Middle East design scene: are we there yet?

Aidan Imanova explores how different initiatives have influenced the development of design across the region and what is the next step.

Over the past decade, the Middle East has been demonstrating a heartier appetite for design, and in the last couple of years, it has become hungrier than ever.

Observing the launch of Beirut and Saudi Design Weeks in 2012 and 2014, exhibitions such as 20+ Egypt Design Fair which began in 2010, Dubai Design Week’s last year debut as well as the new kids on the block, Amman Design Week, it is apparent that design has become more accessible and present than ever before.

Cyril Zammit, director of design at Art Dubai Group

However, with as many differences as similarities, it is clear that each city has its particular area of focus.

With Dubai Design Week having recently concluded its second edition in October, Cyril Zammit, director of design at Art Dubai Group, weighed in on what sets this event apart from its peers and predecessors.

He explained that with Dubai it was difficult to follow the mainstream design week model that celebrates and focuses on a native design scene. With 88% of the population hailing from across the globe, the country’s DNA goes beyond itself. This led to the three pillars of Dubai Design Week: the local, the regional and the international.

Various initiatives such as Abwab, where six identical pavilions are designed by a UAE-based designer or firm, hosting five other countries, all united under a single theme, involves creatives from all over the region.

Abwab pavilions by a hypothetical office

Other initiatives include Destinations, which welcomes design weeks from all over the world, and Global Grad Show, which showcases young talent from prestigious design schools worldwide. This year we saw a better integration of both non-regional and regional design, with students in the Middle East participating alongside international students.

In 2015, Swarovski began working with Dubai-based designer Anjali Srinivasan, who went on to win the 2016 Swarovski Designers of the Future for her work on an undulating wave of interactive tiles that were showcased at Design Miami/Basel. This year Emirati designer Zeinab Hashem created an art installation called ‘Hexalight’ for the crystal brand. The two designers were introduced to the brand through their works at Dubai Design Week.


Mass Imperfections by Palestinian pavilion for Abwab.

Zammit explained that this is the reward they seek from pushing a three-pillar design week model; an opportunity to make Dubai a point of discovery, where an international audience can meet great talent from the country and the overall region.

“For us it is about developing an identity that makes Dubai at ease with its DNA. It is about welcoming people, exchanging content and creativity with people and being a point of convergence from all over the world,” said Zammit.

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