Nurturing responsible, innovative, and contemporary design talents
In a revealing interview with Mette Degn-Christensen, Director of the Downtown Design Fair, we explore the unique identity of Dubai Design Week and its distinguishing features in comparison to international industry events.
Positioned in the bustling city of Dubai, this annual event serves as a pivotal platform for the region’s creative talents and actively fosters the growth of its creative ecosystem and community. Mette Degn-Christensen‘s perspective highlights that Dubai Design Week distinguishes itself through its extensive, no-cost program, which accommodates individuals of various ages and skill levels, fostering an inclusive atmosphere for anyone with a creative passion.
As the flagship event of the week, the Downtown Design Fair bridges the gap between the burgeoning Middle East design industry and the rest of the world, emphasizing the importance of high-quality contemporary design and craftsmanship. A space where the industry’s best can connect with discerning audiences.
Dubai’s design scene is a dynamic fusion of tradition and contemporary innovation. Designers in the region draw inspiration from their surroundings, using tradition as a springboard for innovative ideas. This approach aligns with Dubai’s fast-paced environment and reflects the emerging local talent’s eagerness to create responsible, innovative, and contemporary designs, breaking away from stereotypes.
We asked Mette Degn-Christensen a few questions, here are her answers.
To date, what defines and characterises Dubai Design Week compared to other international industry events?
“Dubai Design Week is essentially a platform for the region’s creative talent and an active catalyst for the growth of the creative ecosystem and community. Positioned in Dubai, geographically a global binding point but also a hub for the region’s design industry.
As an event, Dubai Design Week – the umbrella festival to Downtown Design – has a vast, free-to-attend programme for visitors of all ages and all ages of experience, skills or interest points/enthusiasm around creativity. It is very much embedded in the festival’s annually staged line-up of installations, exhibitions and activities to foster the exchange of ideas, inspire audiences and present the possibilities of what can be achieved through design.”
Speaking of companies, what benefits and opportunities do they gain from participating in the Downtown Design Fair, which is the highlight event of the week?
“As the leading fair for original and quality contemporary design, Downtown Design bridges the Middle East’s burgeoning design industry and the rest of the world, both East and West.
Downtown Design is a boutique-sized and edited fair with curated sections, that are very much tailored to the demand and movement in the regional market; for both professional and public visitors, with a strong focus on calibre design and craftsmanship – not only in reference to exhibitors, participants and programming, but in the visitor experience as well, and thereby also the audiences that we attract are more in line with what our high-quality exhibiting brands, designers and galleries are seeking and aligned with.
With this in mind, the fair is also unique in the way that it is very much dedicated to contemporary, high-quality design with a special programme for active design professionals, but also catering to HNWIs and VIP visitors who are curious about design or looking to discover, buy or commission the latest works from brands to independent designers and studios.”
How does Downtown Design contribute to fostering the development of local talents in the region, and what steps are taken to facilitate this assistance?
“Downtown Design consistently produces a dynamic environment where design meets opportunity. Now celebrating a decade of the fair, we remain at the centre of design in the Middle East—forging foundational relationships between B2B and B2C audiences and brands, independent designers and studios, including local and regional talent; Downtown Design remains the annual point of connection.
Our initiatives and programmes provide a unique opportunity for designers from across the region to showcase their work to an international audience and are a platform for critical discourse. Every year a roster of designers in and from the UAE are participating with fascinating and innovative projects.
Highlights in Downtown Design 2023 include; the UAE Designer Exhibition – always a favourite of many visitors – that will present works by over 30 budding UAE-based creatives, themed around the future of living spaces, and with a focus on materiality and social impact.
Stand-alone presentations by MODU, spearheaded by Omar Al Gurg – who himself is an alumni of the UAE Designer Exhibition; an experiential installation by the talented Neda Salmanpour, presented by Sharjah-based 1971 Design Space; renowned established designer Fadi Sarieddine Design Studio based in Dubai will launch a limited-edition collection composed of pieces carved from stone and wood and local design incubator Tashkeel will unveil the culmination of the 2023 Tanween Programme cohort, continuing the focus on sustainability and addressing the fundamental challenges facing the world today.
Wafa Al Falahi, Marwa Abdelrahim, Maryam Elattar & Mohamed Elnaggar and Chinara Tashmatova. All are presented within the Downtown Editions section, a platform that celebrates the diversity of design and a chance to discover, commission and buy, a vital component of the Downtown Design fair.
Throughout the Dubai Design Week exhibitions and installations, visitors can explore projects by prominent names such as Abdalla Almulla (MULA Studio), who was awarded the Arab Design Award by the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris earlier this year (September) in the Emerging Talent category and waiwai, who represented the UAE at the Venice Architecture Biennale, alongside budding creative talent such as artist & Designer, Areen Hassan, who engages with Islamic art as part of her practice, and architect AlZaina Lootah, one of the strong emerging UAE talent to watch.”
