ArchiExpo e-Magazine - #41 – Arabian NightsArchiExpo e-Magazine

Arabian Nights

This special issue focuses entirely on the Middle East. As always, we dig into innovations in architecture and design, while also highlighting some of the main artists based in UAE. Find out what major actors discussed at the Big5 in regards to smart cities and learn how European furniture and lighting companies are making an imprint in the Middle East. Our main delight, however, is how the UAE has turned itself into a design hubmuch like Poland.

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We have tried to collaborate with several retail clients, but unfortunately, we have not been successful.


European furniture and lighting manufacturers break through the challenges of culture and methodical procedures to bring their products to the Middle East. What route did they take to succeed?   Over the last decade, the Middle East has developed a booming design culture, encouraging an influx of western designers in...

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The Middle East is making up for lost time.
Courtesy of AYA Halbitar

How do you create a local design culture from scratch? For cultural players in the United Arab Emirates, the answer was two-part: launch creative outlets and build a design district. This systematic approach was wildly successful. In five short years, the Arabian Peninsula nation has made its creative economy a force to be reckoned with.


Creative Outlets Draw the Design Community


Launched in 2012, Design Days Dubai was the first such showcase. It is now the leading fair dedicated to collectible and limited-edition furniture and design objects in the Middle East and South Asia. In 2015, it was followed by Dubai Design Week, which just completed its biggest program to date. The six day event—November 13-18—included exhibitions, installations, talks and educational workshops. Among them were Downtown Design, a carefully edited roster of established and emerging international brands across a broad range of product categories. Another, the Global Grad Show, represented 92 of the world’s best design schools from 43 countries and was the largest student gathering ever. And there was Abwab (“doors” in Arabic), which exhibited work from countries in the Middle East North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region.

Rue Kothari, show director of Downtown Design, spoke to ArchiExpo e-Magazine, recalling:

I arrived here 13 years ago, when the homegrown design scene was relatively non-existent. Around 2011, things started to change. Young native designers began to experiment with materials, fusing craft they had learned abroad with indigenous materials, Arabic motifs and a very modern sense of style and color.


ammar kalo macaron

Image (Left): The making of the recycled rubber, hardwood, and brass-plated steel Macaron stool by Ammar Kalo of Kalo. Photography courtesy of Kalo. Image (Right): Macaron, a recycled rubber, hardwood and brass-plated steel stool exploring the potential of locally recycled rubber particles by Ammar Kalo of Kalo. The collection was commissioned for Dubai Design Days 2017 by Bee’ah, the Middle East’s leading integrated environmental management company. Photography courtesy of Kalo.


Like Dubai Design Week, Design Days Dubai is owned and managed by Art Dubai Fair. Previously held in March, Design Days Dubai will move to the fall slot of Dubai Design Week in 2018 in an effort to consolidate the design events.


A Design Destination to Call Home


With the events rolling, the desire for a physical design address took shape. When talk of a three-phase, purpose-built development began to circulate, Amrish Patel, founder and principal of India-based collaborative design studio Apical Reform, took note. The first phase of the Dubai Design District (D3) made its permanent mark on the cityscape in 2015. Developed as a creative ecosystem, D3 now houses showrooms for local and international brands such as Artemide, Lignet Roset, Living Divani and Driade, among others. Patel opened his Apical Reform Gallery there this year. Patel told ArchiExpo e-Magazine:

The Middle East is making up for lost time by learning from the missteps and success of the international market. Design has established itself as a very viable and consistent revenue driver, and this has called for infrastructure development—the design events, design schools and design council that have followed are a testament to that.

Gossipers, a series of ceramic sculptures by Ali Shawwa to counter gossiping was shown in Dubai Design Week’s Abwab exhibit. Photography courtesy of Ali Shawwa.

A position as an emerging design capital has its distinct advantages, according to Kothari. “People are much more open to new and unique ideas, and hungry for opportunity,” she says. “Here, whole communities are being constructed, with the facilities and infrastructure that go with it. The grand plans for Expo 2020 Dubai and the development of entire cities bring with them huge opportunities for new brands, architects and designers.”

In 2018, the new Dubai Institute of Innovation and Design will open in D3, on a campus designed by award-winning architects Foster + Partners. The institute will offer 500 students Dubai’s first integrated bachelor of design degree, with a curriculum fashioned in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design.


