x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Prayer chair takes a bow at design show

Creation that helps the elderly or infirm to perform their religious duties on show in Milan.

Sarah Alagroobi, left, and Noor Jarrah with a model of Ms Alagroobi's design.
Sarah Alagroobi, left, and Noor Jarrah with a model of Ms Alagroobi's design.

SHARJAH // A chair designed to rock forward so that the infirm can bow the head while praying was one of the highlights of an exhibition of work by students at a prestigious design event in Italy.

Sarah Alagroobi, 22, an Emirati from Sharjah, got the idea after seeing the difficulties her mother and late grandmother had at prayer times. She used state-of-the-art technology to develop the piece - which has a curved, organic shape - named Amal's Prayer Chair after her grandmother.

"In the Islamic way, you are in the prostrate position, you bend down and touch the floor with your head and you come back up," Ms Alagroobi said. "That process is very difficult for someone who is pregnant, of an older age, or has problems with their knees or something like that.

"People who can't pray like that normally find any chair that's available when the call to prayer happens and they pray on it.

"So I thought it would be really interesting to take that concept, since it had never been done before, and actually try to create a chair that could be used in homes and mosques by people who can't pray.

"It's sort of organic meets a rocking chair, meets something that's spiritual."

The chair was developed using a 3-D printer, a machine that makes solid, three-dimensional objects from digital files. The American University of Sharjah (AUS) is pioneering the use of this technology in the Emirates.

Ms Alagroobi was among a group of seven female students and graduates from the AUS who showed their work at SaloneSatellite, which ran alongside last month's Milan Furniture Fair, the world's largest design show.

They were among 700 promising young designers and students from around the world who took part, and they showed their creations alongside displays by Cambridge University, Rhode Island School of Design and other leading institutions.

The AUS works attracted a great deal of interest: some of the students received job offers and many visitors offered to buy the pieces - including an interior designer from London who wanted to use one item on the set of a reality TV show.

Some were interested in mass-producing pieces, while others offered to display the works around the world, and one group of visitors even offered to buy their specially-designed display booth. The team now plans to go through the offers and decide which ones it wants to accept.

"The reaction we got surpassed our expectations," said Ms Alagroobi. "It was an amazing, amazing experience. It's something we never dreamed of getting to. It's an environment where the best of the best furniture pieces are there. You're showcasing your work alongside extremely established schools as well as upcoming designers.

"So to be in that sort of realm, which is a platform for exposure not only as a designer but as an individual, was a great experience."

Noor Jarrah, 21, an American student who has lived in the UAE for 10 years, showed a reading table engraved with Phoenician letters and Latin script. "It was really exciting to meet professionals in the field and people who were just really curious about the subject. People were really interested in our work," she said.

Some members of the team are taking a new course that combines graphic design with furniture design, believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

The course is taught at the university's College of Architecture, Art and Design by Bill Sarnecky, the assistant professor of architecture, and Amir Berbic, the associate professor of design, who accompanied the group to Milan.

"The response was absolutely overwhelming. Our booth was flooded with people from the moment the place opened, pretty much for six straight days. People were begging us to sell them the pieces," Prof Sarnecky said.

Prof Berbic said: "It wasn't our objective to get these mass-produced or to get pieces sold; we stuck with the educational objective.

"Now we're going to think about how this work can have a prolonged life. We had some museums from Australia, the UK and Hong Kong asking if they can have our show exhibited at their design fairs."

csimpson@thenational.ae