▶ Preser­va­tion is the name of the game at this year’s Dubai De­sign Week, writes Panna Mun­yal

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE -

The pur­pose of good de­sign is man­i­fold, and nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than at Dubai De­sign Week. The event has long cel­e­brated the cre­ation and ad­vance­ment of mean­ing­ful prod­ucts, ex­hi­bi­tions and tech­nolo­gies, with a view to giv­ing emerg­ing lo­cal, re­gional and global tal­ent free rein. At this year’s show, which starts to­mor­row, preser­va­tion – of peo­ple, prod­ucts and the planet – seems to be top of mind.

Even as sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment comes into sharper fo­cus, so does con­serv­ing age-old tech­niques, which in turn may pro­tect the crafts com­mu­ni­ties that prac­tise them. So­lu­tions to pre­serve cul­tures and val­ues are put forth, while else­where, de­sign­ers come up with ways to firm up con­cepts of gen­der and equal­ity, or look to make the most of the cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy we now have ac­cess to. Spir­i­tual totems sit side by side with gourmet cui­sine, even as the future of de­sign is weighed on the scales of sus­tain­abil­ity.

Whether it is to ful­fil a util­i­tar­ian need or an aes­thetic de­sire, above all, good de­sign is – and al­ways has been – about keep­ing an open mind. Let this overview of Dubai De­sign Week be your guide.


One of the event’s an­chor ex­hi­bi­tions, Ab­wab com­mis­sions works from the Mena re­gion and South Asia. Each year’s theme is meant to spotlight tal­ent and stim­u­late in­for­ma­tion ex­change. “Recre­ate the class­rooms of your cul­ture” was this year’s brief to a trio of de­sign houses from In­dia, the Eastern Prov­inces of Saudi Ara­bia and Le­banon, and their in­ter­pre­ta­tions are at once po­tent and poetic.

The lat­ter – at present rid­dled by mass protests – ex­plores the con­cept of a wall, a struc­ture with con­fin­ing con­no­ta­tions, but also an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of ar­chi­tec­ture. Wal(l)tz, by T Sakhi Ar­chi­tects from Beirut, is re­plete with para­doxes. De­spite its rigid shape, the wall is crafted in re­cy­cled foam, to re­flect re­silience in the face of ad­ver­sity. The an­i­ma­tion is in­ter­spersed with cracks to over­come bar­ri­ers and en­cour­age in­ter­ac­tion. Most im­por­tantly, per­haps, view­ers be­come per­form­ers when in­ter­act­ing with

Wal(l)tz, and “find them­selves in a chore­ographed protest”.

Con­tra­dic­tion also lies at the heart of the In­dia pav­il­ion. The whole coun­try is the class­room here, with the team from The Bus­ride De­sign Stu­dio not­ing “ev­ery­thing that is true of In­dia is equally un­true, ev­ery point has its own valid coun­ter­point”. Vis­i­tors will be con­fronted with a cor­nu­copia of mo­tifs: from “epiphany” lamps that use stained glass and wood carv­ing, to a retelling of the myths of our cre­ation that vary from com­mu­nity to com­mu­nity. All of these are scat­tered within labyrinth-like tes­sel­la­tions, in­spired by the op­u­lent Mughal dy­nasty, yet made from rough­spun khadi fab­ric.

Mean­while, Saudi Ara­bia’s Azaz Ar­chi­tects worked with the crafts­peo­ple of Sa’af, a project that safe­guards palm­frond weav­ing, a craft na­tive to the king­dom’s Eastern Prov­inces. The co­coon-like struc­ture is cre­ated from and filled with tex­tiles and weaves, al­low­ing vis­i­tors to ap­pre­ci­ate the craft at close quar­ters.

