It seems Dubai has lofty ambitions when it comes to trying to establish itself as a creative hub on the international design trail. Having launched its own design week a few years ago, the third edition took place last month and attracted 60,000 visitors, 50 per cent up on last year. The six-day event, anchored around the vast 15.5 million sq ft D3 design district – the second of three building phases currently underway, led by Foster & Partners – offered up a host of exhibitions, installations, a programme of over 100 talks, which included a keynote discussion with Sir David Adjaye, a tradeshow and an international graduate event.
Exhibitions that unearthed new regional talent were a highlight. At ‘ABWAB’ (which means ‘door’ in Arabic), a showcase curated by the festival’s head of programming, Rawan Kashkoush, served up the work of 47 designers from 15 countries, who are creating contemporary design mostly made employing traditional techniques or materials rooted in the region. The event was held within a freestanding, temporary pavilion made from discarded mattress springs by Dubai-based Fahed & Architects. Also of note, ‘Middle East Design Now!’ a new nomadic collection, founded and curated by Wallpaper* editor-at-large, Suzanne Trocmé. Having held its debut at this year’s London Design Festival, this extended show examined the work of 12 emerging designers from six countries including Kuwait, Jordan, Tunisia, UAE, Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco.
'The Ring Cluster', by Felipe Lisboa, 2017
High profile international brands were in attendance too. Czech-based glass specialist Lasvit collaborated with local designer Khalid Shafer on Silent Call, a light sculpture inspired by the domed roofs of five well-known mosques, each of which lights up in sequence according to Islamic prayer times within different time zones. The fine white lights represent people making their way to or from each mosque. Swarovski, which has had a showroom in the district for some time, was celebrating its 10 year relationship with London-based design duo Fredrikson Stallard by presenting Prologue, a circular sculpture, four metres in diameter, featuring over 8,000 amber crystal droplets attached to a steel frame.
The tradeshow, Downtown Design, held by the D3 waterfront, was also the largest edition yet with 150 exhibitors (including brands such as Baccarat, CC Tapis and Lladro) on offer.
The Global Grad Show was another high point of the week. Curated by Brendan McGetrick, this year’s focus was on sustainability and empowerment and showed some 200 forward looking prototype projects from graduate designers from 92 universities from 43 countries. One example – and winners of the inaugural Progress Prize – was the Polish design duo, MIKO+ who designed a collection of jewellery that acts as a brace for those with wrist injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome.
The newly installed head of design at Art Dubai Group, William Knight, a former director of London’s 100% Design and the deputy director of the London Design Festival, sums up. ‘It was an outstanding week, which made a positive impact on everyone that visited events and the city itself. The event demonstrated the creativity and commitment of Dubai’s creative community and its supporters.’