“Dubai is set to further establish its status as a cutting-edge, vibrant global design hub,” says the somewhat breathless press release, pillaging the buzzword bingo kit.
In practice what’s happened is that the programme for this year’s Dubai Design Week has been fleshed out, though there’s little here that hasn’t already been detailed.
■ Downtown Design (25-28 Oct) returns for a fourth time as DDW’s commercial centrepiece with more than 100 brands from 25 countries promising “products across furniture, lighting, bathrooms, kitchens, textiles and accessories not ordinarily seen at the big shows” (whatever that mans).
■ Global Grad Show, the most promising feature of last year’s DDW, is back with 135 projects from 51 universities in 30 countries. Graduation shows are usually regarded as the best way to spot imaginative design from newcomers; the best result for the Global Grad Show might well be to raise the standard of the UAE’s own end-of-year shows …
Curated by Brendan McGetrick from Princeton School of Architecture, the projects on show this year have a definite inclination towards improving the world we inhabit – collapsible hydroponic farms that grow food in empty shipping containers, an algae-eating drone that cleans water and refuels itself using biofuel created from the algae it has picked up, a wearable shelter (converts from a jacket with large storage pockets into a sleeping bag and a tent), a touch-based music therapy platform for autistic children, a combination water purifier and camping light … All good stuff, all good subjects for design.
■ The Iconic City exhibition returns too. Inaugurated last year with a look at Beirut, this time we get Egypt’s capital under the label Cairo Now! City Incomplete. Curator Mohamed Elshahed, editor-in-chief of the interesting online urban architecture mag Cairobserver, is aiming to highlight the city’s creative scene. Could be good, could be underwhelming.
■ Abwab – the Arabic word for ‘doors’ – is a new initiative that invites an interesting collection of curator/contributors from the MENASA region to come up with work on the theme of the human senses and shown in a temporary pavilion purpose-designed by UAE-based practice Hypothetical.
The notes about the exhibits sound particularly promising. Algeria is creating an interactive audiovisual landscape “using contemporary Algerian design-drums”. Iraq will offer history through found artefacts, a resonant topic given the cultural depredations happening in the area. Bahrain is to draw attention to its near-dormant craft pottery industry. Palestine will do much the same for olive wood carving, largely displaced by cheaper mass produced imports. India will have an interactive ‘Memoir Bar’, inviting visitors to help build a library of personal memories. And for the UAE, multidisciplinary designer Salem Al-Qassimi promises to blur the boundaries between physical and digital landscapes through interactive sensory experiences, digital games and installations.
■ Destination at Downtown Design returns with a fresh selection of work from international design weeks, this time from Addis Ababa, Barcelona, Beirut, Reykjavík and Taipei. This is a neat idea, allowing visitors to get an idea of how it’s done elsewhere; and it also provides a commercial platform for smaller design brands from around the world who might not otherwise be seen here.
■ We’re also offered 15 site-specific installations in public locations around Dubai, plus a daily programme of talks and workshops held at d3 “with something for everyone” – details of both to follow.
Of course, no press release would be complete without the official quotes. Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi, d3’s COO, homes in on the branding – “Dubai Design Week represents an important platform for showcasing both regional and international design talent to a global audience and helps place Dubai as an innovative centre for creativity”.
And Cyril Zammit, director of design for Art Dubai Group and basically DDW’s director, takes it a little further in terms of global perspective: “It was clear that Dubai Design Week 2015 tapped into something that both Dubai and the design industry had been waiting for – a global platform for design in the UAE and the Middle East, and an opportunity to share and explore perspectives and ideas with people from a multitude of countries and cultures.
“This year, we want to build on that – Dubai Design Week 2016 looks set to be an unmissable addition to the world’s design calendar.”
Well, we’ll be the judge of that (or rather the rest of the world will). But there’s no denying the drive and ambition, and if d3 can get its access signage sorted DDW does indeed look set to improve Dubai’s credibility as a regional design centre.