When Abdalla AlMulla was commissioned to create a pavilion for this year’s Abwab exhibition at Dubai Design Week, the Emirati architect turned to one of the most enduring local cultural symbols: the venerable palm tree.
The date palm was once inextricable from everyday life in the UAE. Its fruit was a staple food. Its trunk was used to construct homes. Its fronds, fibres and leaves were woven in handicrafts. While Almulla’s Of Palm brings these functions to mind, it does so in a way that is unflinchingly modern, setting a new frontier for what could be done with the date palm.
Dubai Design Week, running from November 7 to 12, is gearing up to examine issues around climate change and sustainability – themes that are in line with Cop28, the UN climate talks that will be held in Dubai.
By referring to the date palm for his installation, AlMulla shows how the tree, with its multifarious uses, has long been a mainstay of sustainability within Emirati culture.
“I was challenged to develop and create a concept that demonstrates how to use resources in a sustainable way,” AlMulla says. “Driven by the concept of scarcity and in alignment with the sustainability theme, I decided to harness an existing natural resource and to use it in a creative way to serve beyond its original purpose.”
Made entirely using parts of palm trees, Of Palm is one of the large-scale installations that will be unveiled and presented at Dubai Design District during Dubai Design Week. The work will come as part of the Abwab initiative, which aims to bolster cultural exchange through design and architecture.
“The entire pavilion – its structure, the interiors and all the products that will be displayed in it – will be made from palm trees,” AlMulla says. “I wanted to show how a palm tree, easily available locally, can be used to serve the needs of the people in terms of providing food, habitat, products, and fuel.”
The main challenge, AlMulla says, was to utilise the raw materials within the pavilion in a way that hearkens back to the fluid-like forms found in palm-woven handicrafts. The process required experimentation and several physical prototypes.
After developing a sense of the capabilities and limitations of the materials he was working with, AlMulla then began developing digital prototypes of the pavilion. The end result is a space that combines intricate flooring patterns with a mesmerising ceiling made from interwoven mats.
“Ultimately this is the beauty of working with natural materials,” he says.
“In this installation, we endeavoured to expand our creative horizons by reimagining raw materials in novel and multifunctional ways. Additionally, we explored the art of repurposing pre-designed or manufactured elements with a keen eye for design. We believe that the concept of breathing new life into existing elements holds immense potential to reshape how individuals and users perceive the world of design.”
AlMulla says Dubai Design Week was the right platform to conceptualise and execute Of Palm. The event, he adds, exemplifies how design can bridge different perspectives and experiences, while fostering a vibrant, inclusive community.
“It’s the opportunity to discover how designers are pushing their limits and their imagination to create new products and experiences for the world,” AlMulla says. “Dubai and the UAE have witnessed a remarkable influx of designers and design enthusiasts in recent years, reflecting the dynamic and cosmopolitan nature of the region.
“This growing community of creative minds brings with it a unique challenge and opportunity – to not only embrace the diverse cultures and resources that already exist in the region but also to present them in the most stunning and imaginative ways possible.”