UAE by the Numbers

Exceeding expectations, the UAE is now the largest design market in the Middle East and North Africa region, with a 27% share and $27.6 billion in revenues in 2014, according to Mena Design Outlook 2015. This report, commissioned by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council and produced by global consultancy Deloitte,  projects the continuation of a 6% annual growth, reaching $55 billion by 2019.

Porcelain vases in the Tebr collection by Dubai-based designer Aljoud Lootah are engraved with patterns that adorned the historic architecture of the United Arab Emirates. Photography courtesy of Aljoud Lootah.

Porcelain vases in the Tebr collection by Dubai-based designer Aljoud Lootah are engraved with patterns that adorned the historic architecture of the United Arab Emirates. Photography courtesy of Aljoud Lootah.

Population growth, a booming business market and tourism are the driving forces. “Across key business districts, such as DIFC, Business Bay and DWTC, it’s estimated that there are approximately 9.9 million square feet of office space due for completion by 2020,” says Kothari.

Oxford Economics forecasts that Dubai’s population will increase from 2.6 million in 2017 to 2.9 million in 2021, pushing demand for residential units. According to STR’s June 2017 Pipeline Report, there are nearly 95,000 rooms in 300 projects in the construction phase in the Middle East and 871 hotel projects under contract in the Middle East and Africa.

Architect and designer Ammar Kalo believes that the UAE’s momentum gives the nation both an edge and a challenge compared to US and European counterparts. “The pace of work in Dubai is phenomenal, mostly keeping up with the real estate and cultural developments,” he notes.

In a way, despite constant shifting of gears or, at times, a lack of refinement, this allows Dubai to be a playground for developing new ideas at a rapid pace.

A [Fabric]ations resin stool by Ammar Kalo of Kalo. Photography courtesy of Kalo.

Designers themselves are playing a role in the development of a design culture. Jumana Taha and Mentalla Said of Studio MUJU told ArchiExpo e-Magazine:

Many UAE-based designers look to their environment for inspiration and aim to create work that celebrates and defines an intrinsically ‘Emirati’ identity.

Some look to the natural landscape of the UAE, inspired by the desert, the sea and the mountains. Others look to the heritage of the country and the many traditional crafts that have been used in the region for centuries. With the rapid development of the UAE’s economy and the movement away from the nomadic Bedouin life, crafts such as Sadu weaving have become in need of protection and preservation.”

Fattoum floor lamp created by the ancient art of Sadu weaving. Courtesy of Studio Muju.

Fattoum floor lamp created by the ancient art of Sadu weaving. Courtesy of Studio Muju.

Color accents only achieved through light.
Courtesy of Karim Rashid

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  • Courtesy of Art Dubai

    It makes sense that the United Arab Emirates is bursting at the seams with artists and designers. Not only drenched in the beauty of white sands and the Persian Gulf, the MENA region is home to traditional artistry and creating with one’s hands. Artistic creation has always been an attempt to understand one’s identity and role within the current context. This explains the inclination of some to choose a creative profession in a region of so much flux, unrest and intersection of cultures.

    Curious about the Emirati contemporary art scene punctuated by important events like Art Dubai and the Sikka Art Fair, ArchiExpo e-Magazine asked a few top names to provide a glimpse into their artistic practices.

    “He removed the thread binding of his passport and used it to sew the booklet shut.”

    Recipient of the Sheikha Manal Young Artist Award in 2011, Walid Al Wawi exhibited at the 2015 Paris FIAC and this year’s MMCA in Seoul. He is not only an artist of global scope through object making, performance and video. In Middle Eastern Passport,  completed this year, he removed the thread binding of his passport and used it to sew the booklet shut. Sealing wax was then used to hide the passport’s origin.

    On a similar note, Hazem Harb explores issues from war to trauma, vulnerability to global instability. The artist was born in Gaza, attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome and graduated from the European Institute of Design. He currently divides his time between Dubai and Rome.

    Born in Saudi Arabia, Ayman Zaydani was originally educated in biomedical science at Griffith University in Australia. The artist employs a great amount of experimentation with photographic processes and the use of shapes such as prisms and other geometric forms. This is also evident in Azal, a work in which he poured liquid dye into pottery cups and allowed it to slowly leak through the clay.

