Bloomberg reported on January 2 that Israeli designer Dror Benshetrit has helped transform Nurai Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, into an exclusive development complete with unique subterranean and overwater residences that create the illusion of solitude for their inhabitants.
According to the report, the 49 properties designed by Benshetrit entered the market in 2008 even before construction began. Every property—totaling almost $1 billion worth of real estate—was sold in 72 hours. Workers are currently finishing construction on Benshetrit’s 7-acre redoubt on the fishhook-shaped island.
Benshetrit, who is not a licensed architect, was invited to design the mega mansions on Nurai Island through one of his early admirers Michael Shivo, an Israeli ex-pat and real estate broker. Shivo and the United Arab Emirates-based developer Zaya teamed up to transform the island into the hyperexclusive development. Shivo then talked Zaya CEO Nadia Zaal into visiting Benshetrit, who at that point had not even built a toolshed, Bloomberg reported.
Benshetrit was given eight weeks to come up with a presentation, Benshetrit, who is a graduate of the Netherlands Design Academy Eindhoven, strove to envision the kind of privacy and isolation that Zaya’s prospective clients would want.
“I don’t want to see anybody or anything, but I do want to have a cigar with a neighbor,” Benshetrit told Bloomberg. “I don’t want to see any servants, but I do want to turn around and find fresh towels.”
Benshetrit then produced a series of designs for the lavish yet modernist beachfront and overwater villas. Since he could not travel to Abu Dhabi on an Israeli passport, he emailed the presentation. His designs were exactly what Zaya wanted.
“I got a call while I was in a taxi coming back from Art Basel Miami,” Benshetrit recalled. “They said: ‘We’ve shown your presentation to the crown prince. He wants to build it.’ I just started laughing hysterically.
“A week later, I was sitting in a room with geotechnical, construction and you-name-it engineers, sweating as if I’d just come from a spinning class. I said: ‘Guys, I’m not an architect. I have a vision and I would love to share it with you, but I don’t know how to build it.’ By saying that, I challenged them to make the idea a reality.”
Benshetrit tried managing the project from his home in New York. According to Bloomberg, when he finally visited Nurai Island on a new US passport after becoming a citizen, he was both thrilled and disappointed.
“They made some decisions that will ruin some of the experience, absolutely,” he said.
The project cemented Benshetrit’s skills as a large-scale architect and opened up the door to other opportunities. In 2011, Turkish developer Serdar I’nan invited him to Instabul for his thoughts on a project.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who at the time was prime minister, was considering carving a waterway through the city from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. I’nan asked Benshetrit to come up with ways to use the dirt dug out of the future canal. Benshetrit designed six geodesic domes on an artificial island that would hold offices, movie theaters, museums, and shopping malls. Outside would be terraced hillsides lined with apartments.
Such an ambitious project is unlikely to ever be built, Bloomberg noted, but it did yield a vision of having horizontal buildings on a vertical site all linked by a circulatory system of power, water, data, and pathways.