How does the local design scene merge tradition and contemporary?
“I think this has always very much been an aspect that is rooted in this region, but what is happening more and more globally, and especially considering the environment and changing mindsets since COVID, is that designers are really starting to look more locally and for regional context to their approaches and practices.
That said, however, I think that it was always a strong denominator of local and regional talent to look to sources and materials in their surroundings, but with a powerful hack for innovation – always looking at tradition and fusion with a forward-looking approach. It is very much a fast-paced region and I think the emerging local talent really mirrors that.
Our opening keynote speaker of this year’s fair, and global trend forecaster, Lidewij Edelkoort, said something very interesting in an interview last week;
“This region will profit more from future trends than any other one since fantasy is in the DNA of the people.”
I think that is very well put and very true, and it is actually very exciting to see how Dubai and the Middle East are nurturing a new wave of talent that is eager to create responsible, innovative and contemporary design, breaking away the image of opulence that is sometimes associated with the region.”
Dubai Design District presents itself as an ecosystem supporting the creative industry. What roles does it play throughout the year? How does it nurture the creative business?
“Dubai Design District (d3) is a purpose-built community that serves as a hub for the creative industry in Dubai, supporting various sectors such as design, art, fashion, and luxury. It was established as a creative space that both supports local and regional designers as well as is a base for international brands. The thinking was, and still is, that by encouraging the discussion and dialogue between emerging designers and established brands to thereby develop mentoring opportunities and collaborations, the regional creative scene will flourish.
As a strategic partner for Dubai Design Week, Dubai Design District, a member of TECOM Group PJSC, is positioned as the cornerstone of creativity for both the UAE and the Middle East and along with Design Week, acts as a platform for designers across many disciplines hosting numerous programmes throughout the year to enable the participation of both its business partners and wider creative community to showcase their work to a global audience.”
Design is not just a product, but a carrier of culture and representative of the society in which it takes shape. What values does the design of the region embody that you intend to promote?
“A carrier of culture – I like that! We intend to promote the region’s values of innovation, diversity, and sustainability. Our programmes encourage designers to think creatively and develop unique and forward-thinking designs. Dubai is a melting pot of cultures, and its design ethos reflects this diversity.
Designers in the region often draw inspiration from various cultures, resulting in designs that celebrate inclusivity and multiculturalism. Eco-friendly and environmentally responsible design practices are encouraged, reflecting a commitment to preserving the environment for future generations.”
If you were to define an aspect of the Design Week that you would like to develop further in the coming years, what would it be and why?
“We have several plans to further expand our platforms with new initiatives, considering the needs of the community, and opportunities for development in the region’s creative scene and its ecosystem. I personally would like to look closer at mentorship opportunities for creative talent in their stage of setting up their studios and becoming SMEs, for the further flourishment of the creative scene.
There’s a lot of great talent here and, as everywhere on the planet, most people rarely have the know-how and expertise in all areas involved in running a practice around your talent (marketing, website, commercial growth etc.) all of reach is important and also creates internships, jobs and furthers the opportunities for the wider community and other budding talent.”
How do you define the success of the event? What are the expected outcomes, and how do you determine that your message has been conveyed and embraced by the participants (meaning everyone)?
“Its a number of things, but it is ultimately on the quality of the fair that we deliver, from the fair experience to the participants and exhibitors and the meaningful outcome that they will have meeting the visitors we attract, which is why the programming is very important to us, to ensure we engage our community and industry all-round, to forge meaningful commercial opportunity.
Every year, we strive to put on a strong programme, that is engaging for visitors and that has an impact in the creative scene as well as those not specific to the design industry while continuing to act as a platform for the creative community.
Connectivity and opportunity are at the heart of everything we do. Brought to life by quality works, the fair provides a gateway to the region through contemporary design. We work in close consultation with participants as well as their target audiences throughout the year, and we see the direct change year after year as companies are setting regional offices up in Dubai and the new demand for contemporary aesthetics and high-quality is growing, bringing a further emphasis on the requirement for good, responsible design to the forefront.
Downtown Design aims to contribute to the growth and vitality of the design industry – and the creative community – in Dubai, the UAE, and the wider Middle East by providing a platform that facilitates a meeting point for engagement, maintains relevance, and upholds the highest standards of quality in contemporary design.
As already mentioned above, we are dedicated to bringing high-quality and contemporary design to the forefront and we have plans to further expand our platforms with new initiatives, considering the needs of the market and the changing demands of both the industry and end users, and opportunities of development in the region’s creative scene and its ecosystem.”