This year’s Dubai Design Week is its biggest yet — buoyed by the potential of post-pandemic life as the emirate continues to open up.
More than 250 events and activities will be held at the Dubai Design District (d3) from Monday to Saturday, with a total of 430 designers from the UAE and 560 companies taking part.
At the heart of the festival is Downtown Design, a trade fair that brings together artists from around the world to present innovations in product design.
The Beirut Concept Store is one of this year’s standout booths. Curated by Mariana Wehbe, it brings together more than 20 Lebanese artists and designers for a synergistic showcase.
One of its participants, Exil Collective, is a design incubator that supports local production within Lebanon through funding and knowledge-sharing.
At another booth, the Amalgam Collection by designer George Geara presents ergonomically designed furniture that puts a contemporary twist on majlis-style seats.
The UAE Designer Exhibition 2.0, part of Downtown Design, puts a spotlight on local talent, with more than 30 designers from the country displaying their designs.
One of the designers, Omar Al Gurg, creative director and founder of Modum Method, is presenting modular and multifunctional pieces such as Spike, a wooden tower with movable pegs that can be used as a coat rack or kitchen storage.
There are also homeware products, such as Aditi Patwari’s tatreez-inspired designs made from discarded paper and Lena Kassicieh’s colourfully painted ceramic pieces.
The scale of this year’s event is a far cry from last year’s hybrid model of online and in-person events, developed due to the pandemic. In many ways, however, this year, the annual creativity festival retains key ideas that were explored in 2020, including an emphasis on purposeful design that responds to today’s issues.
“Last year, the focus was dealing with an emergency more than anything. This year, we’re still dealing with that emergency in some ways, but we wanted to focus on ways of looking into alternative futures that are focused on our well-being,” says Ghassan Salameh, creative director Dubai Design Week.
An example of this is the 2040: d3 Architecture Exhibition, which features proposals from five architecture firms that aim to meet the goals of Dubai’s 2040 Urban Master Plan, specifically in areas of mobility and transport, public and recreational spaces, accessibility to infrastructure and eco-tourism.
These presentations can be summed up as “human-centric” — architecture and urban planning that considers the needs of humans as part of the design process.
Beyrac Architects, for example, have drawn up urban plans to connect the Dubai Design District to the seaside area of Jumeirah through pedestrian-friendly structures, such as a multipurpose bridge that features both community and commercial aspects.
The firm also found a way to connect the two sides of Sheikh Zayed Road — the 12-lane motorway that cleaves the city in half — by proposing a sky bridge for pedestrians.
An exhibition within 2040 curated by Dabbagh Architects outlines how architecture can respond to its environment and the land on which structures are built, providing successful projects such as the Wasit Visitor Centre in Sharjah, a former rubbish dump that is now a wetland reserve.
In a similar vein, this year’s Abwab commission, which focuses on regenerative design and restorative architecture, looks at environmentally conscious materials in architect Ahmed El Sharabassy’s pavilion Nature in Motion.
Made with minimal materials including bamboo and fabric, the structure stands in the middle of d3, giving shade and allowing the breeze to flow through it as well.
Salameh says Nature in Motion provides a good example of how “large structures can be lightweight” and how “contemporary architecture can avoid abusing resources”.
The designer, who worked as a guest curator for Dubai Design Week before becoming creative director last year, has been part of organisers’ efforts to steer the programme’s presentations towards sustainability.
“Design is a polluting industry. Architecture is also a contributor to the climate crisis. These are industries that create waste,” he says.
“Architects and designers need to work on themselves when dealing with these issues. I want them to be aware of their own impact first, to start changing their own industry first.”
As part of this shift, this year’s public art installations aim to respond to environmental concerns in one form or another.
“Since last year, we decided to move away from decorative installations. Instead, we want them to have a practical role rather than just an aesthetic one,” Salameh says.
Among the current installations is The Plume, a project by Mohammed Mazenat, a student from Ajman University, who has used recycled aluminium to produce shade along the venue’s walkways.
Peahead.eco, a design studio that began as an eco-fashion line by Christine Wilson, has partnered with Beyarc Architects for Refractions, which aims to highlight plastic waste by repurposing 2,700 single-use plastic bottles into a shading structure.
At the Mena Grad Show, recent graduates from across the Middle East are displaying various projects tackling issues such as waste management, mental health and desertification.
Amanda Ioannou, a student at the American University in Cairo, for example, encourages the upcycling of agricultural waste in her project Al Madda. Drawing from her own experiments and prototypes, including containers constructed with paper-like material made from banana peels, Ioannou has built an archive of DIY recipes that can be replicated at home.
This reflects much of Dubai Design Week’s goals, which is to foster innovation and dialogue within the design industry on how it can adapt to a world rife with urgent concerns.
“I’m hoping for the younger generation of designers and architectures to start looking at things differently, to look at how they are developing their ideas for the future,” Salameh says.
In the coming week, Dubai Design Week’s programme will also include talks at The Forum in Downtown Design.
Featuring design experts and architects, the discussions will cover placemaking, developing collaboration and authenticity in design, and sustainability in the luxury design industry.
Dubai Design Week runs until Saturday, November 13. More information can be found at dubaidesignweek.ae