x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Schools, fairs and furnishings

Insider Egypt is putting its money where its mouth is by funding a design school, or for those who prefer to put their money into bricks and mortar, the fabulous Elrod House, designed by John Lautner, is on the block.

December on the international design circuit means Design Miami - the limited edition design fair combined with the high octane glitz of Miami's arty party set. This year's predictably smaller affair had a vibe that Franklin Getchell, the partner of New York design gallerist Murray Moss, told The New York Times was "less competitive and more cooperative".

Call me cynical but we all know that dealers have had a duff year, watching their over-inflated prices plummet back to earth. As a result, more accessibly priced work by younger designers got more of a look-in; their refreshing approach seemed to be forget commercial, think conceptual. Regardless of sales, design creativity is alive and kicking. Naomi Campbell and her billionaire beau, the Russian property mogul Vladislav Doronin, were at Patrick Seguin's stand to see the Jean Prouvé prefab projects. They could have saved themselves the transatlantic schlep and seen them at Abu Dhabi Art. This year's designer of the year was the talented Maarten Baas, who also made an appearance at Abu Dhabi Art. Are we seeing a pattern here? The hot gossip among insiders is that next year's Design Miami will include 18th-century decorative arts. Hmm ... the jury's out on whether it's great that contemporary design will be viewed in a broader context or whether it has sufficient strength not to be overwhelmed by the antiques.

But for those who prefer to put their money into bricks and mortar rather than furnishings, the fabulous Elrod House in Los Angeles, designed by John Lautner, is on the block. Who can forget its magnificent 60-foot circular living room, as seen in Diamonds are Forever and Ironman ...? A snip at US$13 mill.

It's time to get back to making things. "I do nothing in the UK," Ross Lovegrove revealed at Dubai's recent IFI Congress, "because in the UK it's all about processing money, it doesn't make things [any more]." The UK's not the only place. After a septimana horribilis for Dubai, could it be time to shift the balance of power from the stock market to the factory floor? Lovegrove has in fact designed one product in the UK: his hugely successful bottle for the Welsh water company, Ty Nant. (The UAE water company Masafi approached him, but he thinks they baulked at his six-figure fee). It's time to start investing in research and development programmes and industrial design schools if this place isn't to end up over-reliant on tourism.

Lighting design wizard, Rogier van der Heide, was in Dubai recently explaining how his projects - from The Yas Hotel in Abu Dhabi to the "cloud of lights" installation in Tallin, Estonia - are all about getting under the skin of the client. "Why put so much effort into something temporary?" queried a local design student. Without missing a beat he responded, "It's down to designers to inject beauty into our lives." Whether permanent or temporary, the stuff around us should be designed well. Needless to say, the student saw the light.

Egypt has an annual demand for 500,000 housing units per annum, with only 150,000 being delivered. Small wonder that many interior design outfits in Dubai and its UAE neighbours are switching their attentions there. Egypt is putting its money where its mouth is by funding a design school - a move that will help to modernise the design industry. Dubai had similar lofty ambitions when it organised the ambitious International Design Forum two years ago, where it was announced that long term plans included a design school and an Arab Design Council.

Just the sort of initiatives that are crucial for forming and encouraging the next generation of creative entrepreneurs. Yvonne Courtney is the co-founder of design/publishing consultancy and ezine designtastic.net