Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Why more designers need to make their products in the UAE

As art and design organisation Tashkeel calls on designers to take part in the second edition of Tanween+, Lisa Ball-Lechgar explains why the UAE needs more locally made products

Lisa Ball-Lechgar of Tashkeel.
Lisa Ball-Lechgar of Tashkeel.

Dubai has become a creative hub for the region. The emirate’s appointment as the Middle East’s first Unesco Creative City of Design sends out a very clear message that the city places design and ­creativity as a strategic factor for future sustainable urban development, and is committed to a future focused on human capacity-building and knowledge creation.

Yet, while the UAE has become synonymous internationally with innovative architectural practice, we must seek to strengthen the design-to-manufacturing chain that is at the epicentre of the product design ecosystem here.

The possibilities of integrating the nation’s culture and heritage practices with contemporary design are almost infinite. In order to conceive such products that not only imbue the spirit of the nation, but are also able to compete in today’s sophisticated global consumer market, we must close the gap between the local design and local manufacturing sectors, and foster a consumer appetite steeped in national pride – one that is hungry for products inspired by, created and manufactured in the UAE.

'Host Vessel' by Alya AlEghfeli from Tanween+ 2018. Courtesy of Tashkeel
'Host Vessel' by Alya AlEghfeli from Tanween+ 2018. Courtesy of Tashkeel

Over the last 10 years, practitioners from across the UAE have begun to develop a definitive design language that articulates the dynamic, multilayered fabric of our societies and reflects the rich diversity of our local resources. The collections of professionals such as Aljoud Lootah and Khalid Shafar, who are alumni of Design Road Pro – a training initiative by Tashkeel, Creative Dialogue and Dubai Culture & Arts Authority – are now being sold and exhibited worldwide.

Through programmes such as Tanween, Tashkeel’s ongoing one-year design programme for emerging practitioners, and Tanween+, our latest call for small-scale products, the skills and aptitude of the UAE’s talent are being fostered. We are building a sense of understanding for materials and practices inherent to the UAE, while combining them with modern processes in order to produce contemporary furniture and products that capture the unique character of this country.

By investing in the evolution of a design language, we are seeing a growing demand and passion for UAE-made items both within the retail and trade markets. In homes, hotels and offices around the country, you can now find examples of this. These include Moza, the armchair featuring bespoke elements of Sadu by Studio Muju; and Zuleika Penniman’s Coral Series that echoes the country’s architectural heritage via lamps, wall sconces and room dividers.

The realisation of locally designed products is still challenging. In a city like Dubai, where manufacturers are focused on delivering large quantity orders with mostly imported materials, demand for the production of small quantities in limited-edition series utilising locally sourced elements and practices is something of a hard sell.

But, after years of searching through the industrial areas of the UAE and speaking to countless manufacturers, we are beginning to gather a group of advocates who recognise the value for their businesses and their employees in collaborating on one-off and limited-edition runs with the UAE’s designers. This research is available through the open access online platform Make Works UAE, which provides profiles of manufacturers, fabricators, suppliers and craftspeople who accept orders from the local design sector.

By uniting designers with those who hold the knowledge of both traditional as well as modern materials, processes and technologies, there is a great opportunity to increase UAE production of high-quality design products that reflect the past, the present and the future of this nation. The key will be in incentivising both industry and design practitioners to work together for their mutual benefit. By doing so, they will explore new applications for materials and techniques and open up opportunities, both at home and abroad, for UAE design.

Lisa Ball-Lechgar is the deputy director of Tashkeel. For more information about Tanween+, visit tashkeel.org/projects/tanween-plus-2019

Updated: August 10, 2019 11:45 AM

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