Over the past decade, Dubai has been busy reinventing itself. Today it's a bustling commercial centre, a gateway between East and West, an international shopping and holiday destination and the host city for the upcoming 2020 Expo. And next up on the city's agenda is design, with an ambitious but carefully considered plan to turn more of Dubai's desert space into a hotbed of creativity and commerce. 

Central to this plan is d3, the city’s newly-unveiled design district which will combine a commercial retail area with a creative community, running side by side to encourage conversation between the two. Next to these will be a waterfront development, a new Marina to give a public edge to the design district. 

With the commercial portion of the district unveiled earlier this year - marking the completion of phase one of the master-plan - developer Tecom and the d3 management plans to open the district's Foster and Partners-designed creative community by 2018 (phase two) and for the waterfront to be completed for 2020 (phase three). Learning from other creative communities from across the globe, past and present, d3 has developed an ambitious plan to draw creative talent not only from Dubai but also from the entire region, and beyond. 

‘One of the strong components we are looking at is the academic side,’ explains Lindsay Miller, Managing director of d3, noting how her team will be hard at work for the next few months, working to establish a design school in the district. This educational and creative hub will attract, Miller hopes, further players from surrounding areas, as well as create a platform to start building on d3’s creative community. 

During the inaugural Dubai Design Week last month, a programme of design installations, an international trade show, retrospectives from various Middle Eastern countries and a graduate show gave visitors a taste of what they could expect from the district in the coming years, with a strong emphasis on service, research and development. 

The district's outdoor areas were populated by six pavilions designed by Dubai-based Loci Architecture, who encased local sand within polycarbonate panels to create translucent walls for the simple white frame structures. Each pavilion showcased work by designers from one of six MENA countries including Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and UAE. All inspired by the theme of ‘Games: The Element of Play in Culture’, each presentation subtly referenced European design projects and language, focusing however on Middle Eastern craft and manufacturing traditions.

Elsewhere in the city, international designers and artists took over the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Jumeirah and the Marina, with installations that referenced traditional local crafts by Middle Eastern designers and new technology and conceptual thinking by global creatives. 

Not far from d3, in the Ras Al Khor flamingo sanctuary, the newly-formed Drak collective unveiled an annual project that each year will explore different aspects of the wildlife preservation in the area. The inaugural show included product design by Khalid Shafar, fashion by Khulood Thani, a jewellery piece by Lebanese designer Nadine Kanso, an architectural pavilion by Tarik Al Zaharna and a dedicated food truck by David O’Brien.

Each aspect of the Design Week places a strong emphasis on collaboration, alongside a desire to explore and celebrate local craftsmanship while forging a new design language that can identify the region.