Rue Kothari, the festival’s director, takes us behind-the-scenes at d3 to discover the ideas that are redefining the city.
Behind the iconic skyscrapers, the great unending swathes of beach and the gargantuan malls that hallmark Dubai for traditional visitors, something new is emerging — a city of culture, design and innovation. The heart of this lies at the Dubai Design District (otherwise known as d3), where each November the international design industry gathers to immerse themselves in the best of regional and international design.
The Dubai Design Week’s third edition will open on November 13, for a week-long celebration of design. The city-wide showcase centres around d3, with four key elements, and a host of installations, mini-exhibitions, activities, talks and design-themed retail.
At the epicentre of all this activity is the largest part of Design Week – Downtown Design, situated for the first time overlooking the new d3 Waterfront. Curated for architects and interior designers, it’s the largest presentation in the Middle East of beautiful high end design products for the home; including 150 international brands and debuting 10 of the region’s most exciting emerging designers.
The fair will also be home to a unique large-scale installation by landscape architects Desert Ink that uses outsized natural and repurposed materials to play with your perspective. Inside, an original pop-up by d3’s most popular design destination, The Lighthouse, reprises their award-winning menu by Chef Izu. With an outdoor terrace bar and some light design retail, it’s tipped to be the designers’ watering hole of choice for the week.
Neighbouring Downtown Design is the Global Grad Show, where you’ll be inspired by mind blowing next-gen ideas — 200 award-wining concepts that explore how design will influence the way we will sleep, eat, live and interact in the future. It’s the world’s largest and most diverse collection of graduate design and innovation, from 90 of the world’s elite universities. And with innovation being a key driving force for the development of the city, the exhibition feeds Dubai’s appetite and ambition for progress.
Dubai Design Week’s authenticity is fed by the event’s original programming. Drawing on the rich cultural fabric of the region, Abwab’s third showing will eviscerate a world of young Middle Eastern talent, displaying 46 designs from 15 countries. Housed in an outstanding structure made from repurposed bedsprings, and created by local architects Fahed + Architects, it’s a metaphor for the spirit of Abwab’s purpose –— to communicate the value and complexity of the regional design output.
Stepping back with a vignette on the Middle East as viewed through the design lens, Iconic City shines an annual spotlight on a single destination. This year the focus is Casablanca, curated by Salma Lahlou, who creates a multimedia experience of her city; with commissioned works from a sound artist, graphic designer, photographer and interior architect to peel away the surface of
the city’s design culture to explore its hidden wealth of creativity.
Another national treasure, Aljoud Lootah, has become the poster girl for regional talent. The Emirati designer has carved herself a prodigious reputation for a lightness of touch in everything she creates, from furniture to rugs and tableware. Her installation for this year’s Design Week promises to be yet another surprising departure from the last. Collaborating with Probas Plating she presents the ‘AlAreesh Collection.’ The installation is inspired by AlAreesh walls constructed from the dried fronds of palm leaves to create simple enclosures that provide shade from the sun and protection from the wind. Inside, the furniture and lighting pieces evoke the same natural materials used to build traditional houses and majlises, displaying Aljoud’s characteristic modern interpretation of traditional local culture.
With Apical Reform’s My Dubai sign as a tantalising precursor to the whole week, there are plenty of al fresco installations that punctuate d3’s open spaces, bringing design to the people in the most engaging and accessible way. Proving that you can’t have too much of a good thing, the dynamic design team from Pakistan, Coalesce, reprise their ever popular ‘Lattoo’ stools that have to be experienced to be believed. Each one is individually designed and rotates with the sitter to recreate that sense of childlike joy. One of the event’s most covetable items, they usually sell out within hours.
From digital to decorative, there is always a strong representation from local and international jewellery brands that lend themselves to the design-savvy collector. This year, Gafla Jewelry present an installation created by Architect Abdalla AlMulla, inspired by traditional Emirati jewellery. The geo-structure houses exclusive pieces from their Baraag collection and plays on the geometric elements of the stones for a dazzling experience. In the same vein, 51:55 & Alkhalafi present a collection of 20th century fine vintage jewellery collated from the venerable vaults of Cartier, Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels. This is a look, touch and buy experience.
No stranger to the Middle East, Swarovski has made an international success of diversifying from jewellery into design, and will be ubiquitous throughout the week. Last year, they presented a phenomenally successful installation in collaboration with Emirati artist Zeinab Al Hashemi. This year, they will offer the local audience a chance to engage with Prologue, an installation created by uber design duo Fredrikson Stallard. The giant freestanding sculpture encapsulates 8,000 amber-coloured Swarovski Crystals with a luminous ring mimicking the golden sun, and representing new beginnings, life and rebirth. The designers are set to make a rare appearance to address an audience during the first day of Downtown Design, while the Swarovski Atelier collection — their standout first range of innovative objects for the home ranging from vases to candleholders — is available for exclusive pre-orders at the Swarovski Creative Centre.
Last of the glitter set, but definitely not the least is Dubai’s doyenne of jewellery design Nadine Kanso, with a multitude of mini-projects and collaborations throughout the week. This year, her work with talented Lebanese product designer Fadi Sarrieddine, will bring Nadine’s hallmarks to bear on his latest collection. Khawatir coalesces both Nadine’s graphic portrayal of modern Arabia and Fadi’s honed craftsmanship in a collection of mirrors and seating that bear unique calligraphic motifs.