Global Grad Show

This ex­hi­bi­tion of­fers a first look at more than 150 in­ven­tions, cour­tesy of grad­u­ates from as many uni­ver­si­ties around the world, in­clud­ing Har­vard Univer­sity, Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don and Univer­sity of Syd­ney. Last week, Dubai De­sign Week an­nounced a Dh1 mil­lion an­nual fund to sup­port stu­dent start-ups fo­cused on cre­at­ing pos­i­tive so­cial im­pact, as part of the Global Grad Show. De­signed un­der themes such as sus­tain­abil­ity, gen­der and equal­ity, wealth and dis­par­ity, tech­nol­ogy and ed­u­ca­tion, this year’s projects put in mind bright-eyed and vi­sion­ary young de­sign­ers, in­tent on mak­ing the world a bet­ter, safer and cooler place.

Case in point, a “recipe book” put to­gether by a Cen­tral Saint Martins stu­dent, of var­i­ous waste and re­new­able ma­te­ri­als – from bi­o­log­i­cal scraps to in­va­sive plants such as hemp and seaweed – for ar­chi­tects who soon may have no choice but to turn to sus­tain­able, low­cost con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als.

Eco-care is also a pri­or­ity for a stu­dent from De­sign Academy Eind­hoven, who came up with Kas’i Ko­ral, a bucket-like de­vice de­signed to pro­vide a tem­po­rary shel­ter for fish, which in turn will gen­er­ate al­gae, which will en­cour­age co­ral polyps to grow. Else­where, seats are cre­ated from e-waste such as in­su­lated wires, of­fice chairs are crafted from boun­ti­ful bam­boo, while a combinatio­n of hemp, ca­sein and lime pro­vides a new ma­te­rial that can be used to make a range of fur­ni­ture.

Sev­eral projects are uni­ver­sal – such as a wear­able track­ing de­vice for vis­ually im­paired swim­mers, and a com­puter mouse that helps to avoid carpal tun­nel syn­drome – while oth­ers are de­signed for spe­cific so­ci­eties. Tu­mar is a com­mu­ni­ca­tion medium cre­ated, says the de­signer from Poland’s School of Form, “specif­i­cally for pa­tri­ar­chal con­texts such as [my] home coun­try of Kyr­gyzs­tan, where equal­ity be­tween part­ners is of­ten lack­ing”.

Tu­mar is a box filled with ob­jects that rep­re­sent spheres of mar­i­tal life: love, chil­dren, ca­reer, finances, reli­gion and tra­di­tions. Each ob­ject comes with cards that ad­dress im­por­tant but of­ten un­com­fort­able ques­tions. The de­signer en­vi­sions stack­ing the ob­jects to form a totem rep­re­sent­ing a cou­ple’s pri­or­i­ties, which can then be shifted around as the re­la­tion­ship evolves.


Totems are also the big draw at the Klove Stu­dio booth, which is dis­play­ing its Shamanic Soul col­lec­tion. The main in­stal­la­tion is a life-size gypsy car­a­van made from brass, and houses pieces in­spired by tra­di­tion­ally pow­er­ful tal­is­mans – from tiger, wolf and mon­key heads to ea­gles, pea­cocks and var­i­ous plants. The totems are jux­ta­posed with dream­catch­ers, chan­de­liers and other lights to en­chant­ing ef­fect.

An­other in­stal­la­tion to look out for is Malaab Dhad by Ak­wan, a com­pany and so­cial move­ment that aims to in­stil “the love of Ara­bic in chil­dren’s hearts”. The colour­ful struc­ture is a se­ries of sculp­tures in the shape of let­ters from the Ara­bic script, thus drawing at­ten­tion to the lan­guage in a fun way.

Over at the Down­town De­sign fair, which is part of Dubai De­sign Week at D3 from Tues­day, Novem­ber 12 to Satur­day, Novem­ber 16, is a sculp­ture by An­thony James. The Bri­tish-Amer­i­can artist from Los Angeles is known for his per­for­ma­tive in­stal­la­tions that travel the world. This is the first time his Icosa­he­dron will dis­played in the Mid­dle East – and it can best be de­scribed as a 20-sided cage of steel com­posed of con­sec­u­tive equi­lat­eral tri­an­gles, with a core of psy­che­delic light or, in a word, hyp­notic.


