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Dubai’s Got Designs On The World: The Inaugural Dubai Design Week

The first edition of the Dubai Design Week, taking place from 26-31 October 2015, was held in partnership with the brand new Dubai Design District (d3), itself launched only in April this year. Considering that plans for the district were first announced by Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid al Maktoum in June 2013, the fact that d3 was able to host the larger part of Dubai’s first Design Week only two years later is a testament to the clarity, speed and efficiency with which the UAE has pursued its vision of becoming a major hub for creative talent and activity in the region. The aim of Dubai Design Week is clear: to position itself as a platform that is not only able to “establish the city as the regional capital for design, but also as a global meeting point for the international design community”.
Divided into projects such as public installations by (largely) regional talent spread across different locations in the city, to showcases of the most exciting young talent from ten of the world’s most renowned design schools (Global Grad Show), Dubai Design Week falls under the larger umbrella of Art Dubai, that first launched the art fair in 2007 and then Downtown Design in 2013, the fair/trade show of established and emerging international design brands that ran its third edition featured at d3 this year. Featuring ninety brands from twenty-five countries, Downtown Design also hosted ‘Destinations’, a showcase of top three emerging designers from six countries, this year’s list including Beijing, Helsinki, Istanbul, Melbourne, Mexico and San Francisco. This and Abwab – which turned six uniform pavilions designed by Dubai-based architecture studio LOCI over to to the most exciting curators and designers from six Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian (MENASA) countries – play a key role in achieving the organization’s aims of creating a vital hub that allows for regional and international creative talent and businesses to meet, interact and grow.
Abwab, a first-time initiative by Dubai Design Week and one of its most exciting projects, this year featured Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE all working within the central theme of ‘Games: The Element of Play in Culture’. Transforming spaces into utopian fields of billowing white curtains with swings that sound out peaceful notes as they move, organic spaces created by modular formations, and a multitude of other interpretations, Abwab, which literally translates to ‘doors’, allows for the exploration of a creative potential that brings together form, function and conceptual experimentation. Within this, the Pakistan pavilion, curated by architect Salman Jawed of Coalesce Design Studios, was one of the most successful, garnering huge amounts of interest and accolades.
Based on the idea of the traditional central courtyard (dalaan), to which aptly “all doors open” (SJ), the team of 8 designers, including Jawed himself, explored ideas that investigate the simplicity of children’s games in Pakistan, of which simple rules and found objects are at the heart, and all spaces have the potential for play. Using rich local rosewood and organic henna, the idea of sustainability was very much in focus. Luminous silk screens suspended from the ceiling are printed with organic henna and represent drawn narratives that tell the story of the design process. Although a single dye process, the henna printing is complex in its sensitivity and reminiscent of the earthiness of Pakistan and of its people’s relationship to the land – watan ki mitti. Below, a beautifully crafted low table offers a multitude of possibilities for games based on marbles (kanchas), a favorite of local children. Elsewhere in the pavilion, stools based on the form of the top (lattoo) are not only surprisingly comfortable, but also allow one to spin while seated on them, maintaining the authenticity of the original form and its function in the interpretive move to furniture objects. The Ludo table finds itself deconstructed into a geometric configuration inspired by the shapes within the game, that come together in a beautifully minimalist, sculptural form. The fluidity of translation (into games) allowed by the objects is also representative of the nature of these games, where a multitude of possibilities emerge from the simplest combination of elements. This, however is not to say that the craftsmanship involved in their production is in any way ‘simple’. Displaying a maturity of understanding when it comes to form and design, and an exquisite crafting of materials, each object on display manifests an undeniably high degree of finesse in its final presentation, paying special attention to the richness of material and finishes employed.
Abwab is also then an apt title inside the Dubai Design Week umbrella, as it seems to hold within it the spirit, promise and potential that Cyril Zammit, Director of design at Art Dubai, sees the event as embodying. For Zammit, Dubai Design Week (following Design Days Dubai in 20112 and the launch of Downtown Design in 2013) opens the doors to contemporary design in the region, just as Art Dubai did for contemporary art almost a decade ago. If one is then to expect the same progress and potential from the design week as one has seen with the art fair over the last several years since its inception, the event stands to become of the most important regional platforms for global exchange in the design sphere within the next few years.
Dubai Design Week took place 26-31 October 2015. Photos courtesy Salman Jawed, Coalesce Design Studios and Dubai Design Week Design Abwab Pakistan.
Zarmeene Shah is Assistant Director and Curator at Mohatta Palace Museum.

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