FIAFIA PLAY AREA AND CAFE

Area: 5,400sqft

Location: DIFC, Gate Avenue

Scope: Design and Build

About/Challenges

The word FiaFia is used in the Pacific Islands and means celebration, get together or just happy. These are the three themes that embody the spirit and philosophy at FiaFia Play Area and Café. At DIFC, their second branch after Al Wasl, FiaFia hoped to target both kids (aged 0-12) and parents in different ways: playing, enjoying their time, relaxing, getting together, even co-working. Their vision was to bring flexibility and new adventures to children and their parents in this ever-changing environment. Their hopes and vision became our challenge and inspiration.

Discover | Design | Deliver

Challenges to opportunities: 

Located inside the uber-cool Gate Avenue mall, the shell and core space had minimal access to natural light and a 7m high ceiling supported by five differently shaped columns, placed in an irregular pattern. These became challenges both the design and project management team converted into opportunities. 

The form led to other dependencies – the café’s location became crucial as it would define the layout of the kitchen and toilets, which had to be close to the service exit, and would determine much of the MEP works.

Concept and designs

The design team’s vision was to completely sync the world of kids with FiaFia’s brand ethos. They conceptualised an enchanting universe, a journey through a forest, where kids would revel in nature – in all its forms, textures and colours – and experience joy, inspiration, revelation and an appreciation of the natural world. Nature in all its manifestations, including its light, would come indoors.

Zoning

We zoned the space into three distinct areas to reflect the brand ethos. The Celebration Zone, where kids could celebrate birthdays and experience multiple educational activities. The Getting Together zone, where parents could peacefully enjoy their coffees or socialise over a meal, and yet have direct contact and connect with their kids. The Happiness Zone, where kids could rumble-tumble in the soft play area for a myriad of experiences.

Our Project Management Office team executed the complex concepts and designs to exacting standards. 

Nature reimagined

We transformed the massive column near the entrance to a magic faraway tree, which we later named the ‘Tree of FiaFia’. Our PMO team brought the 5.9m tall, 7.5 x 5.4m diametre FiaFia tree to life. Everything mimicked nature: the branches of the tree were much larger on one side, its green leaves were unevenly shaped.

This was the toughest challenge. It involved designs, feasibility studies, technical drawings, 3D modelling, local manufacture and installation piece-by-piece.

The leaves were crafted in fabric one leaf at a time, to make it move with the aircon draughts and to also help with space acoustics. When done, the tree became a portal to welcome kids and help them transition from the mall environment outside to the fairy-tale forest inside. 

We fashioned the clouds with metallic wire mesh, so FiaFia could hang multiple elements from it to reflect themes and new adventures. We sourced and installed droplights shaped like birds and hanging fruits. Origami paper cranes (changeable for seasonality) bobbing from the ceiling added the final touch, ushering in open skies, carefree childhood, and happiness. 

Painting the open ceiling bright white helped with the lighting and lend an effect of spaciousness and grandeur. 

We crafted bespoke modern arches, with colours and tones inspired by the desert, throughout the space, including a reception, entry gate, menus, wall panelling, doorways, even shoe stands. The arches reflected Arabian heritage and national pride – sentiments important to the founders of FiaFia. 

We designed and manufactured the café counter in pretty pink and located it in the middle of the space to attract those passing by in the mall. Terrazzo slabs on the countertop and tabletops added a touch of trendiness and its curvatures spoke the same design language as the arches. 

The 1.6mx3m high endearing FiaFia logo above the café was crafted in aluminium with powder-coated paint and filled with roses on a foam backing. The flowers can be easily changed to any other element to align with seasonality and new themes. The logo, embodying nature and playfulness, became another eye-popping design feature. We created nine colourful, beautifully arched menu boards.

We fitted out the kitchen for the café restaurant with professional, restaurant-grade equipment so that kids and guardians could enjoy fresh F&B. The kitchen also supports children’s cooking activities – baking pizzas and other items on their menu. The toilets were located next to the kitchen, strategically and hygienically cordoned off, for MEP efficiencies.

A hair salon was kitted out with a tiltable washbasin to wash kids’ hair comfortably and rotatable chairs that swivel between washing and cutting stations for space efficiencies. Cute signage on the doors added to the ambience.

In the Celebration zone, we built a hall for private birthday parties and events. It had easily operatable folding partitions so space could open out to the Happiness zone when not in use and hold bigger parties. An office for employees rounded off the different spaces.

COVID protocols

We used antimicrobial fabric for the chairs and an anti-fingerprint coating in key areas such as the wicket gates and play stations. Seat cushions and soft furnishings were made with Velcro and zippers so these can be regularly removed and laundered for the highest hygiene standards. 

Colours

We followed design guidelines and chose a neutral colour palette so that the spotlight remained on the kids and facilitators, both heroes of the space. We replicated pop of colours and elements found in nature to usher in wellness.

As for build specialists, we have a responsibility to create healthy spaces that promote wellness and where people can emotionally connect with one another…this is all the more important when it’s built for kids.