Design Days Dubai: it’s getting there

Design Days Dubai is getting better and better. Stockholm or Berlin or London it ain’t, but the design fair is definitely going in the right direction.

A couple of years ago it might have been optimistic to suggest that Design Days could be a flagship for Dubai’s aspirations to be a serious candidate for membership of the international design community (or at least the international design fair community).

Now there’s a real opportunity for Design Days (and indeed Art Dubai’s whole design activity, which includes Downtown Design towards the end of the year) to support the idea of Dubai becoming at least the regional design hub.

Dubai design may have to lose some of its Dubai-ish insularity and chutzpah before that happens, but the signs are good. This year’s Design Days Dubai was relocated to d3, which makes sense; the Downtown tent always felt a bit temporary, and was probably too large for the show.

This year still has a air conditioned, acoustically fine semi-permanent structure that happens not to have solid walls. But now it’s at the Dubai Design District, which means it’s part of Dubai’s design gestalt – and even if it can still be a nightmare to access d3 by car (especially if you’re coming North on Al Khail Road) at least the parking is plentiful (and currently free).

There are more exhibitors than ever: around 50, a dozen of them from d3 (and 20 or so from the region as a whole). The show actually feels smaller than last year, though, thanks to the improved access and a more compact layout. There simply isn’t so much ground to cover, there are fewer wide-open spaces, and there’s always something to catch the eye.

Our favourites follow, but here are a few general observations:

 

What’s on show

There’s less gold and glitz on show, and more design – less décor and eye-candy, more genuine attempts to rethink functional (or decorative) objects to make them more engaging or more effective (or both). Dubai is getting there.

Thinking globally

Kas Oosterhuis’s Body Chair on the Dutch stand: “an endless range of possible variations, co-created by the user”

The importing of international ideas and overseas designers is genuinely showing local practitioners (especially local students) what’s possible with materials and how function can be rethought. This is particularly notable with the large British contingent – some big-name designers in the British Council’s corner, some of the less established names looking for local business in the adjacent Crafts Council area. Disappointingly the Dutch Design Centre was only showing a couple of designers; last year they had half a dozen, and those including some of the highlights of the 2016 show.

Who am I really?

Design Days Dubai probably needs to establish more of an identity for itself, and one that complements the autumn Downtown Design show.

Put simply, Downtown is for brands and retailer/distributors to sell to developers, interior architects and others in the B2B sphere. Design Days feels more like a designer-to-consumer event, and it could even be a designer-to-designer show; it’s more about design, less about commerce. In the real world of course the two are intertwined, which is why there’s a case for two separate shows.

Design Days feels like it should be flooded with design inspiration, and maybe this show rather than Downtown Design should be the pivot for ‘Design Week’ – perhaps moving the Global Grad Show and other designery events, certainly beefing up the accompanying programme of talks, seminars and other out-of-show designer-oriented activity.

Dubai Design Days could be a real celebration of design; Downtown Design could be the middleman show that gets design into hotels, offices and homes – the Salone di Milano equivalent.

There is a new head of design for Art Dubai, William Knight; it will be interesting to see how he differentiates the two shows.

Prizes for all

The two design prize announcements were a mixed bag. Audi’s Innovation Award had three bright candidates for its second edition, any of which would have been good winners.

In fact the trophy and $25,000 worth of business consultancy was won by Sahar Madanat from Jordan for her One-Handed Tableware Set (right) – classic design, with imagination applied via style and functionality to a specific problem (how one-handed people actually eat proper food – including mothers with one arm occupied by a child).

Second and third places went to Dubai-based designers, Mansour Attia for a bike flyover lane using unoccupied spaces under metro bridges; and Nick Karinzaidis for a response bath system that minimises the use of water and electricity (you need to see it, really).

Incidentally, Audi’s own huge stand chose to promote only the S5, a decent enough motor but not exactly Audi’s most design-centric car. The A7 looks better, especially inside the cabin. The R7 is pretty too.

Not at Design Days: Audi Industrial Design’s Wörthersee is a sport/trick cycle powered by an electric motor that can give you up to 80kph. It also has cool LED light strips borrowed from the sexy e-Tron R8

And there is some excellent and PR-worthy (non-automotive) work coming out of the Audi Industrial Design studio in Munich; it’s a shame we couldn’t have had some of that on the stand.

The Middle East Emergent Designer Prize by Van Cleef & Arpels came up with no winner (yet) but instead a pool of no fewer than nine semi-finalists. Which is impressive, but makes for a slightly deflating announcement – it’s difficult to get your head around so many runners and riders.

The jury will now pick three finalists each of whom gets AED 10,000 to produce mockups that will be exhibited in November at Design Week; one will be anointed the winner and will have an additional AED 20,000 to realise the final work.

But if the prize is about design and designers rather than production and display, surely Design Days would have been the better forum for it?

Social awareness

There’s a commendable attempt among some designers to reuse and recycle. Admittedly this applies to the minority, and in some cases it’s paying lip service to fashionable ecocentricity, but there is some sense that design should reflect the realities of society on the wider scale.

 

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And now – on with our picks.

 

The American Hardwood Export Council’s Seed to Seat programme involved commissioning seven UAE designers with the simple brief of ‘something wooden to sit on’ and the less simple requirement for it to have minimal environmental impact. It was all good; here’s an elegant recliner by George Kahler (Kahler Design

Design Days commissioned Sonuslexica from Apical Reform (India). It’s digital printing from sound waves, specifically the words Peace, Harmony, Diversity, Respect, Growth and Happiness spoken by UAE nationals

Suzanne Trocmé selected 10 strong British designers for the Britain Takes Shape show-within-a-show. This is Brodie Neal’s elegant Cowrie chair made from ash-faced plywood

The Wave City coffee table by Stelios Mousarris (wood, steel, and a lot of 3D printing to create a miniature Dubai) was on the Cities booth

M.A.D.Gallery is always good for eye-catching entertainment and didn’t disappoint with half a dozen of Damien Bénéteau’s Optical Variations, mobiles that in this case pass a round black ball past a light source to hypnotic effect

Sisters Nisreen and Nermeen Abu Dail, aka Naqsh Collective (Jordan), do furniture and wall panels that feature CNC-cut precision and metal used with wood or other materials. It’s very Arabic yet very modern

The British Crafts Council had a presence for the fifth time, and this year with 11 designers was probably its best ever showing. Lots of contemporary glass, which doesn’t normally get much of a look in at Design Days; we liked Harry Morgan’s mixed-media sculptures, especially his glass-plus-concrete stool/table/object (above), and the playful every-object-tells-a-story pieces by Juli Bolanos-Durman (below)

Another Crafts Council piece – the Poise Light by architect/designer Umut Yamac

Todd Merill Studio from New York was a first-time exhibitor. This is Niamh Barry’s Walking, a very clever contraction using steel and light that really does look like the impression of someone walking

Pierre Renard’s elegant Wave desk in European walnut – shown by another new exhibitor, the specialist French design store Territoire(s)

Macaron Seats by Ammar Kalo, made by pressing a two-part mould of recycled vehicle tyre crumb on to a pre-made wood frame. The flecks in the seat are shavings from the wood. On the Bee’ah stand

What do you think?

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