More than ever before, a need for design has taken over the city. Downtown Design, Dubai’s latest design fair, responded to this need with its selection of brands, notable visitors and speakers. With the recovery of the crisis and the city back to its glory days, Downtown Design truly showcased the positivity in the region.
“The rationale behind Downtown Design was to provide a platform for design brands, both regionally and internationally, [and] to showcase their products within a uniquely created business to business environment [that] emphasises the quality and craftsmanship that is part of what these brands stand for,” said Cristina Romelli Gervasoni, fair director, Downtown Design.
She continued: “We were very aware that the design scene in Dubai and the Middle East is growing and we therefore wanted to provide a catalyst to help develop this growth, but also to reinforce the focus on the quality of design-the expertise that brands place in manufacturing and the amount of time and dedication that goes into developing brands such as those exhibiting at the event.”
Understanding quality was a top priority held across the design fair with designers discussing its importance and questioning how a better standard of quality design could be put back into practice.
During the press conference, Gervasoni highlighted that all the brands were selected and united in terms of their design quality. This focus on quality also brought with it the topic of craftsmanship, another subject deeply explored at the fair.
“Craftsmanship is now making a comeback,” noted Dorian Pauwels, executive director of ikonhouse, who gave a talk on the role of craftsmanship in contemporary design. When speaking of classical furniture pieces with high-end prices, Pauwels discussed the merits of such pieces and their importance in the design market.
“Who is buying them?” he asked. “People who are interested in having things with real quality. And the reason why these pieces are still here? It is because they perform.”
Speaking of craftsmanship in the region, Pauwels noted that although local craftsmen do their job, “they sometimes fall a little short. The job is done- but it is not always well done.
“The big challenge here is to have craftsmen who are dedicated enough to create good quality.”
To further highlight this trend the fair featured Craftsmanship at The Workshop, where two Danish master craftsmen, who have been creating furniture classics for decades, put together Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair and Hans Wegner’s Wishbone Chair live on stage.
Alongside nostalgia for the past was an appetite for the future, which was evident through the talks and discussions at the fair.
Guilio Cappellini, art director at Cappellini noted that the importance of the show is not only to showcase products but to explain what happens behind the process and create an understanding. This understanding will then spark the right kind of growth.
“In terms of architecture, the city is really developing and the quality is growing. The quality of the buildings is much higher than it was 10 years ago and that is promising. So if the quality of architecture grows then the need for design heightens as well,” he said.
“I have noticed that a lot of places in the city [such as] hotels, restaurants and bars are using a lot more of a design perspective and usually that’s the beginning.
“For a long time, design came from public spaces. If we take the restaurant by Mies van der Rohe in New York, it was the beginning of a new style. So with more restaurants and public spaces investing in design, it shows that this is the start of a trend towards design,” added Renato Pretti, president of Italian furniture brand Discipline, which exhibited in the region for the first time.
Downtown Design also created a platform for regional and international designers network and exchange dialogue and thoughts. The Temporary Museum for New Design from Milan and the Nouvelle Vague travelling exhibition that collaborated with local designer Khalid Shafar, reflected how the show aimed to connect cultures and design styles.
“We would definitely like to grow the fair for 2014,” said Gervasoni. “We believe there’s a demand for a quality fair of this kind in the region and the positive feedback that we received from the exhibitors and visitors alike reinforce this.”
Renowned French designer Ora Ito’s presence at the fair also marked its level of design. “I have been very surprised to see the evolution of the city. It is fantastic to see such a quick development,” Ito remarked, adding that the Burj Khalifa has become his latest obsession.
“Every time I go outside, I have to look at [the tower]. I become hypnotized,” he explained.