This week, Nic Monisse heads to Dubai Design Week, where emerging designers and forward-thinking studios have gathered to show off their latest innovations in the city’s creative district. We also marvel at Gae Aulenti’s work from the 1960s, which prompts a light-bulb moment, and an automaker’s decision to shift gears – and wheels.
In Europe, there is an abundance of quality design weeks, all of which vary in subject. The 3 Days of Design fair in Copenhagen focuses on B2C trade, Paris’s biannual Maison & Objet offers a hit of B2B excellence and Milan’s Salone del Mobile, as well as its corresponding spin-off events, bring together all elements of the global furniture trade. But the Middle East and North Africa have long lagged behind in terms of offering quality shows – until now. Dubai Design Week, which launched in 2015, has finally come into its own: what started as a small fair has grown into the region’s most important design event, showing work from more than 500 designers, architects and creative practitioners.
Yesterday, at the opening of the fair, I met creatives from the UAE, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Here, on the streets of Dubai Design District, where the event is located, designers, students and office workers walked between exhibitions and public installations (see below) by creatives from across the Middle East. Highlights included The Big Challenge, a huge table-tennis installation adorned with geometric designs from Dubai-based architect Niko Kapa, and Flowing Threads by Areen Hassan, a Palestinian designer whose textile installation served as a reminder of the need for transparency and adaptability in design processes.
In addition to supporting design from across the region, the event is also giving back to the creative community in its home city. “Dubai design has always been about superlatives: the biggest, the tallest,” says Abdalla Almulla, who won Dubai Design Week’s annual Abwab pavilion commission. “It’s important to take what we have learned in the past and use it to change future perceptions. We want the UAE to be seen as a forward-looking country,” he says. With such an outlook present at the city’s biggest design event, expect the approach to be replicated across the region.
Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor. For more news and analysis, subscribe to Monocle today.
Born out of its namesake neighbourhood in Milan, Isola Design is an Italian creative platform dedicated to showcasing the work of an international cohort of emerging design studios. As part of its mission, it is displaying the work of more than 60 designers, creators and craftspeople across three exhibitions at Dubai Design Week. Highlights include the Materialized exhibition at Colab, Dubai’s first purpose-built material library, where architects and designers can pick up product samples. The showcase, which takes place in a space designed by studio Iammi, features innovative new construction materials, such as wall tiles made from eggshells and panels created with dried-fruit shells.
“The idea was to use the abundant waste material from the construction industry in Dubai as a physical platform for the exhibition,” says Stephanie Blanchard, who co-founded Iammi with Nicolau dos Santos (pictured, on right, with Blanchard). “We made sandbags similar to the ones found on building sites and filled them with debris from construction. We then used them as platforms for the exhibition, which was important to us as every designer developed something connected to the waste and recycling process.”
Isola Design’s other significant contribution to Dubai Design Week is an exhibition called Nothing Happens if Nothing Happens, a travelling showcase t features industrial and collectable products made in close collaboration with skilled craftspeople. Highlights include German designer Daniel Heilig’s series of timber stools, inspired by landscape and architectural forms, and a sculptural lighting collection by Ho Chi Minh City-based design studio Bang. Both Isola Design exhibitions show the importance of materiality and form in making spaces that can improve our environment and spirit.
Visit ‘Materialized’ in Building 1B and ‘Nothing Happens if Nothing Happens’ in Building 6 at Dubai Design District. The showcases run until Sunday 12 November.
A key part of Dubai Design Week is the display of large-scale installations, which take over the pedestrianised streets of D3 (Dubai Design District). This year, two strong themes emerged among the more than 25 works on show. The first is the exploration of how non-traditional or forgotten materials can be used in building construction. For proof, one only has to look at Urban Hadeera by Dubai- and Tokyo-based architecture studio Waiwai, which built sculptural seating out of a salt-based cement alternative. Similarly, Bahraini designer Sara Al Rayyes embedded a seating installation with mother-of-pearl oyster shells discarded by the pearling industry, while students from the University of Sharjah developed a wall made from polylactic acid.
