Mette Degn-Christensen is the Director of Downtown Design, the leading fair for contemporary and quality design in the Middle East. Returning for its 10th Edition from 8-11 November 2023 in Dubai, the fair will be hosting both internationally renowned design brands and manufacturers alongside individual designers, collectives and studios from around the globe, with a spotlight on the region.

Mette spoke to Khaleejesque at the eve of the event to give us an insight on the planning, execution and the one attraction that should not be missed. A key event on the Dubai calendar, Downtown Design is a lively and inspirational event, where you can discover the artistic talent in the region. 

Mette Degn-Christensen, Director of Downtown Design

Saira Malik (S.M.): What can those who have never been to Downtown Design before expect from it? 

Mette Degn-Christensen (M.D.C): Whether visitors are coming to Downtown Design for the very first time or they have been before, they can expect a creative discovery of 300 of the world’s leading brands and designers from over 40 countries; from furniture, lighting and interior solutions to innovative studios and independent designers, making their debut in the region showcasing limited-edition design. Overall, Downtown Design is a very diverse and inspiring experience of high-quality, contemporary design, and includes an array of engaging programmes and experiences – all free to attend.

(S.M.): Is there a central theme for Downtown Design 2023 and what are its main goals?

(M.D.C): We are celebrating the 10th edition of the fair this year, marking the anniversary with a unique experience that pays tribute to the beauty and necessity of our natural surroundings, themed around bringing the outdoors indoor and a human aspect throughout the fair, with emphasis on specific angles surrounding the sea, the earth, and the skies throughout some of the highlight features this year.

(S.M.): How has Downtown Design grown over the last 10 years and what role has it played in evolving the creative economy of the UAE?

(M.D.C): Since its inception, Downtown Design has grown not only in size and variety of brands, countries and programmes represented in the fair, but as an agent for positive change and a catalyst for growth of the burgeoning creative scene in the Middle East, and the creative community both regionally and internationally — enabling fruitful and strategic leads from one touchpoint to another.

Through the lens of Downtown Design, we see the change across the market sectors and the shift in demand for high-quality, original design and contemporary design aesthetics.

We work closely with all participants, big and small, to really cater to their objectives and considering their current set up or desire for set up in the UAE and the wider Middle East, from flagging their brand to the relevant audiences to distribution plans, accompanying participants on this journey, whether they participate every year or have long term goals we can assist achieve through the platform of Downtown Design and Dubai Design Week, the umbrella festival.

As the anchor event of Dubai Design Week, Downtown Design consistently produces a dynamic environment where design meets opportunity. Now celebrating a decade, the fair is at the centre of design in the Middle East—forging foundational relationships between B2B and B2C audiences and brands, independent designers and studios. Downtown Design is cemented as the annual point of connection, fostering meaningful opportunities for exhibitors and visitors alike.

Talks at The Forum (Downtown Design 2022)

(S.M.): Are there any exciting collaborations this year that the audience can look forward to?

(M.D.C): We have an array of globally renowned brands joining us this year, Dedar, Cassina, Kartell, Lasvit and MillerKnoll, Poltrona Frau – and Apparatus, who I am personally a huge fan of. Huda Lighting are showcasing an immersive concept featuring some of the best brands in Lighting, including Lodes, Bomma and Slamp, to name but a few, and Kohler is launching a new product line presented in a concept display designed by Nada Debs.

Casa Milano’s ‘Talking Walls’ concept, which is a design challenge in collaboration with six of the most current design firms in the UAE, which will honestly be a really remarkable showcase, will be unveiled at the fair.

Our hero installation which shapes the outdoor entrance into the fair is a collaboration between Light & Lives and ULTRA Arte – it is beautiful, colourful and fun, and created from regenerated raw materials. 

Like many in the creative industry, I am a fan of DAVID/NICOLAS, the Lebanese design duo who are recognized globally, and they are coming to the fair with Iwan Maktabi and cc-tapis. One of the currently most talked about and praised design firms here in the UAE, Kristina Zanic Consultants have created an immersive installation with Cosentino. 

