A week (and more) of design in Dubai

The sixth edition of Dubai Design Week returns 9-14 November 2020 with a pandemic-aware programme of events and activities. That includes exhibitions, installations and pop-ups at its main hub in d3 plus online elements such as a digital fair for design brands, a series of virtual talks programmes, a couple of key new elements in the form of the d3 Architecture Festival and a MENA Grad Show, and a new all-digital look for the existing all-comers Global Grad Show.

It’s not just bigger, better and richer than before – it’s also more conscious of current conditions, not necessarily a consideration for participants in past events. Khadija Al Bastaki, executive director of d3 and DDW’s partner, summarised the thinking: “2020 has presented us with a rare moment to pause and reflect on the role of design. Dubai Design Week will establish a dialogue around these critical social, cultural and economic issues. It will offer new opportunities for the Middle East by providing a platform for local and regional talent …”

Here’s our summary of the week’s highlights:

Downtown Design

The commercial centrepiece of DDW, Downtown Design, will have a hybrid format for 2020. In place of the huge tented exhibition there’s a digital fair showcasing local and (especially) international brands.

New for 2020 is a physical exhibition in d3 Building 4 under the title The Shape of Things to Come; selected from an open call, this features conceptual work by the region’s architects and interior designers as they imagine how we will interact with our environment and each other in the future.

And there’s a strong (though not particularly extensive) programme of online talks and panels – some excellent speakers have been lined up, the likes of Jonathon Ashmore, Jenny Binchy, Matthew Utley, Riyad Joucka, and (naturally) Pallavi Dean.

Pedrali’s minimalist TOA table features in the online Downtown Design ‘digital fair’


There is a mass of exhibitions, some physical and some virtual, some institutional and some commercial, that are associated with DDW. Iraqi designer Hozan Zangana has this year’s Abwab commission with Fata Morgana, a conceptual framework in an open-plan arrangement featuring focal pillars representing each of the seven Emirates. The winning Urban Commissions 2020 concept, Basta (pictured above), is a design for a series of outdoor retail units by Reema Almheiri and Lujain Alatiq. A number of country-specific organisations are also putting on shows, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Institut Français.

A new UAE Designer Exhibition gives a platform to 20 locally-based creative selected from an open call and funded by DUbai Culture, with work from furniture and lighting to accessories and jewellery.

The Makers’ Programme is offering a variety of hands-on activities for all ages and levels of experience from embroidery to laser-cutting; there are several other workshops for beginners and kids, plus a busy programme of design-related masterclasses and workshops aimed more at those in business (or thinking about it). These are all free, incidentally, but require pre-registration via the links on the website.

Fata Morgana by Iraqi designer Hozan Zangana: a conceptual framework for modern city life, presented through an open-plan arrangement of seating components around a central origin point and with pillars symbolising the seven Emirates. Regional context, materials and production processes meet the requirement for social distancing.

d3 Architecture Festival

Dubai’s first architecture festival will showcase landmark regional architectural projects under the theme Identity, Context and Placemaking in the Gulf. Curated by Juan Roldan from the American University of Sharjah, the Festival has a modest enough start – a series of talks (five meaty panels) and an exhibition of models, drawings and projects from d3-based members (who include some big-name studios with impressive work to show).


The Dubai Design Week Marketplace is a new al fresco retail initiative for 60-plus invited vendors – “the best of Dubai’s artisans, creatives, entrepreneurs, small businesses and food scene, providing visitors with a unique retail experience”. Hmm.

Grad shows

Global Grad Show has long been our favourite element of Dubai Design Week, and arguably is the most important – so much so that we’ve given it a separate feature. The Global Grad Show itself is online, with around 100 projects available in interactive treatments; for 2020 it is joined by 50 or so regional projects in the new MENA Grad Show, which is a physical event.

Dubai Design Week runs 9-14 November for physical events; these are centred on d3, with a few associated events elsewhere around the city. Virtual events start 9 November and will be online for a while thereafter – we don’t know exactly how long for, but presumably it varies by event. Check the website for fuller details.

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