Amid the dozens of art­works and fur­ni­ture on dis­play is a rather in­trigu­ing ex­hi­bi­tion called De­sign, De­liv­ered, which prom­ises “ed­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences” to all food­ies at Dubai De­sign Week. The show, by De­liv­eroo, in­cludes an in­stal­la­tion cre­ated by Hadeel Subahi, founder of Fold Lab in Dubai. The origami de­signer’s ed­i­ble tree is made of re­cy­cled pack­ag­ing, and vis­i­tors can pluck and eat treats from within its fo­liage. These in­clude cook­ies, muffins, sushi, sal­ads, sand­wiches and juices, pro­vided by De­liv­eroo part­ners Br8, Mag­no­lia, Su­gar­moo and Sushi Art among oth­ers.

“This is an in­stal­la­tion that en­cour­ages re­cy­cling, is in­ter­ac­tive and de­li­cious all at the same time,” says Subahi. “The food we eat, make, like or as­pire to, says so much about who we are. We are all artists when it comes to the way we live, and food is one of our most im­por­tant means of ex­pres­sion. To be able to com­bine some­thing as es­sen­tial and di­verse as our daily meals with my pas­sion for reusing ma­te­ri­als through art was an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion also has a walk-in oven, which is an en­tire room set up like the in­side of an oven us­ing light­ing and tem­per­a­ture con­trol, with the aim to make lovers of steak and pasta “part of the process”.

In stark con­trast to Willy Wonka’s choco­late fac­tory-like am­bi­ence at De­sign, De­liv­ered, is Turquoise Moun­tain’s Kabul ex­hi­bi­tion, which will trans­port you to Mu­rad Khani. The look-feel of the heart of the Old City of Kabul is made re­al­is­tic through the clever use of im­mer­sive mul­ti­me­dia.

“It can be a sur­pris­ing per­spec­tive for those who as­so­ciate Afghanista­n with chal­lenge and strife … and a unique op­por­tu­nity to present the lit­tle-known rich­ness of Afghan cul­ture by show­cas­ing its tra­di­tions and arte­facts in an in­ter­ac­tive way,” says Francesca Rec­chia, act­ing di­rec­tor for the In­sti­tute of Afghan Arts and Ar­chi­tec­ture.

Fi­nally, while the bulk of Dubai De­sign Week ac­tiv­i­ties and in­stal­la­tions are at D3, the event also hosts a se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tions and talks at var­i­ous venues across the city. One such col­lab­o­ra­tion, Fur­ni­ture De­sign for Sus­tain­able Future, be­tween The Work­shop Dubai and Zin­jaar Vin­tage, is be­ing held at the for­mer’s Jumeirah space. Its pur­pose is to bring a col­lec­tion of an­tique and vin­tage fur­ni­ture – which has a car­bon foot­print that’s 16 times lower than that of new prod­ucts – to in­ter­ested con­sumers.

So whether you’re look­ing to buy, browse or sim­ply be­come more aware of the prod­ucts and ideas out there, head to Dubai De­sign Week from to­mor­row un­til Satur­day, Novem­ber 16.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.dubaidesig­n­

The Saudi Ara­bia Ab­wab pav­il­ion, right, fo­cuses on palm-frond weav­ing, a craft na­tive to the king­dom’s Eastern Prov­inces

Tu­mar, by a Global Grad Show stu­dent, en­cour­ages mar­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Chairs made of a new ma­te­rial us­ing hemp, ca­sein and lime

‘Malaab Dhad’ by Ak­wan is a se­ries of sculp­tures in the shape of Ara­bic let­ters that aims to pro­mote the lan­guage

An­tique and vin­tage fur­ni­ture has a lower car­bon foot­print than new pieces

Turquoise Moun­tain’s Kabul Old City mul­ti­me­dia ex­hi­bi­tion

A gypsy car­a­van by In­dia’s Klove Stu­dio is stacked with totems

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