How three UAE designers used the pandemic to fuel their creativity for Dubai Design Week pieces

Natural elements and recycled materials take centre stage in the limited-edition creations of participants in Tashkeel’s Tanween design programme

Lina Ghalib, Neda Salmanpour and Nada Abu Shaqra will show their limited-edition works at Dubai Design Week. Courtesy Tashkeel
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Locally made and locally inspired are two of the catchphrases that influenced three limited-edition products from creators at design collective Tashkeel, as part of their contribution to the upcoming Dubai Design Week.

Sustainable materials, such as upcycled palm branches, as well as natural woods and stone, feature large in the works by Lina Ghalib, Nada Abu Shaqra and Neda Salmanpour, the trio of "Tanweeners", participants in Tashkeel's Tanween design programme.

Lina Ghalib, designer of 'Yereed'

Lina Ghalib works on her bench-seat design, 'Yereed', for which she experimented with a new material, PlyPalm. Courtesy Tashkeel

"I have always been drawn to wood since I was a student," says Ghalib, who designed Yereed, a bench-seat that pays homage to her Egyptian heritage. "Palm, in particular, is part of my identity. Although it is not easy to handle, it offers so many options. I wanted to explore its potential, take time to experiment and see how it could translate further into my design language."

Ghalib's experimentation led to her creating a material she calls PlyPalm, using palm leaf branches that are shed seasonally in the UAE and turning them into a hardwood material.

"One day, I saw some workmen cutting down the dried palm branches and my heart sank; surely we can do something with this raw material instead of throwing it away," she says. "I took a few pieces to my car and started doing some research. I really had to focus, dig down and come up with designs that would reflect a strong narrative," says Ghalib of creating and working throughout the pandemic.

"I conducted some tests at home, which led to some great answers and suggestions. I came across Sandra Piesik and her book Arish: Palm-Leaf Architecture. I found out how the ribs, or yereed, were historically used in the UAE and how she developed products using the raw material itself."

Thus Ghalib's research led to the creation of her bench-seat, which reintroduces the natural element that is a part of centuries-old traditions, history and culture, into a modern setting.

Nada Abu Shaqra, designer of 'Hisn'

Nada Abu Shaqra, designer of 'Hisn', used time spent at home investing all her energy into her work. Courtesy Tashkeel

Freelance architect and interior designer Abu Shaqra says her passion lies in affordability and sustainability when it comes to product design.

The creator of the Hisn chair, made of terracotta, powder-coated steel and upholstered fabric, says her design was made with residential and public spaces in mind, for people needing a space to recharge.

"I'm interested in the historical narrative around me and the way places remain, but change in function," says Abu Shaqra, whose 2018 art installation, For Abu Dhabi, was selected by the Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities – Abu Dhabi to be fabricated and assembled in different neighbourhoods around the capital.

"For the Hisn chair, I wanted to subtly reflect UAE vernacular architecture in the design and in the texture and colour of contemporary materials that have a luxurious, modern connotation. There is this contrast of modern and traditional at the heart of my design rationale."

Like her Tanween design programme peers, Abu Shaqra found herself completing her project during the pandemic, an experience she says "depended on the mindset you adopted".

"There were positives and negatives. Self-motivation became critical because we did not have people around to push us forward. So, during the initial two weeks of restrictions, I decided to occupy myself by investing all my energy in developing my design. This became a really productive time for me."

Neda Salmanpour, designer of 'Qaws'

Neda Salmanpour, works on her calligraphy-inspired lighting design, 'Qaws'. Courtesy Tashkeel

Where the delicate strokes of a calligrapher's brush meets brass, 3D-printed plastic and concrete is where you'll find architect Salmanpour's lighting work, Qaws.

Taking symbols of Middle Eastern culture and processing them in a non-traditional manner is a skill that helped Salmanpour create a most contemporary product.

"I chose to focus on a lighting piece because they possess a strong degree of symbolism and are synonymous with cultural identities across the region," she says. "I also wanted to expand the existence of my piece beyond its physical being and dimensions. The projection of light beyond the work itself offered me that opportunity."

The result was a deep exploration into the design language of the region and its relationship to maths and geometry.

"I knew right from the start that research would be vital in enabling me to define my design language," says Salmanpour. "I had to work out how to converge craftsmanship and technology in a contemporary design while obtaining a materiality that felt regionally specific."

And it's this regional specificity that pertains to the success of the future of design talent locally.

“I firmly believe that the UAE can take the world by storm when it comes to design,” says Ghalib. “It’s an exciting time to be here.”

Tashkeel’s Tanween Collection will be on sale at Dubai Design Week 2020 at Dubai Design District from Monday to Saturday, November 9 to November 14