Unlike many of its global contemporaries, d3 is not a story of urban-regeneration. The district, much like its emirate home, is a feat of conjuring something from nothing (albeit with significant financial backing). This sandy lot was originally destined to be a sterile development, slated as the innocuous Dubai Business Park, and was halted by the economic crisis. Acquired by TECOM investments in 2013 – a government entity lead by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid – the district was re-imagined as 'the region’s first master planned hub and incubator for design and fashion excellence.'
In a city peculiarly regimented and segmented by industries and clustered into districts, Dubai aims to ensure swift international integration. Within this context, conjuring a design district from scratch, with a targeted 10,000 tenants to occupy the 11 Woods Bagot-designed buildings delivered in phase one is a highly ambitious and confident statement of intent.
The launch event itself was unrecognisable by Dubai standards – there were no fireworks or record attempts here. Instead, the event confidently signalled its desire to join a growing global network of urban design enclaves.
The response from the diverse audience was unremittingly positive. Time and again, the sense of inclusivity was remarked upon. It felt like a crowd more representative of this multi-national city than the audiences seen and re-seen at the calendar of established creative events. While it may have felt sterile in comparison to the more ‘organic’ reinventions of the less salubrious areas of western cities, this story of urban generation presents a different kind of potential.
But now the pop-up infrastructure of the Meet d3 event has moved on. Everything from the Andy Wahloo tent to the 'Dragon Skin' ceiling, the outdoor Cinema Akil, fashion stores from Resident and Not Just a Label, and the Restronaut curated food trucks and Bompas and Parr factory were temporary installations. We shall have to wait and see if the inclusive, public spirit of the event will live on.
Ultimately, whether its potential can be realised will depend on ongoing public planning and the concerted efforts of the landlord to continually curate. There have been mutterings of prohibitively high rental prices for start-ups and a few who speak of an overly zealous curation process; access is not only about making the financial cut, prospective tenants must apply and are judged based on their relevance to the future community. However, the weekend's events comprised a mix of 100 creative businesses across art, design, fashion and food; it was a diverse teamsheet that promises much, if it is mirrored in the fledgling community’s tenants.
Richard Wagner, of soon to be tenants Wanders Wagner Architects, the firm behind the event master plan, says this balance is being well struck. ‘What's important is that d3 remains close to the people, that it doesn't become a top-down directive, that they continue to let the designers, the creatives and the users direct the evolution.’ The potential is for proximity to breed opportunity and integration. Only time will tell if the city has the district it wishes existed already.