El­e­vated think­ing

Di­ane Thorsen, Prin­ci­pal, De­sign Di­rec­tor and one of the founders of Perkins+Will’s Dubai stu­dio, re­flects on her pas­sion and the power of col­lab­o­ra­tive de­sign.


Di­ane Thorsen, Prin­ci­pal of Perkins+Will’s Dubai stu­dio, re­flects on her pas­sion and the power of col­lab­o­ra­tive de­sign

“Good de­sign is mak­ing some­thing in­tel­li­gi­ble and mem­o­rable. Great de­sign is mak­ing some­thing mem­o­rable and mean­ing­ful,” said de­sign leg­end Di­eter Rams. In our re­gion, the de­sign scene is ex­pand­ing at light speed – and for two decades one of Dubai’s most beloved and tal­ented com­man­ders, Di­ane Thorsen, has been at the helm, cre­at­ing im­pact­ful and poignant de­signs. Known for her com­mit­ment to the field and its prac­ti­tion­ers, that’s be­come a part of the city’s ge­og­ra­phy and fo­cus. A grad­u­ate of the Fac­ulty of Art, De­sign and Ar­chi­tec­ture, Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa, the award-win­ning de­signer has cre­ated de­signs for in­ter­na­tional work­places, hospi­tal­ity projects and mixed-use de­vel­op­ments – all while main­tain­ing a com­mit­ment to re­search and men­tor­ing as well as to high­light­ing the past, present and fu­ture of Dubai as both a global force and a deeply his­toric site. Her projects and clients in the re­gion in­clude Adi­das in d3, Boule­vard Heights, Citibank, Diplomatic Quar­ter Ho­tel, Katara Phase IV, LinkedIn and Möven­pick Re­sort Al Mar­jan Is­land. Gen­er­ous as al­ways, Thorsen took the time to an­swer ques­tions about her in­flu­ences and process, and her thoughts about the state of the in­dus­try. What in­flu­enced your de­sign phi­los­o­phy? I am from South Africa and grew up sur­rounded by ex­tra­or­di­nary nat­u­ral beauty. I be­lieve this has given me an in­nate ap­pre­ci­a­tion for tex­tures, pat­terns and colours that are sim­ply na­ture’s math­e­mat­i­cal mir­a­cles. I re­gard the de­sign of spa­ces and build­ings we cre­ate and oc­cupy as an in­ter­na­tional cre­ative lan­guage that touches ev­ery as­pect of our lives. De­sign af­fects peo­ple emo­tion­ally. I’ve al­ways loved the process of de­sign as [fol­lows] this phi­los­o­phy: re­search, in­spi­ra­tion and [the] col­la­tion of ideas, tex­tures, shapes and forms evolve and take shape as a re­sult of a con­tin­u­ous di­a­logue be­tween our clients and within our team. My phi­los­o­phy has al­ways been [about] col­lab­o­ra­tive idea-shar­ing, as an ap­proach [that] cre­ates the best re­sults. What projects have most de­fined you as an ar­chi­tect? Ev­ery project be­comes my favourite in a way, but I most en­joy projects with chal­leng­ing briefs and in­formed clients who share and ap­pre­ci­ate the pas­sion and value that ar­chi­tects bring. Hospi­tal­ity projects are the most ex­cit­ing, as de­vel­op­ers have an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for touch points that re­late to how peo­ple feel. In fact, ev­ery project type is now merg­ing, and ideas are cross-pol­li­nat­ing. What de­sign­ers have in­flu­enced you? Issey Miyake’s phi­los­o­phy – ‘De­signs that re­flect and ad­dress the way peo­ple live to­day’ – res­onates with me. Miyake has a pas­sion to in­no­vate and ex­plore. He is con­stantly rein­vent­ing him­self and search­ing for new ways to com­bine aes­thet­ics with in­no­va­tive tech­niques. Every­thing he de­signs has a highly in­tel­lec­tual start­ing point – and then, through col­lab­o­ra­tion, a prod­uct emerges that is in­spir­ing and fresh. I ad­mire his ap­proach for col­lab­o­rat­ing with math­e­ma­ti­cians, mu­si­cians and other fa­mous ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers. His prod­ucts are cre­ated us­ing fab­rics made us­ing re­cy­cled fi­bres that are de­vel­oped by Ja­panese com­pa­nies and pro­duced with the co­op­er­a­tion of fac­to­ries in tex­tile-pro­duc­ing re­gions. What has al­lowed the de­sign scene in Dubai to grow so rapidly? Dubai at­tracts a cer­tain type of per­son­al­ity that I re­fer to as ‘ the ex­plor­ers’. The re­gion is known for push­ing bound­aries and chal­leng­ing per­cep­tions, and this at­tracts de­sign­ers who are will­ing to take up any chal­lenge a client may present. What have been your big­gest chal­lenges at Perkins+Will? The speed of de­liv­er­ing projects and the con­stant push to drive fees to be­come more com­pet­i­tive are chal­lenges that all pro­fes­sion­als face in this re­gion. We pride our­selves on de­liv­er­ing qual­ity without com­pro­mis­ing ser­vice, but this of course re­quires col­lab­o­ra­tion and time. As a team, we have honed our skills and com­mu­ni­ca­tion to a point where we work in to­tal sync with one an­other, de­liv­er­ing great ideas seem­ingly ef­fort­lessly. Do you think ‘de­sign’ speaks an in­ter­na­tional lan­guage? Great de­sign is an in­ter­na­tional lan­guage as it ad­dresses func­tion, shape, form, colour and tex­ture – as well as the uni­ver­sal lan­guage of emo­tional re­ac­tions. These are an un­spo­ken but com­mon thread in any cul­ture. How­ever, I do be­lieve de­sign should in­form and pro­vide peo­ple with a sense of place, and emo­tion­ally im­merse peo­ple in the his­tory and char­ac­ter of the lo­ca­tion. Does any­thing give you pause about the cur­rent state of de­sign? I am con­cerned we will lose the essence of great qual­ity de­sign in the rush to build faster, higher and quicker, and all at lower costs. How do you de­fine lux­ury in the 21st cen­tury? The tra­di­tional ap­proach to lux­ury, which de­fines opu­lence as lav­ish de­sign and rich fin­ishes, is thank­fully past. The fo­cus is now less about ‘what I have’ and much more about ‘who I am’ and ‘what can I con­trib­ute’. De­sign now ad­dresses re­sponses that are eth­i­cal, cre­ative, con­nected, taste­ful and sus­tain­able. Peo­ple now seek out rare and share­able ex­pe­ri­ences that fo­cus on well­ness, ser­vice and au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences in beau­ti­fully but sim­ply de­signed spa­ces.

