Interior designers and architects came together for a roundtable discussion to plan ahead for the DesignMENA summit 2015 that will be held in December.
Technology advances in 3D printing, the idea of community and its relationship to urban design and the importance of heritage for the Middle East were among the topics that came to the fore at the debate.
Architect Andre Meyerhans, who runs his own firm, was joined by Salim Hussain of Brewer Smith Brewer Gulf, Iyad Alsaka of OMA and Richard Fenne of Woods Bagot.
From the world of interior design came Pallavi Dean, who runs her own boutique practice, Bruno Guelaff, who also has his own business, and Kevin McLachlan, associate partner at GAJ.
The panellists all agreed that 3D printing was an area which needed to be explored with issues such as copyrighting and ease of use still unclear.
Guelaff kicked off the discussion by saying: “This is a subject which involves a lot of negatives and positives alongside huge licensing issues. It’s one that our industry really needs to take on board.”
Dean agreed and stated: “There’s the architect’s thought process and then a programme which dictates how to build a structure. I think that synergy is quite interesting, it’s a new dimension of architecture and it’s being taken to a new level.”
She then put forward a new idea, which gripped the panel: “You can very quickly print out a physical model and — to give you an example — we have been working in the field of hospitality and thinking about putting a 3D printer in a hotel room. It could print out in just a minute your toothbrush and your slippers.”
Meyerhans was quick to appreciate the potential of this individual – if transitory – method of design.
He said: “I think 3D printing is more about creating moulds and the ability to translate ideas one-to-one. It’s about prototyping.
“I believe an interesting discussion would be about where are the benefits of 3D printing and where are its limits. I think Pallavi’s idea is great because the room could be printed behind a guest and it lasts for five days because after five days they leave the hotel and then the room actually implodes. Where are the limits of the technology?”
Both Guelaff and Hussain wanted to explore what the technology actually means to their respective professions and how easy it is to obtain and use. The panel suggested bringing in an expert to explain how the software will evolve in the near future and point out its current advantages, at the upcoming designMENA Summit.
Guelaff said: “All your hundreds of hours of design can be put into a file which is just one megabite and could be printed out in a second. An another thing, what about the pricing? I have friends who have built their own 3D printers because they couldn’t afford to buy one. ”
Hussain raised another question: “There’s the issue of how do I use 3D printing in ‘architecture with a big A?’
“A chair, or something small, is one thing, but in terms of form and influence how is it going to change my design process? If I have a (card or plastic) model is it the same as a 3D model?”
Fenne felt that the use of the technology had some practical benefits to clients: “Something about 3D printing is that it’s new and clients are very responsive to that.
“It’s almost like going back to a sketch. We did one recently for a small villa project. We could have done a hundred beautiful renders but what really sold the project was that there was an object on the table.
“The client could walk around it, pick up, take the top off and look into the spaces. It’s another tool – so that’s not to say people should n’t still be making card models. It’s another weapon in the design armoury.”
But the panel also looked at the downside and ramifications of 3D printing, which is set to become a major part of Dubai’s design process including the construction of the world’s first 3D printed building.
Hussain said: “The scary thing for me is that people can just design and press a button. They don’t have to think about how this thing can be put together.”
Alsaka added: “The subject of 3D printing covers both objects and buildings. Intellectual copyright is crucial and needs to be further discussed and perhaps legislation will be necessary.”
McLachlan said the skills for using the technology were not always in evidence, particularly among older designers. He added that while younger professionals would know how to work the software – sometimes their skills were lacking in other areas.
He said: “Some other undercurrents are very important. There’s a huge gap forming between people who are 3D literate and the actual workforce here. We find we are having to hire younger and younger people. “Some of the people who are older and with a wealth of experience – it’s very difficult to get them up to that level. There’s a technology gap in the market. A two-man show can now deliver the same as a 40 man show.
“It’s exciting but it’s also something that needs to be addressed. We’re addressing it here [at GAJ]. People are just focussing on how they can get the next staff member that’s able to deliver. They aren’t focussing on the bigger picture.”
Fenne concluded this section of the debate by saying: “I think we are at bit of a watershed moment when there is a migration from 2D to 3D.”
Dubai’s maturing market
The ever-changing market of Dubai was the next topic the panel turned its attentions to – specifically whether “biggest and best” was no longer the major criteria on which designs are judged.
Meyerhans said: “Dubai was always driven by luxury and superlatives, by being bigger and better, but it’s possible that now one can cater to the market and see what is needed. Maybe three and four star hotels are going to be more important. Also urban planning and affordable housing.”
The panel then looked into the question of whether developers have their priorities right when it comes to building properties. They all agreed that mixed-used developments, including residential, offices and commercial premises, were a way to build communities.
Fenne said: “One of the key topics in the residential sector over next few years will be truly affordable housing and how we as designers can work, using our international experience, with local developers producing more affordable housing. We are currently undertaking the first of these in Abu Dhabi with a major developer. It is very exciting.
“(It should be about) building to live and building for people. People are staying here in Dubai now for five or six years and rents are not cheap. The economics stack up. So investors are now actually funding houses that people can buy.
“Obviously, I think it is important that we are actually building communities, not designing projects in isolation. A good example is City Walk in Dubai, which is a strong mixed-use community where people are living, working and shopping.
The group all agreed that discussion needs to take place about legislation being introduced so that people can get into the real estate market more easily.
Also, the members said regulations about working from home need to be changed.
They pointed out that at the moment this is not really allowed, but there are an increasing number of “small businesses, ‘mumpreneurs’ and one-person start-ups”. The group also called for a wider look into what the future holds and how smaller businesses can grow.
McLachlan said: “If you look below the surface it’s not so good. I have spoken to some of the top malls and they know that they have elevated the rents too high and their tenants are running at a loss. Can they keep opening another mall, another fast food outlet?”
Normalising the UAE
The question of communities and the relationship between exterior and interior design and liveability was next debated. The panel asked the question – are communities being built or are they being lost?
Alsaka said: “We [OMA] worked on something before the economic crisis called ‘Dubai Vision’. The first thing we wanted to do was to bring the city to a state of a normalisation. The trend of introducing three and four star hotels is possibly the start of this process.”
McLachlan broadened the discussion: “This could also lead on to a different subject. In Europe and the USA, in my field of interior design, a lot of the work is refurbishment of existing projects. Over the last couple of years we have seen more refurbishing developments here.
“If we could find some interesting projects to showcase we could show this is another form of normalisation starting to happen here. We are being challenged on a different level and having to address the fabric of reality and reinvent it. That is just as interesting a job as new build.”
Fenne agreed: “Really interesting topic, retrofitting and refurbishment, particularly around the issue of energy usage. There are some really interesting buildings in this region and I think we need to be looking at how they can be re-appropriated.”
Meyerhans thought it was up to the design and build business to take the lead on this: “What would be good would be to get together a list of important buildings – those we feel need preserving.”
Fenne agreed: “They are doing this in Abu Dhabi – the TCA (Tourism and Cultural Authority). Places like the bus station and the old fish market. But this subject doesn’t get enough discussion. The tide of time moves on and before you know it these things are lost.”
The panel remarked that there was at one time the suggestion to knock down the Dubai World Trade Centre tower, which would have been a major loss to the city’s heritage. The members agreed that legislation could be used to protect important buildings – even if they are only 25 years old.
Following on in a natural fashion was the subject of how the world’s of architecture and interior design could be more influential in government and authority policy making.
The third edition of designMENA Summit will take place on Tuesday, December 8 in Dubai, featuring panel discussions, presentations and talks.