Dubai Design Week was launched for the first time in October of this year; and as Dubai usually performs, I found it to be quite a success. With confidence, I would say that it is my favorite experience of what this shape-shifting city has to offer. It was not only design-packed and eventful, but there was an abundance to learn in the process of meeting designers, attending keynote speeches, and then just enjoying the art-story behind the city-views. There is much at this event which has sparked in me the desire for more knowledge, and deeper delving into philosophical concepts on design and art. I will share some highlights of these.

To begin, the idea of design as distinguished from art is one which deserves examination and extended considerations; this is sparked by my interview with Cyril Zammit, the Head of Design at Art Dubai Group. Quoting Zammit, “Design, as distinct from art, is something which has a utility beyond its aesthetic. If it is sitting there – it’s art; but when it is a solution to a problem – then it is design.” Therefore, utility is the main distinction of the two. This definition intrigued me, especially where design is brilliantly defined as the ‘design of a solution’ by creative means.

Today design applies to everything and anything around us; this includes diningwear, the desk and lighting in our office space, the garments we wear, the angle at which sunlight enters a building – windows, shirts, shoes, shelves, chandeliers, teapots, sugar-coated fruits, technologies that serve our needs – everything is design. Therefore to conclude the idea in a whip, if for the sake of aesthetics the utility of an item is not ideal, then even if the art is bewitching, the design has failed. Now there is definite merit to this distinction, but one still ought extend their conceptualization of what art itself is. Art alone may not have much utility, but it certainly has benefit and value far beyond tangible measurements – after all, there could be no design without art, right?

Another ray of enlightenment which I have encountered during this week is derived directly from the keynote speech of Lebanese Architect Bernard Khoury. In the world of architecture you often hear the concept that a structure must be built in complimentary consideration of its environment. I believe Khoury took this to another level, where he saw the environment as necessarily a decisive part of the structure, “bringing the outside to the inside”, and vice versa. This experimental and very quotable architect understood how culture, history, and all sensory ingestions of a place, ought be the fabrics to architectural-design inspiration. “Buildings today make the outside world a foreigner”, to which I realized how today’s modern structures, even breakdown of cities and areas, almost seem purposefully put together to isolate us from nature and from each other. As Khoury put it, “Honest Architecture”, is sadly a rarity; where urbanisation once brought people together, it now brings them apart. It was truly a most fascinating talk, and has sparked in me a new found regard for architecture as its entire world of art, design and philosophy.

Finally, and quite essentially is the importance of an infrastructural support system for designers and artists. An artist or designer can only ever thrive in a system which understands the importance of creativity, and innovation. Dubai is now constructing a Dubai Design District, a mini-city dedicated to the design and art industry, while it also houses Tashkeel, an artists’ home that provides fully multi-functional designer studios, among others. These initiatives are not only brilliant and culturally attentive on so many levels, but if well managed and directed can help give rise to a true art and design renaissance.

The rest of the Gulf Region does not suffer a lack of designers, or any type of creatives, yet in most scenarios the efforts to launch and harness creativity is pushed forward from the artists themselves, or at best private societies. As a country strives for prosperity, it must understand that a thriving culture is what makes the threads which when weaved into an ornate fabric, is what ultimately leads to true national opulence; and what is culture but the creative expressions through our buildings, our clothes, our music, and ideas. If there is anything that a gulf nation ought emulate from the Dubai example, it is to understand that artists and designers are the messengers of a culture, and to support and provide for the local national community the means by which they can pursue their potential.

– Fatima Al-Saad

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