There are different facets to Dubai Design Week, from the sculptural (and often sustainable) public-engaging interventions of the Urban Commissions, to the future-looking, science-loving solutions of final-year students in the Mena Grad Show (part of the now-online Global Grad Show).
Inside Downtown Design, the tent that showcases everything from bespoke designs to kitchen and bathroom appliances, craft is clearly intertwined with retail, as indicated in its tagline “creativity meets commerce”.
Arguably, Dubai Design Week as a whole has evolved from a global platform to one that positions itself as an incubator for regional talent and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the standouts at Downtown Design this year.
Here are 10 highlights:
The Beirut Concept Store
With thousands of pillows stitched from 1950s linen amassed in piles, plus window frames from Beirut’s buildings after its August 4 blast as dividers, The Beirut Concept Store makes a powerful spatial statement.
There seems to be a constant buzz around the disruptive space. Showcasing the work of 50 designers from Lebanon and curated by Mariana Wehbe, it incorporates a dreamy scenography by Rumi Dalle. Highlights include ceramics with edges that take the form of withering petals by Maria Halios, leaflike candleholders by Nathalie Khayat, the crumpled bowls of Souraya Haddad, and the biomorphic table lamps of Zein Daouk emulating open mouths. The textural wall hangings by Adrian Pepe, made of sheep’s wool sourced from the mountainous region of Aarsal, form stunning topographies.
Located at E12
Tanween by Tashkeel
The Tanween collection, comprising works by designers in the UAE, is based on a 12-month professional development programme run by Tashkeel that capitalises on local materials and production processes.
As Downtown Editions, the fair’s section devoted to bespoke design, the Tanween collection boasts outstanding lighting fixtures. Taht Al Ghaf, a gorgeous wall-mounted series of lights by Khawla Mohammed Al Balooshi, is made of electroplated brass and translucent ghaf wood, arranged like concave bark. And the Fattoum floor lamp by studio Muju, an intricate homage to Sadu weaving, stands out with its dramatically patterned yarn lampshade.
Located at E21
UAE Designer Exhibition
Furthering the trend in home-grown design by emerging, locally based talent is the second UAE Designer Exhibition, curated by Lebanese designer Ghassan Salameh.
The works are deeply embedded in their cultural context from Sara Al Harbali’s steel and gold leaf wall sculptures from the Revelation Spectrogram Collection, which transmutes Quranic verse into sound waves to Fabidha Safar Rahman’s Hello, Mars carpet, an abstract representation of enfoldment and cyclicality, partially made of recycled yarn.
Two chair concepts are compelling. The first, Imma/Either Chair in white oak by Saudi architect Habiba Salman offers two seating positions, one with the chair’s legs extended and the other with the back elongated, depending on which side the viewer positions closer to the ground. Equilibrium 1.0 by Rana Salah tests the limits of the seat’s base through a cantilever that levitates the structure. The feeling of sitting on this chair is to be held by the negative space beneath the seat.
Located at C12
Perhaps the handcrafted Kimoko & Kinoko coffee table set by Monochrome Study, a design practice in Dubai, installed through the cavity behind a black wall and on mounds of sand, is a bit much. But the concept, to create a table from hard material that evokes the softness of sand or the curvature of dunes, is convincing.
The table has eclectic references. Its edges tapered downward with a single rounded base reference portobello mushrooms - kinoko means mushroom in Japanese, while Kimoki is the name of a South Korean musician (Kim Oki), whose music was playing throughout the design process.
Although everything was handcrafted and inspired by the UAE, the limestone used to make these limited-edition sets comes from Spain and feels like smooth, cold marble.
Located at E23
Influenced by the abstract sculptures of French-German Dadaist Jean Arp, DesignKraft’s new Hallucinations collection is playfully presented and sources local materials such as fibreglass composites and camel leather. Colourful and experimental, there is a double-figured, bulbous piece with a tray propped on one side, like a waiter serving something or a mother holding a child.
Another double-function work takes the form of conjoined mushroom stalks, one of which is a light, while the other can be used as a table.
Located at E19
Kvadrat, the Danish textile company, has worked on some strong creative collaborations with local designers. A Softly Winded Chair by Faysal Tabbarah is made from found tree branches, each wrapped in knitted textile, poetically juxtaposing the natural with the synthetic.
The branches, smoothened and scanned to determine their load-bearing capacities, are cushioned, rather than concealed by the fabric.
Hanging behind this innovative seating is the theatrical Blue Velvet Colonnade by Bahraini-Danish, a trio of designers in Bahrain. Draped on the wall, with gold embroidery, it depicts the landscape of A’ali, a town in the Gulf island, in an abstraction of lines and typography.
Located at C10
The collection Reappropriating the Form by Artisanale, a collective of Syrian designers in Dubai, takes the recognisable mother of pearl inlay patterns from Syria, as mirror frames or table tops, while adding colour filters, neon lights, repetition and distortion.
The impact is to create the effect of a digital glitch in material with disjointed pieces of furniture combined. The result is a refreshing – at times kitschy – twist on the traditional.
Located at E08
Kazakh designer Nissa Kinzhalina is inspired by the geography of the steppe, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from her aesthetic of clean, minimalist lines, where her studies in Japanese architecture seem more dominant.
The Urban Philosophy chair, for example, is built on a single line. It appears as a polygon when viewed from an angle, while the Dubious Lamp, an arc propped on a base, looks like a sleek weighing scale, which lights up on either side.
Located at C07
Egyptian collector Rasheed Kamel's design gallery, which collaborates with the region’s multidisciplinary artists and architects, is showcasing the graceful Wave seater by renowned Egyptian sculptor Khaled Zaki. Sinuous and evocative of the body of a boat at sea, the undulating piece leaves a lot to the imagination.
Located at E30
Reformia is the third capsule collection by the Line Concept, and it is an exercise in asymmetry. They are a furniture design studio in Dubai that makes handcrafted pieces out of wood, marble and antique metals. From lopsided bookcases to unconventional combinations of wood, stone, glass and metals, there is a lot to love, and a poetics of movement.
Located at E26