It’s been a crazy month for design in the UAE. Inspiring, thought-provoking, insightful and full of beauty — yet crazy. There were times I wish I could clone myself, just to experience everything that was going on around the city. Needless to say, like many of you, I missed some great exhibitions, events and brands. But here are four that left me in awe.
Exploring creativity from their very distinct perspectives, they exalt the highest virtues of design: context, innovation, artisanal making, collaboration, culture and beauty.
Lel is an artistic collective dedicated to preserving, reinterpreting and evolving the ancient art of hand-crafted stone inlay. Also referred to as parchinkari in South Asia, the art originated in the ancient Roman opus sectile technique, later finding its revival and development in the hands of the Florentines during the Italian Renaissance of the 16th century. To them, this act of meticulously cutting and fitting stones into intricate and exquisite forms was akin to painting in stone. Within that century, pietra dura spread to Russia, Iran and across the South Asian region, into Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, under the patronage of the Mughals. Founded by Farhana Asad two decades ago, Lel is run in collaboration with her daughter, Meherunnisa. Its collections are handcrafted from semi-precious stones and marble in collaboration with local and Afghan artisans in Peshawar, Pakistan. The brand is on show at Dubai’s beloved concept store, O’ De Rose.
For this Red Dot Award-winning lighting brand, illumination is as much an art as it is a precise science. And why not? After all, its German DNA requires its products to perform to the most exacting standards. Occhio’s philosophy is one that puts the end user in the driver’s seat; that is why all products are based on innovative technologies and intuitive operating functions, which make the handling of light pure pleasure. Their latest series, Mito, takes luminaire design to a whole new level. Like a piece of art, the series is crafted with a lot of attention to detail. Available in a vast selection of finishes, including noble metal textures, Mito impresses with elegance and ease. Technical refinements mean that the suspended fitting responds to touch and sense. Intuitive height adjustment, touchless gesture control and fading controls make it worthy of the most stylish of settings.
Dima Srouji is a Palestinian architect and artist working on research-based projects. Her work is often a form of political commentary and a place making tool. She questions ideals of freedom, globalisation and context through projects across architecture, product design and the written word. Hollow Forms aims to revive the traditional glass-blowing industry in Palestine, and present it to the world in a contemporary milieu. Highlighting cultural heritage while maintaining the current global standards of product design, Srouji used 3D software and renderings to communicate the designs to the local craftsmen. This intermingling of technologies, eras and design thought produced objects that resonate with a sense of place while maintaining the ability to act on a regional and global level. This is not a nostalgic project; this is an attempt at reactivating a forgotten, local industry and preparing it for a wider, global application.
Emirati designer Aljoud Lootah is known for her nuanced approach to her heritage. Her works have consistently recontextualised the cultural and architectural vocabulary of the UAE, rendering them a contemporary soul and the freedom of being at ease in any setting. Her works thus mirror the spirit of the present day Emirati. The Al Areesh collection is inspired by the traditional palm frond structures found across the Middle East. Typically, Areesh constructions use dried palm fronds linked together by rope to create enclosures that serve as protection against the Sun and prevailing winds. With gaps in the woven screens enabling cross-ventilation, these structures were commonly used in the UAE as majlises. In homage to the original construction, Lootah’s collection of furniture, lighting and a screen is a play of line, planes, light and shadows. She approached the German experts in decorative and technical plating, Probas Plating to render the collection in rose gold, glass and copper finishes.