International designers and architects such as Jean Nouvel, David Collins and Milan-based design firm Marzorati Ronchetti are all flocking to Abu Dhabi and Dubai with the hopes of taking part in the Middle East’s rapidly growing design scene, looking at large-scale design project possibilities.
As Emirati and locally-based designers experiment with new creations and techniques, acclaimed Western designers are also realizing that citys such as Dubai have become a pivotal playing field for new creative synergies in the fields of interior decorating, architectural and furniture design. A host of Emirati designers, such as Khaled Shafar, are experimenting in the field of furniture and interior design and imbuing their work with rich elements from local Emirati heritage.
Inspiration to innovate
Dubai is a pivotal place to discuss the concept of innovation because the motivation to design and create is high; the freshness of the city of Dubai provides new avenues for experimentation and creativity. At the same time many local designers find that Dubai’s rich and diversified cultural influences are also helping to attract many international designers to the city.
Dubai and New Zealand-based Emirati furniture designer Khalid Shafar focuses on ‘telling tales’ through his designs. “Objects are not just beautiful or useful,” he tell us, “they also tell stories. When we bring an object into our lives, its tale becomes part of our own personal tale.” Shafar’s work is a fusion of Eastern and Western influences with a particular focus on Emirati heritage through the incorporation of natural elements, the surrounding desert landscape being a pivotal cultural aspect of the Gulf country.
He was a guest designer and speaker at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Art Design Studio as well as at Tokyo Designers Week 2011, where he launched his 2012 collection. Shafar’s furniture collection was a part of Dubai Futures: The Emirate’s Emerging Art Scene, an exhibition that took place during Tokyo Designers Week. Along the same lines in London this year, Emirati shoe designer Sultan Darmaki became the first Emirati shoe designer to exhibit his work in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s permanent collection.
While Emirati designers are obtaining international recognition, renowned international design firms are taking heed of the UAE’s growing design culture and expanding to the Emirates. Stefano Ronchetti, the grandson of one of the founders of Marzorati Ronchetti, currently heads the firm and explains that design must work hand-in-hand with culture. “Given our international presence, it is easy to see how different concepts can be developed and reinterpreted differently throughout the world,” he explains.“We set up office in Dubai two years ago, hoping to take advantage of the burgeoning design market.”
The company works in association with renowned architects such as Lord Norman Foster and Thomas Heatherwick to create tailor-made design concepts for interiors and exteriors focusing largely on private residences, public spaces and hospitality. Ronchetti also plans to eventually expand to India where he feels there is a strong interest in design.
Leading London-based luxury interior designer David Collins has similarly been taken by the Gulf’s creative and design potential. Collins has worked for brands such as Bergdorf Goodman, Fortnum & Mason and Claridge's hotel, all of which are well known in the Middle East.
The designer has a reputation for designing places that encompass great attention to detail combined with an understanding of the importance of quality materials and creativity. “I feel, however, that of all of the projects that we have done over the years, it is the grand European café style of The Wolseley that has evoked the most response from our clients in the Middle East,” says Collins. “They like the idea of the all-day coffee shop highlighting the way in which people enjoy meeting and socializing in grand, but informal surroundings in the Middle East.”
What the future holds
The cities Abu Dhabi and Dubai have been catalysts for the promotion of dialogue relating to creativity and design. Abu Dhabi Art is gearing up for its fourth edition as an annual boutique platform for modern and contemporary art and design from around the world.
In May 2007, Dubai hosted its first International Design Forum (IDF) bringing together designers and architects from around the world to foster an open discussion as to the important role design must play in determining the future of the global landscape. In particular, the forum emphasized the value of design in addressing the challenges of the rapidly developing Arab world.
The first installment of the new annual fair, Design Days took place earlier this year, coinciding with Art Dubai. Design Days is a fair dedicated entirely to collectible and limited edition furniture and objects displayed by a range of international and regional galleries. Such events coupled with the success of local Emirati designers as well as the arrival of international design professionals signal that the UAE is truly a playground for creativity and experimentation.