What does in­no­va­tion mean in the 21st cen­tury for Dubai? Most in­no­va­tion oc­curs when search­ing for a so­lu­tion to an is­sue we cre­ated in the past. Pres­sure on man­ag­ing our nat­u­ral re­sources and waste are driv­ing the most ex­cit­ing in­no­va­tions, such as re­gen­er­a­tive build­ings, the adap­tive reuse of ex­ist­ing build­ings, 3D print­ing and the re­cy­cling of ma­te­ri­als in cre­ative ways. I would love to see all plas­tics re­moved and re­placed with new ma­te­ri­als which are kinder to our planet. Recog­nised as one of the most for­ward-think­ing coun­tries, Dubai is po­si­tioned to lead sus­tain­able and zero net carbon build­ing de­sign. Should ‘de­sign think­ing’ speak to so­cial and eco­nomic jus­tice? De­sign think­ing at any level is a hu­man-cen­tred ap­proach. This cre­ative way of think­ing breaks all bar­ri­ers linked with gen­der, race or creed, and brings to­gether what’s de­sir­able from a hu­man point of view with what’s tech­no­log­i­cally fea­si­ble and eco­nom­i­cally vi­able. It al­lows peo­ple to use cre­ativ­ity that knows no re­stric­tions, to ad­dress so­cially cre­ated chal­lenges. How can de­sign­ers can help re­spond to en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues? If all de­signs ad­dressed re­siliency and sus­tain­abil­ity at the out­set, and clients were in­formed of the long-term ben­e­fits, we wouldn’t be in the sit­u­a­tion we are in, where coun­tries are dev­as­tated by wa­ter short­ages or nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. We have so much to learn from na­ture, as nat­u­ral sys­tems have evolved to achieve re­silience. As ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers, we take this lens and use nat­u­ral sys­tems and pat­terns to re­think our built en­vi­ron­ment. What is the best ad­vice you’ve been given? The best words of wis­dom in my ca­reer were “Tal­ent alone won’t guar­an­tee suc­cess – pas­sion and at­ti­tude count for more.” Do you think fail­ure is an im­por­tant part of a learn­ing process? Won­der­ful in­no­va­tions have arisen from failed at­tempts to cre­ate some­thing new. Of­ten our best ideas arise from seem­ingly crazy ideas and ‘out of the box’ think­ing. What ad­vice would you give to young ar­chi­tects? Some key driv­ers to suc­cess that are mo­ti­vat­ing for de­sign­ers and clients: pas­sion for de­sign and con­stantly learn­ing and ex­plor­ing; en­thu­si­asm for every­thing; project pos­i­tiv­ity; and be­ing kind and gen­er­ous to ev­ery­one. My key tag line, bor­rowed from Nike, is ‘Just do it’.

“Issey Miyake’s phi­los­o­phy – ‘DE­SIGNS THAT RE­flECT AND AD­DRESS THE WAY PEO­PLE LIVE TO­DAY’ – RES­ONATES WITH ME” - Di­ane Thorsen

LinkedIn MENA of­fice in Dubai In­ter­net City

Above and bot­tom right: LinkedIn MENA of­fice in Dubai In­ter­net City

Above and be­low: Adi­das of­fice in Dubai De­sign District

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