What does it mean to be a ‘homegrown’ designer, panelists discuss


Panelists at the DesignMENA Summit argued how much influence work created in the UAE is on a global level and how local designers and architects should encourage projects “Made in the UAE”.

“I think we’ve improved as firms in the UAE,” said Isabel Pintado, managing director, LW Design Group. “There’s a substantial increase in quality and another thing that’s quite influential is the confidence that we’ve gained. In the past, there was a section that we needed to import designers into the UAE to produce the standard that we’re producing now, but that isn’t the case anymore…A lot of our work is now outside of the UAE which is something that we’ve been going after avidly, because we feel that we have something to offer.”

Firas Alsalih, senior VP and managing director, Middle East & Africa, Wilson Associates commented that in order to push local design, we must first “define what is it to be homegrown and what does that mean”.


“I guess it’s got something to do with the experience. A local person has experience with the market and knows the design landscape,” added Andrew Hughes, partner at Pumpkin Architectural Designs.

Emirati designer Khalid Shafar agreed that “it is about a complete understanding the local environment”.

“The understanding can be different for an Emirati, because we have roots and our ancestors have been here so our understanding of the area is deep and goes back far. So if it’s related to the culture, there are ways of research but if you want to dig deep an Emirati would be maybe more attached and have stories that maybe expats wouldn’t know about. F&B for example, sometimes want to create an ‘Arabian’ theme. What is that? And how can we go to the next step beyond the Madinaat Jumeirah style,” said Shafar.

He continued: “I think when we look at or understand the culture, it’s not about the surface of the architecture or design space, we’re talking about the services that will be provided in the space and when you lay it out, that’s what makes it successful. It’s not just about the materials and colours, as well as how people will interact in the space.

“When you look at Bab al Shams, you can say that this is taken, yes, from the local culture, but when you ask how this space can allow us to interact, it can be different if you are local and have a fundamental understanding of the culture. The hotel for example, there are some rooms where the balconies are open to other balconies and other rooms…it’s the kind of habits or manners that you would provide in this space that you as an interior designer would need to know how this space would be used. This knowledge only comes from asking people, ‘how do you do this,’ and there were a lot of debates about privacy.”

He concluded: “Those from my generation and my country, keeping their roots as being Emirati, how it can be defined and can put it in a better way that can be argued. Can the Emirati do it better? I would argue maybe.”


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