x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Clicks, wins and Brazilian style

Insider: X-Architects win at Cityscape Abu Dhabi's MENA Awards; high-end Italian brand, Skitsch, deems online to be the future of selling; saving Brazil and its endangered sites on the map.

The principals of X-Architects, Farid Esmaeil and Ahmed al Ali - winners for their Al Nasseem scheme in Al Ain.
The principals of X-Architects, Farid Esmaeil and Ahmed al Ali - winners for their Al Nasseem scheme in Al Ain.

Congrats to the Dubai practice X-Architects: in Cityscape Abu Dhabi's MENA Awards, the team's Al Nasseem scheme, designed for Al Ain, was named Best Mixed Use Future Development Project. "We feel that this award is a triumph for regional architecture," declared Ahmed al Ali, who co-founded X-Architects with Farid Esmaeil, "and are confident that it will encourage us further in expanding the boundaries of contemporary design and architecture sensitive to the region."

The award demonstrates that there really is some good home-grown design being carried out here (with a significant amount of it from alumni of the architecture faculty at the American University of Sharjah). Taking its cue from the natural features of Al Ain and the dense urban fabric of traditional Islamic cities, Al Nasseem is a nifty little "urban oasis", which actually encourages pedestrian circulation - everywhere. At last! Hats off to its developer, Al Qudra Real Estate. Let's hope others sit up and take note, abandoning the Texan matchbox tower model for good.

Launched during last year's Milan Salone, the high-end Italian brand, Skitsch, recently added a London showroom (in Brompton Cross) to its Milan base. Yet, despite investing in bricks and mortar, and all the overheads that go with running a showroom, Renato Preti, Skitsch's chief executive - one of the rare Italians who understand the power of the internet in design commerce - says the web is the future for selling design. The Skitsch stores will enable globe-trotting customers to physically experience the products but Preti expects most of the sales to happen online, which will also help to keep costs down. Online prices range from $7.50 (Dh27.50) for the Nice Dice by Giulio Iacchetti to $6,000 for Pagani Perversi's glass and iron Pang table. Claiming to be the first design brand selling its entire collection online, Skitsch has attracted about 1,500 internet orders (mainly for lighting, accessories and storage) since launching the website last summer, the company says. While shipping charges are always a factor, a franchise in Beirut is on the cards, which might help reduce costs for Middle Eastern consumers. Perhaps this will help shake things up on Zabeel Road...

Brazil's craft-based culture, relative isolation and domestic market of 200 million people have given rise to a dynamic and distinctive design identity. The country seems to be all the rage in the design and fashion worlds - inspiring Wallpaper* and Monocle to devote special features and issues to Brazil. Next year, the much-anticipated Warapuru resort in southern Bahia opens its doors - an architectural slice of heaven designed by Anouska Hempel, who can be credited with launching the boutique hotel concept with Blakes in London in the 1970s. This year also sees the 50th anniversary of Brasilia - Oscar ­Niemeyer's ­urban masterpiece - which signals a time when urban planning was optimistic and expansive, compared with today's more piecemeal approach that seems permanently in fear of future environmental disaster. Another of Niemeyer's visions of the future - the international fairground in Tripoli, Lebanon - has now been listed as one of the World Monument Fund's 100 most endangered sites, in ­response to a failed plan to replace it with a tourist village based on Disneyland. Thankfully, a preservation group has restored the grounds and is now fighting to save its buildings.