We look at what we can expect from Dubai Design Week, what it means for the region’s design scene, and how the industry has matured here.
Dubai Design Week: A fresh angle on the design scene
If you find yourself walking along The Beach at JBR next week, you’ll come across a curious type of shelter, its heavy, black, octagonal frame contrasting with blue nylon strung in circular patterns, evoking Arabesque motifs. It is called Yaroof, after traditional shore fishing of the same name, and is made by the Emirati artist Aljoud Lootah. But why is it there?
Yaroof is part of the first Dubai Design Week, to be held Monday to Saturday next week, with more than 60 events across the city, including talks, workshops and installations. Dubai Design District (D3) will become an open museum, while Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and The Beach at JBR will host interactive installations.
“We looked for proposals that presented bold ideas, questioned conventions and responded to the issues faced by global society today,” explains Cyril Zammit, the director of design at DDW’s organisers, Art Dubai Group. “But most importantly, we chose the works on the basis of context; each of these pieces has been selected for its sense of belonging to the city – they all celebrate the creative dynamism and diversity of Dubai in unique ways.”
Installations such as Yaroof blur the line between high art and design object. Should design appear simple, as it does with the iPhone, whose sleek, intuitive, minimal design oversees and reflects our lives? Or should it assert itself, like the iconic citrus juicer by Philippe Starck, a predatory object so arrestingly insectlike that it dares its owner to try it? With exhibits by graphic, industrial, product and architectural designers from so many points on the globe, pinpointing an overarching zeitgeist to this year’s collection is a challenge, but visitors will notice that many contain a futuristic element, with a nod towards their own cultural heritage, as Yaroof does.
According to Zammit, these conceptual objects, made of glass, string, cardboard and lasers, are part of the same family, born of the world of design. As a rule of thumb, Zammit says, a designer makes objects we use, where artists make objects we look at. This expanding definition of design, along with a growing audience, is one of the indicators of the way the industry has grown in Dubai since 2012.
When Design Days, a predecessor to DDW, was first held, three years ago, the focus was on furniture and architecture. Since then, with the support of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and Tashkeel, the industry has been cultivated through education and events such as this one, inviting collaboration. Local production of porcelain, ceramics, wood, plastic and camel leather have also contributed to Dubai’s development as a hub, making this an attractive city for designers to set up shop.
Where past design events in Dubai were geared towards collectors and industry insiders, Dubai Design Week is a public event, geared as much for industry insiders as for the design-curious, and families looking for something different to do on the weekend.
Not to be missed is the Global Grad Show, an exhibition at D3 that showcases 50 international designers from 10 design schools on themes of construction, health, home, memory, play and work. In the “home” section, you’ll find a dinner set that introduces new ways of eating, an autonomous vehicle that acts as a roving bedroom, and a coffee maker that stimulates your five senses.
Abwab, which means “doors” in Arabic, is a series of six pavilions that showcase the work of the most exciting designers, studios and curators from the Menasa (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia) region. This year, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE were selected. Abwab is a portal to the region’s local design talent under one unifying theme, Games: The Element of Play in Culture.
In Al Fahidi Historical District, check out boundary-pushing installations such as A Place to Departure. It allows people in different places to feel each other’s touch, interacting with a haptic feedback system, which uses advanced vibration patterns to convey information. As you look through the window you can see it’s crystal clear, but as you touch it, a digital mark of your touch is instantly transported to a second window in another location, allowing you to reach the other side of the world and feel it through the distance.
Many of the district’s installations will remain in situ, acting as urban landmarks for Dubai, while others will be rotated around the city to be introduced to different audiences and contexts.
Families will enjoy the Ripe Design Market, held at D3 on Friday and Saturday next week, from 9am to 6pm. Handmade crafts, soap, jewellery, clothing and unusual culinary delights will be on offer. Fashionistas can also find unique, handmade clothing here.
A series of workshops hosted by Tech Will Save Us will offer sessions such as Electro Dough Tech, where children ages 4 to 6 will learn the basic principles of electricity by playing with dough and bringing creations to life with electronics. Other workshops include the DIY Thirsty Plant Kit, where you can create a moisture sensor out of plaster of Paris and nails, and the DIY Synth Kit, where you build a synthesiser and experiment with electronic music. Unlike the rest of the Dubai Design Week events, which are free of charge, these workshops charge a small fee for materials.
With an eye towards Expo 2020, Dubai Design Week positions the city to become a hub for cutting-edge innovators in the field. The industrial designer Hamza Al-Omari of Loci Architecture and Design is eagerly anticipating the event. “Having all these creative minds from around the world in one space creates the opportunity for collaboration between designers that otherwise would not have met. We look forward to seeing what fruits Dubai Design Week will bear.”
For more information, visit www.dubaidesignweek.ae and turn back to the previous page for a map of highlights across the city.