Design award for Dubai Future Accelerators

Dubai Future Accelerators, the project-based co-working initiative of the Dubai Future Foundation, has been named as one of the winners of the international iF Design Award 2022.

The iF Design Award is one of the biggest and best established competitions in the design business, not least because it operates with an independent international jury of professionals; and although candidates nominate themselves, the entry fee is sufficiently modest to attract a broad range of submitters and submissions – close to 11,000 in total for 2022, of which 1,973 received the iF Design Award in nine broad categories.

One of those is Interior Architecture, and Dubai Future Accelerators was among 432 winners here – and the only one for a Dubai office space, though a couple of the Expo pavilions (Saudi Arabia and Korea) also achieved the accolade.

DFA is a cohort-based programme, where each team of startups runs a series of challenges to collaborate and co-create innovative solutions for challenges posed by government and private entities. Eight cohorts have been completed so far. This obviously means space is needed for meetings, brainstorming, presentations and working in groups and individually.

The winning designers were Istanbul’s Atölye, an enterprise that clearly chimes with DFF’s vision of the future and especially the future of work. Atölye isn’t just a design studio; it operates an academy that offers short courses and custom learning in strategic areas like innovation and human-centred design, and it also facilitates a community of like-minded individuals and enterprises that can work together on key projects. So Atölye’s studio must have seemed a natural fit.

Atölye put in 80 hours of field research to come up with what it called “a scenario-based layout system that enables different modes of interactions … to create a vibrant space that is never underutilised”. The scenarios it came up with included a clear programmatic division between different modes of interaction and different acts of working.

These it categorised as ‘focus’, ‘exchange’, ‘co-produce’, and ‘connect’. The spaces aim to cater to specific needs of these working modes – acoustic and visual isolation for the focus areas, for instance; easily mounted writing boards and privacy curtains for co-production.

Atölye also created a track system to provide a natural circulation around the space. There are three points of access and the main corridors have no doors, so people can move around easily and freely – which in turn encourages casual meetings and instant networking. The ‘user journey’ models allowed additional moments of surprise and interest for visitors and guests, too.

This kind of see-how-the-users-want-to-work approach has of course become fundamental in designing workspaces, and for the designers there’s an obvious danger of becoming seduced by the glamour of devising the scenarios in the first place. “The project created a holistic brand experience across the hub by creating a vibrant and productive space that encouraged interactions” said the studio in their submission, but then it must be hard to avoid the design clichés.

We haven’t seen the iF jury report on the project, but Atölye also submitted it to Frame for assessment; Frame’s jury scores on fewer criteria, and they’re a bit different – innovation, functionality, creativity and sustainability rather than iF’s idea, form, function, differentiation, impact – but it’s perhaps instructive that the Frame jury’s rating for innovation on the Accelerators space was the lowest of their four (still a decent mark, though).

And functionality was the highest of the four Frame scores. We’d expect a similar pattern from the iF scorecard; by all accounts the physical layout, the unobtrusive colour schemes and the lighting are all making a genuine contribution to the functions of the place. “The space has reinvented the way we work” said Dubai Future Foundation’s COO Abdulaziz Al Jaziri (right).

He also noted that the Future Accelerators award demonstrates the DFF’s desire to create “innovative workspaces which inspire entrepreneurs and those with future visions”.

Dubai Future Accelerators is one of a several projects initiated by the Dubai Future Foundation (“our aim is to make Dubai one of the world’s foremost future cities”). The most visible of those is of course the Museum of the Future. The portfolio also includes the Dubai Future Forum, dubbed “the world’s largest gathering of futurists”, to be held at MoF on 10-11 October; Dubai Future Solutions, a project-based design contest with prizes of up to $10 million; and Area 2071, a ‘co-creation space’ that includes the physical areas, labs, meeting spaces and infrastructure required to foster transformative ideas, encourage cooperation, and accelerate advanced projects.

So Area 2071 is effectively a physical manifestation of all the principles behind the Dubai Future Foundation (“our aim is to make Dubai one of the world’s foremost future cities”). An analogy is usually made with a hive, signifying both a busy, productive ecosystem and a collaborative environment. It’s located on 9300m2 of Emirates Towers, most of the ground and mezzanine floors, and that’s where the prize winning Dubai Future Accelerators space is located. Completed a couple of years ago, it currently takes up around a quarter of the Area 2017 floorspace (along with a couple of coffee shops, including one of the best in the area …)

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