As Dubai Design District, better known as d3, continues to grow and attracts more creative businesses, we decided to explore the expectations of people moving in – and how much of its promise has actually been realised.
The original project was aimed at creating a centre for design, fashion, art and high-end industry to coexist and feed off the energy each company would generate, forming a creative community that will be at the very heart of the region’s design scene.
Phase 1, delivered throughout 2015, will eventually host over 10,000 creatives and a second phase, created by UK studio Foster + Partners, which was unveiled at Cityscape Global, is expected to be completed by 2018.
“Approaching the brief, our first step was to explore the balance of activities in a successful, youthful, creative hub, and to understand the aspirations of the different users,” said Gerard Evenden, studio head at Foster + Partners.
“We analysed the way that spaces were being used, and then brought a variety of functions together to encourage collaboration between disciplines. This, combined with the highly flexible modules, will help to create a thriving, self-sustaining community.”
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PALLAVI DEAN INTERIORS
F or designers and architects presentation is an important factor – and alongside great work, a stylish image can be fundamental in getting noticed across the region’s competitive marketplace.
When it comes to relocating to d3, this has been one of the major draws for many creative and design companies.
Pallavi Dean Interiors, with its staff of five, took up a 140m2 space in the new creative hub in July 2015. Its open-plan office with elements of industrial design and many quirky and custom-made features is in a way a presentation of the company’s design style.
The district is already “full of cool people doing cool stuff” according to Richard Dean, managing director of the firm, which is now looking to expand its horizons by developing working relationships with its new neighbours, such as Chalhoub Group.
“When we were first talking to the people from d3 what struck us most was their honesty. They said that the area would be a bit of a building site for a while,” Dean says. “But we could see the potential.”
Dean feels that Dubai can have a number of creative hubs, all complementing one another.
He says: “Media City is one, DIFC is another and now we have d3. You see this in London or New York – almost different villages springing up where the people with the money, such as bankers and financiers, rub shoulders with the creative types.
“Are we there yet? Well, no. But we will be. The first bars, the first restaurants – when they open that will light the blue touch-paper. There is already a buzz around the place, but within a year it will be fundamentally different. It’s intangible, but there is a lot of value in being cool. I studied as an economist and cool has an economic value – as well as being something I like.”
Dean feels that the district will bring benefits to his company as it will expose its work to a wide range of firms all in different fields as the business “basks in the reflected glory of being located in a design district”.
He says: “They may not necessarily be in the same business as us, but the people and companies who come here will have one thing in common. They will all be full of creative people, whether that be in fashion, art or sculpture. And it’s a magnet for attracting staff — people already want to come here and work.
“Within a year or so we will see more and more of the big guys moving in and so the buzz will grow. It will become a whole eco-system of creativity to the benefit of everyone who has an office in the buildings.”
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IR Design, an interior design consultancy, was established in Dubai back in 2004. Its first office was set up in Dubai Media City, so Indu Varanasi, architect and founder, was able to witness how that hub grew over the years. After relocating to d3 in October last year, she expects a similar process to take place.
“We were located in Dubai Media City for over 10 years,” she says. “One of the reasons for moving was that our first office was very media-centric and I could see how this hub evolved with people sharing their experiences. When d3 came as an alternative for designers, this was what I actually aspired to.”
Varanasi says that this is the age of specialisation, yet also of collaboration.
“Last year, my team experienced different levels of collaboration with branding experts as well as with a professor at Milan Polytechnic who introduced the Sense Lab, which examines how senses react to spaces.
“This is what I look for at d3 — people of different specialisations coming together and sharing their experiences. For example, when someone designs a chair, I can specify it, but the experience of making that chair is something that I would also like to understand.
Apart from collaboration with different design professionals, Varanasi also believes that intellectual process should follow the practical process and so it is important for Dubai Design District to foster community engagement in order to elevate the standards of design.
“Two plus two equals four doesn’t always work in the design industry. We need to have an engagement of the community, a significant number of people saying something needs to be changed – whether it is regulation, implementation or even the way we design.
“Some people are really passionate about design and they follow what is happening around the world, so we need to see how we can apply it here. We are a very young country, but there is an opportunity for us to create good work and I think there is nowhere else in the world that offers that chance.”
The IR Design team of eight moved to its new 110m2 office, which is located in building four in d3. It has an open and airy feel and maximises the use of natural light.
“My team loves it and the only challenge is that we do not have enough eateries here, but I guess that is part of the growing process.”
The benefit of being in d3 she describes as “intangible” and something she cannot put into words, but she adds: “When I told people we were moving to d3, many would ask ‘where is that’, but as the time has gone by, everyone knows.”
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The latest architect company set to uproot and establish itself in d3 is RMJM.
The company is moving from its previous home close to Dubai World Trade Centre to take advantage of the growing creative quarter which has also lured interior designers, artists and musicians.
Neil Van der Veen, architect at RMJM says: “In the long term it will be extremely beneficial to us to be part of this business community. We already work with some of the people who have moved out there.
“It is not just architects we are looking to reach. We want to gather contacts across the creative industries.”
RMJM runs much of its business from its Dubai office and principal John Clemow said the move was an opportunity to rejuvenate the company.
“We can plan our own offices,” he says. “An architect firm’s office is like a showroom and is an opportunity to demonstrate design ideas to clients.”
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Landscape architect firm Desert INK is set to put a stamp on the spaces between the buildings which make up its new home in d3.
The company was initially drawn to its new premises in order get closer to new and existing clients – and one of its first projects will be to individualise the plazas and walkways of the area itself.
Architect William Bennett explains: “Already d3 has asked us to do some landscaping work and that would not have happened had we not moved here.
“We saw the potential some time ago for a move. Normally we work with architects and engineers but there are other creative people we would like to reach. There is so much we like – sculpture for instance – but we have not been able to get to people in that sort of field.
“I accept the area needs more people to come here and bring more life. There is a risk it could become quite contrived – almost clinical in bringing together creative firms. But as it grows and becomes a destination in its own right I feel that will not happen.”
Desert INK moved to its new workspace in November and Duncan Denley, managing director, described that when faced with a 300m2 shell and core office and a tight budget, the desert INK team took to the drawing boards.
He says: “We approached our office design in the same way as our landscape commissions; namely, by questioning how people will use the space, what functions must it perform and how our budget could be put to best use? We were also adamant that our office should reflect our core business, which is landscape architecture.
Desert INK’s offices resemble a lawn area, complete with picnic tables and industrial lights. An amphitheatre-like space sits adjacent to the reception, which is composed of a number of timber boxes stacked against the wall to provide seating.
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The chance to be part of a creative centre drawing in varying professions and crafts was what attracted Viktor Udzenija to d3 which he calls a “city within a city”.
And even the name itself proved a draw for the principle architect and CEO of VUAD.
Udzenija comments: “Starting from the name which is just full of energy and creativity I was delighted with the vision that all of us creatives would be in one hub where we can collaborate together and meet, work and socialise.
“The location caters perfectly to our needs, the quality of the development and the spaces are of very high standards and the future potential is great.
“I am hoping to see collaborations across the board from various sectors – architects working directly with designers in their workshops, discussing potential events with marketing companies located here, and participating in the events such as Downtown Design that are taking place in d3.
“I hope to see a small city within a city where everyone knows each other and works together on exciting and innovative projects.”