The other key concept threading its way through countless pavilions was the use of everyday objects to inform the construction of larger works. Emirati architect AlZaina Lootah and Indian architect Sahil Rattha Singh came together to develop Naseej, a wooden pavilion whose form draws inspiration from traditional Emirati weaving patterns. Other designers following a similar route include Pakistan-born, Dubai-based creative Shabir Mir, whose Ring of Life (pictured, centre) sculpture was made from waste fishing nets.
Visit Dubai Design District by Sunday 12 November to view the commissions installed as part of Dubai Design Week.
Emirati architect Abdalla Almulla’s star is on the rise. The founder of Dubai-based design studio Mula recently won the commission for the annual Abwab at Dubai Design Week – the flagship installation placed at the centre of the city’s creative district for the duration of the event. Called Of Palm, his work is inspired by – and made from – palm trees. We spoke to Abdalla Almulla about his commitments to local materials and sustainability in a modern world.
Tell us about the ideas behind the design of ‘Of Palm’?
I wanted to create something embedded in Emirati culture but also something that was sustainable. After some research, I decided on a palm tree. The tree has historically had many roles in society, including for food, fuel and architecture. I liked the idea of using one material source to create multiple functions.
Talk us through the form of this project.
It’s a radial pavilion made from different parts of a palm tree. The columns are constructed from the trunk and the ceiling is made from palm-leaf mats, which you can find at local markets and use to create unexpected shapes. The idea is to show how you can create different parts of architecture through a single tree.
Is there a chance that we will see more indigenous materials used in UAE architecture?
I have been highly focused on this in my practice and career. It’s amazing what cities have been able to do with steel and concrete but, moving forward, we need to incorporate local materials into construction and think of new ways to develop them with today’s technology. We did this to design the roof for Of Palm, using computational technology to map out how many mats would be required to assemble the structure.
For more from Abdalla Almulla, tune in to ‘Monocle On Design’ on Monocle Radio.
Gae Aulenti didn’t just excel at designing things; she also had a knack for naming them. The Italian designer’s best-known light is called Pipistrello (Bat in English) while another heavy-set table lamp is named Rimorchiatore, or Tugboat. This standing light (pictured), designed in the 1960s for Milan-based manufacturer Artemide, was christened the Oracolo, or oracle. Resting on a steel base, the oversized lamp brightens up a room like a small sun or, indeed, a fortune teller’s crystal ball.
Most designers will readily admit that naming products often comes as an afterthought in the design process. But Aulenti’s enduring body of work shows that a good name can add depth to a piece, as well as a welcome dose of levity. In addition to the full-sized Oracolo, there is the shorter, table-top Mezzoracolo (half-oracle) model. Both command the attention of a room with their mystical, otherworldly presence.
Automaker Mini has expanded into the realm of electronic bikes, with its recent launch of the E-Bike 1. The BMW-owned carmaker partnered with French brand Angell Mobility to create a lightweight aero-grade aluminium frame, making it one of the lightest e-bikes on the market. The bike also echoes the automaker’s aesthetic and comes in a colour palette of green and silver.
Reliable, dynamic and sleek in design, the E-Bike 1 makes cycling in the city quicker, as well as a safe and fun experience. A chain guard ensures that trousers are never grease-smeared and the seat and handle grips are made by saddle designer Brooks England. The bike also connects to a mobile app so that riders can log trips, in addition to tracking and locating their bike. And, as an appreciated gesture to nervous urban dwellers, if your bike is stolen, Mini will replace it.
While the Gulf might be famous for some record-breaking architectural feats, including Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Abu Dhabi’s Capital Gate, the region’s graphic design has mostly flown under the radar. It’s something that UAE-based creative platform 421 is seeking to address through its ongoing exhibition, 100/100 – Hundred Best Arabic Posters, the fourth iteration of which is taking place during Dubai Design Week.
The posters, which were chosen through an open call, were influenced by the people, events and language of the region. The result is a striking archive of Arab-born design, with a wide range of typefaces, colours and imagery on show. Highlights include a Beirut Animated Festival poster that features bold Arabic typography and a poster for an exhibition called Anti-Type by Syrian designer Leen Albaz. These posters are showcased together in the atrium of Dubai Design District’s Building 7 and the result is an overdue celebration of graphic design in the Gulf.
Visit ‘100/100 – Hundred Best Arabic Posters’ at Building 7 in Dubai Design District. The exhibition is part of Dubai Design Week and runs until Sunday 12 November.