and minibar to produce hot water and ice – but not in large quantities.

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This new twin apartment-hotel combo avoids confusion. Guests are guests staying in hotel rooms and residents are residents living in apartments. Both groups are being farmed but, in peak season the hotel can focus on its premium-paying guests. The residents will still be there off-peak and the hotel will still be there as well and with as many amenities and services as the residents wish or can afford at prices 20% less than what guests or off-streeters pay.

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If you’re keen, there’s always a few Armani Residences on the sale or rental markets at any given time • Click here for more information on Four Seasons residences • Click here for more information on Mandarin Oriental residences • Click here for more information on The Address residences

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