Dubai Design Week returns IRL

Dubai Design Week is back, and looking better than ever with a busy in-person programme of more than 200 activities of various kinds.

While some of these are located around the city, DDW does clearly benefit from having a defined centre in the form of Dubai Design District – most of the world’s design weeks happen in a more ad hoc fashion, popping up in de facto design districts rather than one that was specially created for the purpose.

This year there will be more than 80 hands-on workshops and masterclasses, a busy daily talks programme, and outdoor music at the Jazz Garden. There’s a commendable focus on support for Lebanon and its creative community, too.

Key elements include…

Downtown Design, the region’s largest fair for original and limited-edition design, still has a B2B air, with specifiers and developers looking to shop with the exhibitors; but it’s nowhere near as explicit as it used to be, and the less moneyed can comfortably stroll the aisles looking for adventurous and/or effective design. Downtown Design does in fact provide a good snapshot for applied design for interiors, this year features its largest exhibition of limited-edition and collectible design to date, and there are several less commercial elements including talks and awards. Entry is free – register for a visitor pass here– and it’s open midday to 9pm.

Downtown Editions is Downtown Design’s boutique section for limited-edition and bespoke design, and this year it also features the return of the UAE Designer Exhibition. The aim is give emergent and early-career designers and creatives from the Emirates a platform to step up into the next stage of their practices by launching new work and perhaps establish possible commercial relationships. Around two dozen designers will present locally produced and inspired work varying from traditional craft techniques to 3D printing in furniture, textiles and contemporary homewares.

Also within Downtown Editions is The Beirut Concept Store, a celebration of Lebanese design curated by Mariana Wehbe and showcasing emerging as well as more established design talent from Lebanon. We’re particualrly keen to see the Exil Collective designers; Exil is a recently established product design incubator, and while it’s early days yet the advance info about the quality of its designers suggests they will be worth seeking out.

Outside in d3’s public spaces The Marketplace (last year’s is above) will offer a more varied, more casual and less glitzy option for anyone looking for a more grassroots approach to design in the form (mainly) of handcrafted work in the fields of food, fashion, beauty, art, design, and homewares. Brands with a sustainability bent were given precedence and there’s also a curated selection of stands from Beirut creatives. The Marketplace is open for the weekend (12-13 November), 10am to 9pm.

The Global Grad Show has evolved from its original idea of showcasing invited projects from the graduate shows at design colleges around the world. It now provides year-round programming for graduates and universities working specifically on projects with an element of social impact; the programme still offers students the opportunity to showcase their work on the global stage and optionally take part in an entrepreneurship route supporting the development of their projects.

A’seedbot: a robot seed-planter for desert conditions, submitted to the MENA Grad Show by DIDI

From the visitors’ point of view, the Global Grad Show is an online-only event now with projects listed in searchable format. What we do get to visit is the MENA Grad Show, now in its second edition; this is Global Grad Show for the region, featuring social impact innovation projects in the fields of technology, science and design from MENA universities. The big plus of course is that you can actually meet and talk to the exhibitors (and if you can’t make in person, the projects will also be presented digitally on from 8 November 2021.

Another of DDW’s features is the Abwab commission, always interesting as you can see from the pic above. For this year it’s an organic and undulating installation responding to the 2021 theme of regenerative architecture and restorative design. The design is by the well-respected Dubai-based Egyptian architect Ahmed Sharabassy, founder and CEO of the award-winning Sharabassy Built Environment Studio. Based on the analogy of Dubai’s evolution from desert to leading global city, the design for a multi-purpose public space draws from the local environment and geographical context to create a dialogue between the desert and the city; the pavilion will also house an exhibition on the topic of regenerative architecture, curated and produced by the very cool Beirut-based architecture and research firm Bits to Atoms.

Talking of the built environment, the 2040: d3 Architecture Exhibition should be interesting. It features projects by locally based architects and studios, and since there are some imaginative examples of those we can expect a good overview of the issues – sustainability, locality, contextualisation, how cities are changing generally and specifically in the Gulf … The exhibition will be divided into the four themes of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan: mobility and transportation, public and recreational spaces, accessibility to infrastructure, and ecotourism.

Curating are Beyrac Architects, Dabbagh Architects, RMJM Dubai, and Tariq Khayyat Design Partners. Those participating include AUS and DIDI, AESG, FUTURE\CITY, DesertINK Architects, XArchitects, ARDH Architects and Grimshaw Architects.

Dubai Design Week runs 8-13 November, mostly from 10am to late evening and mostly free to access. The full programme is here; the app is downloadable here for iOS and here for Android.

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