Making a better world: young designers at Global Grad Show

The Global Grad Show is one of the best reasons for Dubai Design Week, in magpie’s view. The young are always going to produce some of the most imaginative design thinking, even if they may not yet have the experience or the resources to realise their projects fully; that combination of good ideas and high potential is genuinely exciting. And while Dubai is still emerging as a global design hotspot, the exposure to alternative solutions from around the world is just what we need to demonstrate the possibilities.

The global gathering of young designers will return to Dubai 12-16 November with more than 150 graduates from 43 countries due for the event (they’re fully funded to attend, so only perversity or adversity should prevent us seeing them alongside their work). They’ve apparently been selected from around a thousand applications received from more than 200 institutions, double the number of 2018 – clearly Global Grad Show is increasingly being perceived as an important addition to the young designers’ landscape.

Where the Global Grad Show participants come from

The event claims to be “the world’s largest and most diverse gathering of universities and graduates working on social impact innovation” – the brief is to create “projects that will positively impact the planet” – and this year’s event have five ‘curatorial themes’: The Human, The Home, The Community, The City and The Planet.

The show’s curator, Eleanor Watson, joined the team this year from the London Design Museum. She explained the curatorial approach as showing the connections between different spheres of human existence: “As visitors walk through the exhibition, they will experience projects related to the human first, moving on to the home and community and finally the city, and planet. Our hope is that it will inspire others to think critically about how they live, while inspiring all of us to act consciously”.

Eleanor Watson: “Our hope is that it will inspire others to think critically about how they live, while inspiring all of us to act consciously”

There was a record number of applications this year and an expanded exhibition space houses the largest number of projects to date. Global Grad Show will have 150 of them, work from universities and colleges in emerging areas like including Chile, Uganda, Egypt, Pakistan and Thailand alongside the more established Western institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and Imperial College. And from the UAE, regional institutions such as ZU and NYU Abu Dhabi will present advanced solutions for problems ranging from ageing populations to food security.

The programme also includes an Entrepreneurship Programme for participating students and a conference on Innovating for Social Impact.

That conference, on 11 November, is for industry professionals and academics; it aims to look at the processes by which academic institutions can be catalysts for sustainable development across the world. No doubt it will be heavy on practicalities and light on politics; design can only fix the big stuff if there’s the international consensus and the transfer of wealth that is needed to adjust the balance. Still, we need the knowledge base and learning from sustainable innovation initiatives is a start.

The Entrepreneurship Programme is new for 2019. It aims to support graduate projects through development up to market launch. So the first phase is an open online training session that covers business fundamentals; then “up to” 20 projects will be selected to attend a boot camp in Dubai, to fine-tune their startup concepts and pitching skills. And finally, participants will be introduced to accelerators, venture capital and UAE-based entrepreneurs.

That emphasis on marketability (of products, ideas and people) seems mildly at odds with the social benefits implied in the curated selection Global Grad Show projects – where’s the short-term profit in alleviating climate change or extending health care to those who can’t afford it? – but hey we’ve all got to eat.

Here are ten projects to look out for. These will give a flavour of the quality on show; go along for yourself and prepare to be amazed.

Excelscope 2.0 – Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

A kind of handheld AI-based microscope that improves diagnosis of malaria in sub Saharan Africa by automating the analysis of blood samples, reducing costs and simplifying the process.

Hubbvance – Politecnico Di Torino and College des Ingenieurs, Italy

An all-in-one off-grid system that provides the basics – food from aquaponic cultivation, water from a panel that condenses humidity from the air, and photovoltaic panels that generate electricity – in a circular and symbiotic environment.

Cast in Carbon – IAAC Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

First Aid Gloves – University of the Arts Berlin

A brilliantly simple idea – internationally understandable pictograms printed on to latex gloves to provide clear instructions for first aid.

Re(de)finery – Kuwait University

What happens to all those oil refineries in a post-oil future? Here’s a four-phase process that converts a refinery into a vertical farming site.

Water Wall – Fusion Point: IED Istituto Europeo di Design, Polytechnic University of Catalonia, L’École Supérieure d’Art et Design de Saint-Étienne

A water recycling system based on a set of targeted filters for recycling grey water that allows users to reduce domestic water consumption by up to 43%. It can be designed into new build, but more importantly can be retrofitted into an existing house’s plumbing system.

Stomata Space – Jordan University of Science and Technology

A sustainable architecture proposal that aims to create a clean air zone around residential districts near industrial emissions, based on a series of purification towers that collect air, filter out pollutants, and release it as clean air with extra negative ions.

Insulata – Nottingham Trent University, UK

A thermally regulating cocoon for babies born prematurely in low-resource areas like developing countries, refugee camps and disaster relief zones – a low-cost and zero-energy alternative to conventional Neonatal Intensive Care Units, a simple wrapover design that secures the baby in a cocoon of specially layered insulating fabrics.

Blue Gas – UCL Berlett School of Architecture, UK

A grassroots solution for an affordable transition to biogas using a domestic biogas digester, a harvesting storage bag, and a modified biogas stove. The goal is to provide an affordable model for alternative and renewable energy fuels in low-income low-resource communities.

Project Organico – University of the Arts Berlin, Germany

A biodegradable lightweight material intended for furniture making, which can be manufactured with little ecological footprint using renewable materials to create carbon-neutral functional pieces … and they can be converted into fertilizer at the end of their useful life.

Global Grad Show runs as part of Dubai Design Week at Buildings 4 and 6, Dubai Design District. Entrance is free.

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