A complete renovation of Wild Jordan’s interiors has imbued the space with new life and opened up a whole world of potential.
The Wild Jordan centre was completed in 2001 by the acclaimed Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash. An iconic building perched on the steep slopes of Jabal Amman, it manages simultaneously to be both instantly recognisable and to blend in with its surrounding urban topography. Perhaps its most striking aspect from the exterior were its elegant support posts that not only make the entire structure appear almost as if it is floating, but also afford spectacular, 360-degree views out across the historic areas of Amman. The interiors, however, had become somewhat dated in the intervening decade and a half, and were not being utilised to their full capabilities. When ATICO Fakhreldin Group took over the running of the entire centre (they had previously only run the café), it was clear that an complete overhaul would be needed, in terms of both style and function.
Happily, the man who was chosen for the job, architect and interior designer Sufian Sawalha, already had a close personal relationship with Khammash. “He’s my mentor and we still work together sometimes. I understand the way he thinks,” Sawalha explains. “He usually goes for subtle buildings that don’t impose on the environment. If you stand far away and look at the Wild Jordan building, it blends with the canvas of Amman. So I tried to stay with that theme, and we went for something that is more earthy – closer to nature.”
Sawalha sat down with the COO of Atico, Azzam Fakhreldin, and together they discussed the brief. The aim was to create a hub for the arts, hosting local and international talents and providing them with a platform to explore and exhibit their talents. On top of this, the centre also needed to cater to its previous function of providing community environmental education, as well as incorporating meeting spaces, a business centre, apartments for long-term accommodation and an expansion of the café. “We wanted to include a local aspect too,” Sawalha adds. “Local talent, local materials, local hands.”
What followed was a complete overhaul of the functions of the various spaces of the idiosyncratic building. Architectural intervention was minimal, and mainly restricted to creating new windows in what had previously been solid walls, thus letting in more light and highlighting alternate aspects of the astonishing view. The result was a series of new spaces, each with a distinct intended use. The Family Café, for example, is a fun room where children can play while watchful parents relax with a coffee. The toys and games encourage children to learn about nature and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN)’s varied work.
Down a small flight of stairs one enters The Trail, which serves as the very heart of the centre and the pathway to all other areas. The cafe is now serving an updated menu of local food with a modern twist, and is open for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The large, airy room is dominated by a sizeable bar and serving area in the middle, upon which large bowls of fresh fruit sit, ready to be made into signature juices and smoothies. The outside of the bar is clad with recycled wood, and it is overhung with a rustic glass-jar chandelier that was dreamt up by Sawalha. Shelves are hung in the windows at the back, displaying a mixture of living plants and deli products for purchase that were made by women in the communities supported by the RSCN. Chairs are covered with natural woven lemongrass, also produced by hand by members of the same communities. Many items of furniture were upcycled from the café’s previous incarnation in order to reduce waste. Those with keen eyes will also spot an original painting by Khammash himself hanging on one of the walls, looking very much at home.
Past an eye-catching WILD marquee sign, a few more steps down lead to The Hub, a quiet and relaxed seating area where patrons can bring a laptop and work, with no distractions other than the ever-changing view through the plate glass windows. The focused, library-like atmosphere is enhanced by a large bookshelf at the far end. No music is played in this area, and loud phone calls are discouraged in order to keep things quiet.
Up on the top level, The View is situated in a striking, floating structure. As the name would suggest, this is the best place from which to look out at the Amman cityscape – especially in the early evening when the sun sets over the Citadel on the opposite hill. A mechanical roof has been installed, as well as removable windows, meaning that the entire area will be open to the skies during the balmy summer months. Meeting rooms on lower floors have also been completely revamped, resulting in clean, professional spaces that still highlight the incredible view.
The accommodation is tucked away on the lower floors, each lodge with its own discreet private entrance. Each of the five apartments is named after one of the RSCN’s nature reserves throughout Jordan: Mujib Nature, Dibeen Forest, Ajloun Forest, Shaumari Wildlife and Dana Biosphere. Against a common neutral colour scheme of whites, greys and beiges, tonal pops reference aspects of the rooms’ namesakes: shades of green for the trees and plants of Ajloun and Dibeen, blue for the waters of Mujib, rich yellows for the rocks and grasses of Dana and reds and purples for the flora of Shaumari. Each apartment is fully furnished and equipped with the latest mod cons, from coffee makers to flat screen televisions. Decoration is kept minimal so as not to overwhelm; the main attraction is the amazing view. On the walls hang original digital artworks that Sawalha created from manipulated photographs of the reserves. Small ornaments on the shelves and embroidered accents were created by members of marginalised communities with whom the RSCN work, and are available to purchase in their shop by the main reception area.
For a project that works closely with RSCN, environmental sustainability is key at Wild Jordan. All lights were changed to highly efficient LED bulbs, while energy-saving VRV air conditioning units were added throughout. In the bathrooms, toilets with water-saving dual flush systems were installed, and mixers on all taps reduce water flow and wastage. Recycled materials were utilised across the centre – reclaimed wood, in addition to cladding the bar, was also used on the headboards of the beds and in various seating units. Everything was manufactured locally, cutting down on transport-related emissions. One of the few imported pieces was a chair by Spanish designer Javier Mariscal that is made entirely of recycled industrial waste. Many of the custom-made pieces were also designed by Sawalha, something which he describes as his favourite aspect of the project. The hexagonal tables in the rooms, low marble tables in The Hub, pasta-strainer lights in the corridors, the branch chandelier over reception, the jar chandelier over the bar and circular lights in The Trail, among others, were all dreamt up by the innovative designer. More of his pieces are set to be installed in the coming months.
This redesign is just the beginning for the Wild Jordan centre. Following the official opening in April, the plan is to bring in more artists and to further engage with the community. An organic produce market on the front terrace will take place on weekend mornings once the weather improves, and the educational programmes on protecting the environment will continue their valuable work in the community.
This is a centre that not only treads lightly on its environment, but also fosters sustainability in its surrounding community. “Renovating the Wild Jordan centre was an interesting journey whereby we all worked on creating an environmentally friendly icon – not just for Jordan, but for the region,” comments Fakhreldin. “From design to functionality, menu to events, everything contributes to the ethos that we share with RSCN.” “I’m very happy with the outcome,” adds Sawalha. “The space feels low key and natural. It doesn’t look like it was made in London or in Europe; it feels local and very much Jordanian.”
Photography: Levon Peltekian, Ala’ Goussous and courtesy of ATICO Fakhreldin Group and Sufian Sawalha