If you want a ringside view of real local talent, then Dubai Design Week will unearth new concepts and new names to broaden your horizon. Local architectural firm SUPERFUTUREDESIGN* is made up from the team behind the slick retail spaces for fashion brands including Dior and Burberry. They lay their sophisticated touch to something super worthy with the unveiling of a groundbreaking installation that champions a commitment to a healthier, more planet-friendly future. Their BETT-air HOUSE, filled with a lush indoor garden grown by an innovative lighting technique, creates pure fresh air indoors, showing how technology can help us live more healthily during the hotter months of summer.
During Design Week
The District is already a hive for the city’s forward-thinking entrepreneurs and creatives; if you’re a style-spotter, this is easily the best place for people watching. And there are plenty of places to hoick up your heels, too. d3 has become a hub for more edgy dining options and quirky places to hover with a drink during the joyful hour.
Championing the pop-up, take a wander through the wide boulevards between the buildings, and chances are you’ll discover a number of freshly-sprung concepts from cult contemporary furniture brands to racks of one-offs from regional fashion labels. If you’re lucky, there’ll be a three-day sample sale, and you’ll walk out clutching an armful of Aquazzuras.
Add to this the city’s most cutting-edge retail concepts, design brand showrooms and unique fashion outlets and you have plenty to do between the Design Week essentials.
The Super Design Market, building 7
Designed and merchandised just for Dubai Design Week, this is a treasure trove of design objects. Featuring products by OMY, Tashkeel, Brand inc, Vitra, Alessi, Hay and by virtue of The Lighthouse’s inhouse curator — Moma, Papier Tigre and Phaidon.
The covetable homegrown accessories brand, who extend their inimitable finesse at pretty much everything, now lend their sophisticated approach to our very own city. They launch the MONTROI nomad guide to Dubai with a photo exhibition at their flagship studio in Dubai Design District. This clever curation will help you re-discover Dubai through the lense of different MONTROI nomad contributors who reveal hidden places in our cosmopolitan city.
Quality design for everyone, the gallery was founded back in 1983 and continues to be one of the city’s favourite spots to source good contemporary design pieces for the home. Now with a beautiful d3 showroom, they will also host an outdoor installation, The Dock, that celebrates nautical design.
Established in 2010, the Fatima bint Mohamed bin Zayed Initiative (FBMI) harnesses the traditional skills of the Afghan people to produce beautiful hand-knotted carpets, embroidered furniture and local handicraft for fair market wages. An investment not only in an exquisite piece for the home, but in the future of the community that made it.
Eat, linger and love at…
FRAME is the Middle East’s first ever boutique dedicated to Japanese lifestyle and culture. Everything you see is for sale, and has been carefully curated based on FRAME’s concept of permaculture. You’ll find selected collections of menswear and womenswear, craft and homeware pieces, globally sourced vinyl, vintage books, and, especially for Design Week, a collection of BE@RBRICK cult vinyl bears sourced from Seoul, Singapore, Paris and London. Once you’ve shopped, it would be silly not to wander into their Ramen Shop YUI, where you’ll have to grab a hot seat — they go fast! This is Japanese street food as good as you’ll get south of Tokyo.
This 360-degree design experience is about more than Chef Izu’s tasty, healthy Mediterranean dishes. Filled with covetable design pieces you can order everything from the Vitra chairs you sit on, to any one of the beautifully curated design objects in the retail area. Of course, the sharing dishes are perfectly crafted for a design dinner en masse, plus the outdoor terrace is just the excuse you need to languish in the sun a little moment longer.
Have a grown up dinner at…
French bistro chic in the heart of d3, Chez Charles allows you a little sophistication with your seabream. The Michelin-standard dishes use select exotic flavours with every ingredient handpicked from the world’s best markets. And with a very popular little annexe bar, you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with the District’s fashion set.
While away a happy hour at…
Art, design, food and music — it’s a hybrid concept that’s homegrown by a team of savvy entrepreneurs. The bar is a popular spot during that post-work hour and the food is equally as good, with chic, tasty dishes that are perfectly designed for sharing. If you want to know where the cool kids are at, this is it.
Grab a quick lunch at…
This is the perfect place to dine and dash if you’re on a heavy Design Week schedule. Homemade and healthy, the menus change daily and there are lots of energy-boosting treats if you just need to power up.
Latte up at…
The Espresso Lab
Beautifully designed by local architect, Abboud Malak, this place isn’t just about coffee, but is also an immaculately stylish place to hang. Their handmade coffee, the style of service and rotating menu put this a giant leap away from dull commercial coffee houses.
Renaissance Downtown Hotel Dubai
Just opened, and easily the most effortlessly cool design hotel in the city, the Renaissance Downtown Hotel is the place to stay if you’re jetting into the city to enjoy what the week has to offer. Poised overlooking the new canal, you’ll get the most spectacular views over Dubai. Standard rooms are the size of suites so you’ll be spoilt for space. There are five restaurants including the renowned Japanese Morimoto, as well as a wrap- around pool deck and lounge so you can enjoy that spectacular Dubai sunset.
Words: Rue Kothari