    Deeply connected to the surrounding landscape, Talin Hazbar’s artistic research is invested in materiality. Dividing her works into three categories—stone, water and sand—the artist has reconnected broken rock with wax, observed marine deposits on the nets of local fishermen in Sharjah and solidified sand.

    Akin to Zaydani’s work, that of Shaika Al Mazrou also deals with physical forms and space. Through sculpture and installation, she creates simple forms that offer notions of tension, weight, space and the formal aspects of minimalism.

    Courtesy of AECOM


    State-of-the-art design and landscaping meet health and community at Oxygen Park in Doha. The Qatar Foundation commissioned the 130,000-square-meter park...

    Courtesy of architect Bjarke Ingles

    The United Arab Emirates projects establishing a functioning Martian colony within the next hundred years with its Mars 2117 Strategy. The Mars Science City...

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    Smart City was a hot topic at the Big 5 conference organized by DMG Events in Dubai at the end of November 2017. But how can IoT revolutionize the construction industry?

    IoT offers the construction industry several application for roads and other infrastructure, buildings, concrete, cranes and quarries. Alaa Daghan, MEA director  for Advantech and B+B Smartworks, delivered a presentation called IoT-izing the Construction Industry.

    Daghan said, “IoT is already used in energy and utilities all round the world—in power substations in Abu Dhabi, in smart grids in Texas and Frankfurt, as well as in the area of water treatment, district cooling and water distribution. Another function of IoT in oil and gas industries is in telemetry, leak detection and remote control and monitoring of pipelines.

    “The data then allow RTA to construct new roads, intersection points and overhead bridges so that traffic can flow easier.”

    “In Dubai itself, the Road and Transport Authority (RTA) already take data from the sensors situated at major highways, such as Sheikh Zayed Road and Al Khail Road. These sensors are using the IoT technology in analyzing data in real time, such as traffic patterns during the course of the day. The data then allow RTA to construct new roads, intersection points and overhead bridges so that traffic can flow easier.”

    For more information on Dubai’s commitment to becoming a smart city, read the reports published on Big 5.


    Smart and Sustainable Cities


    Oasis Tower vertical farm project

    “Mohsen also touched upon how vertical farming could be the future of smart cities..” This image illustrates the Oasis Tower vertical farm project.

    As solar options become important for energy efficiency, IoT will be a valuable tool helping suppliers place sensors on panels for real-time monitoring.  IoT centers rely on massive numbers of sensors spread throughout the city. Thus, ensuring that they can run for years without unplugging them to change batteries makes sense. IoT-linked solar cells will be the right solution.

    In his presentation, Smart Cities—The Role of Technology in Forming Green Sustainable Cities, Transmed’s Mohsen Haj Hassan’s maintains that the world population increase to 10 billion people in 2050 will be accompanied by a significant movement of people from rural to urban areas, creating a revolution in the construction sector.

    In this country, the government is already making major changes through a series of green initiatives. Several buildings under construction are incorporating eco-friendly roofs. The vision described in  A Sustainable Dubai—The Dubai Municipality Report 2016 highlights several breakthrough regulations to further sustainability in Dubai.

    According to a report by BNC Publishing, there are already several smart projects in full swing in Dubai. The Desert Rose Housing Project will be an urban community using 40,000 cubic meters of recycled wastewater and featuring solar panel-covered roofs.

    Mohsen also touched upon how vertical farming could be the future of smart cities. Dubai’s revolutionary Oasis Tower vertical farm project designed by Rahul Surin is powered by renewable energy and is projected to help feed around 40,000 people.


    Allyson Pereyra

    Born and raised in the concrete jungle of NYC, Allyson is passionate about languages—she speaks, reads and writes in five.

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    Mairi Beautyman

    Mairi Beautyman is a journalist based out of Berlin. She’s been writing about design and architecture since 2001.

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    Jan D’Sa

    Jan D’Sa is a Dubai based events reporter, technical writer and creative director.

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    Erin Tallman

    American artist Erin Tallman is a journalist for various online publications and is the Editor in Chief of ArchiExpo e-magazine. She has published three books, including her first novel.

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    Hilary Edesess

    Hilary Edesess is a freelance journalist based in Marseille, France. She blogs about culture, art and urban design.

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    Erin Gigl

    Erin Gigl is a freelance design and travel writer, editor and artist.

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