The Bowery Company is making their debut at the fair with a selection of Danish brands (Audo Copenhagen, Ferm Living, Norr11, 101 Copenhagen) and a Dutch brand, FEST Amsterdam, who’s founder – Femke Furnee, will be coming to the fair and participate in a panel discussion around accessibility and manufacturing collections, building a brand that breaks those boundaries.

(S.M.): What is the one attraction that nobody should miss when they come to Downtown Design 2023? 

(M.D.C): If I can only pick one, then I would have to say the Downtown Editions which is a section dedicated to design studios, independent designers and small-scale manufacturers, located within the Downtown Design fair.

Downtown Editions, is back this year introducing creatives from all corners of the world including Edward Linacre (Australia), Akar de Nissim (Singapore), Arkivio (South Africa), Fadi Saridienne (Dubai-based) and Don Tanani (Egypt), as well as local talent. We have a lot of collectives and collaborative showcases this year, which is very exciting and will really provide an experience of discovery for both industry and public visitors; one example is ‘Anatolia’ a collective exhibition of contemporary design talent from Turkey, reflecting the region’s unique mix of ancient and modern influences staged by the curatorial team of Isola Design, and a showcase of Dutch design talent, curated by Margriet Vollenberg, will feature a line-up of limited-edition and handmade works by creatives from The Netherlands.

(S.M.): The Forum at Downtown Design is an essential element of the program. Can you tell us about the line-up and topics we can expect this year?

(M.D.C): We have a star-studded line up of international and regional speakers this year, starting with the opening keynote by world-renowned trend-forecaster and Lidewijk Edelkoort, who will shed light on her work promoting sustainable practices – in line with the year of sustainability in the UAE and COP28 – as well as the change in the axis of global creativity, with a focus on the southern parts of the planet.

Among other prominent profiles from creative stage joining this year, marking our 10th edition, are names such as Ross Lovegrove, Nina Magon, Sebastian Herkner, Pilar Zita, Arthur Mamou Mani, Arianna Bavuso and Adam Nathaniel Furman. All sessions are free for all visitors and the full programme will be available online.

(S.M.): What role does Downtown Design play in terms of promoting regional designers and talent?

(M.D.C): Spotlighting and providing a platform for regional talent, is very much key to the mandate of Downtown Design as well as Dubai Design Week, the umbrella festival – and that nurtures talent as well as important topics.

We launched the UAE Designer Exhibition in 2020 as a result of close communication with various stakeholders and profiles in the creative community and understanding the necessity for a platform for budding talent in the UAE with the aim to provide exposure and commercial opportunity. Now in its fourth edition, visitors can explore a strong line-up of more than 30 exceptional talents, under the curation of Fatma Al Mahmoud, themed around ‘Future Living’.

A new key exhibitor we are excited about is F.A.M.E Collective (Female Artist of the Middle East) presenting limited edition works by names such as Carla Baz, Naqsh Collective, and Talin Hazbar.

A few other examples in this year’s line-up include Omar Al Gurg with his brand MODU, following his debut at UAE Designer Exhibition in 2021, Omar now returns for his second year as an exhibitor with his own space with his brand MODU; BEIT Collective; A collective that focuses on promoting and preserving Lebanese craftsmanship, working with both regional and international designers; Don Tanani, THE up and coming brand which answers a need in the Egyptian design market for elevation; and of course, the annual unveil of the cohort of designers from the Tanween design programme by Tashkeel.

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 Arab in the Emerging Talent category and waiwai, who represented the UAE at the Venice Architecture Biennale, alongside budding creative talent such as artist and 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.

(S.M.): What is your long-term vision for Downtown Design?

(M.D.C): Connection is at the heart of everything we do, and 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. We are dedicated to bringing high-quality and contemporary design to the forefront, and further growing the emphasis on good, responsible design in general. 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.

(S.M.): Lastly, what are you most excited for Downtown Design this year?

(M.D.C): It is the most difficult question to answer! The event is such a dynamic environment where design meets opportunity, and I think the culmination of it all coming together in one place that is available to all visitors whether they are design professionals, enthusiasts or just curious about creativity and what some of the most brilliant minds are coming up with – the chance to actually meet those people in person, here in Dubai, I personally find that very exciting and inspiring. So my answer is everything, in one packed programme, in one place for one week, in Dubai Design District (d3)

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