Dubai Design Week

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Dubai For Now

It’s not even 7am (local time) as we make our approach into Dubai. The enormous Emirates A380 smoothly and quietly descends, with the greatest noise coming from those excited passengers now getting their first glimpse of the city’s breathtaking skyline.

To be honest, we’re equally excited by the prospect of a few days here in the Emirates – and that view from the air only makes our hearts beat faster. The scale of the place is simply astonishing!

©Dubai-Design-Week-Destination-1The original aim of our trip out East is to take a look at what the revamped and rebranded Dubai Design Week has to offer. Once we had spoken with a few old ex-pat mates, however, we quickly realised that we would be foolish not to tap into their local knowledge and gain a much fuller overview of the Dubai market.

So, we’ve packed our schedule with meetings (not all exactly formal, we have to confess) with friends originally based in the UK, but now working in the UAE for leading manufacturers, dealers, architectural firms and even blue chip global end-user clients.

Straight away, we should zoom forward to the present and thank the many people and businesses who were so generous with their time and hospitality. throughout our trip: Acoulite represents a number of lighting companies in the region, including our friends from FUTURE Designs – and both firms looked after us royally.

Thank you to Humanscale, whose presence in the UAE has been led for years by John Messant (who has worked in the region for over 30 years). After a very successful career, John will be returning to the UK and the running of the business will be taken over by Alan McDonald. Thank you also to our old mate Gordon Long from The Furniture Practice – it was great to see his Dubai empire!

Stuart Allen of AAID was extremely generous with his time and expertise – and you can expect to learn more about his plans for the future and more from this amazing region in 2016. 

We should say that this isn’t our first time in the city – although we haven’t been back here for a good few years. The change is already here for all to see. The rate of expansion is bewildering. Where the central London skyline might boast four or five notable new arrivals over that period, Dubai boasts entire districts. And whilst the majority of the impressive London towers might top out at 40 storeys, there are literally dozens that claim twice that number.

©Electra-Events-&-Exhibitions-Global-Grad-Show-(11)That’s not to say, however, that all that is tall is a supermodel. Any close inspection reveals far too many gaudy, slightly tacky designs for sensitive European palettes.

Of course, with the heat approaching 40 degrees, and with the scale of this place, taxis are something of a necessity. ‘You just don’t walk,’ Shell Real Estate Territory Manager MENA, David Bramma, informs us matter-of-factly
over a well-earned beer at the amazing Aculite 10th birthday party on the Wednesday night. Wise man.

The majority of our meetings (and not just the evening ones) are held in the luxury of major hotels – and here’s the real success story of the city. Whilst there is still activity in all sectors, hospitality is where you really want to be. Tourism is booming, with grand, opulent hotels continuing to rise out of the sand, whilst even grander, more extreme schemes are, we are told, already in the offing.

‘You can’t put all your eggs in one basket – commercial interiors – out here,’ AAID Managing Director Stuart Allen tells us. ‘The market constantly goes up and down. What is stable out here is hospitality and retail and you really need to touch all aspects in order to make good
out here.

‘The number of new hotels and refurbishments being planned is mind blowing. Dubai doesn’t have the same dependency on oil as, say, Abu Dhabi – tourism is the thing here. I think this has now really become the gateway to the East. This is now a destination.’

The inaugural Dubai Design Week was a six-day celebration and showcase of the most exciting and innovative design and designers from the MENASA region and beyond.

The event was opened on 26 October by its patron, Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice Chairman of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), and enjoyed visits from a host of other international dignitaries throughout the week, including the k ambassadors of China, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Mexico and Finland and representatives from the Consulate General of Canada.

More than 120 designers from 35 countries took part, alongside some of the world’s most influential industry figureheads, representatives from global academic institutions and key creatives from across the Middle East.


©Dubai-Design-Week-Lot-36587-by-Raudha-AlghurairOver 100 events took place across the city, featuring a diverse cast of designers, artists, architects, educational and cultural institutions, retail stores, iconic brands, trade professionals, authors, thinkers and more. The focal point of the week was the new Dubai Design District (d3), which effectively became a free-to-visit ‘open museum of design’ for the duration of
the event.

Mohammad Saeed Al-Shehhi, Chief Operating Officer of d3 said: ‘Dubai Design Week was a tremendous success for the city of Dubai and a real test of d3 in terms of both concept and infrastructure. I’m thrilled to say that Dubai Design Week gave us proof not only that d3 ‘works’ as a venue, but that its mission – to provide Dubai’s dynamic creative sector with a dedicated platform that can act as an international focus for design in the Middle k East region – is timely, welcome and, above all, necessary.’

Dubai Design Week’s commercial centrepiece, the third edition of trade fair Downtown Design, has been hailed as the most successful to date, firmly establishing the fair as the leading design trade event in the region. Pre-registrations increased by 25%, and visitor numbers surpassed all expectation – current estimates suggest that more than 10,000 people crossed the threshold over the fair’s four days.

‘This is a great initiative and now a real showcase platform for local, regional and global talents and influences,’ Russell Hunter,

Principal at leading engineering consultant ChapmanBDSP, tells us. ‘Clearly an evolving success, DW is an important indicator into the market here as (as the name suggests) the importance of design is being awarded more recognition, whereas historic emphasis may have concentrated more on input\output costs and time – as opposed to quality and detailing).’

While we’ve got him, we ask Russell what he feels the chief differences between the markets in the Emirates and the UK are. 

‘Good question – but I would flip this based on my experiences and say chief similarities,’ he muses. ‘Dubai is like London in that the populous deployment and diverse demographic makes for two similar cities. Tracking, certainly over the last few years, peaks and troughs in the FTSE are similarly mirrored on the Dubai Financial Market, both affected by oil price, China’s devaluation of the Yuan against the US$ and other movements.

‘Dubai and London are similar in that they lead their respective nations’ housing markets, albeit London prices are elevating and, allegedly, on the cusp of entering a pre-crash bubble, whereas in Dubai property prices are continuing to fall faster then rental values.

‘In summary – UK and UAE are very similar in pattern and behaviours\trends and influences. London, like Dubai, is largely ‘bubble insulated’.’

acoulite-10-year-party-Julian-&-TerryGlenys King, Bisley’s Commercial Director for the territory, has however seen a number of key differences between the UAE and UK markets when it comes to specification. ‘If you are specified (in the UAE) it often means nothing – the contractor will just buy the cheapest,’ she admits. ‘There is a general lack of industry knowledge and working practices out here and the market is at least 5-7 years behind in terms of design…and UAE is forward thinking. We have good design practices but end users are reluctant to embrace new ways of working. Other gulf states are more like 10-15 years behind.

‘Projects generally move quicker (if completed) but there are a high quantity of shelved projects.

‘Furthermore, haggling is still a way of life out here – price, price, price…and when it comes to Dubai, the market is saturated with every mainstream manufacturer represented in a city the size of Birmingham.’