The 2020 Expo, boutique architecture, the future of design and the way lighting a building can enhance its characteristics were all tacked at the inaugural DesignMENA summit, held in Dubai.
The event featured panel discussions, debates and seminars and attracted more than 150 professionals from the fields of interior design, architecture and engineering to the Oberoi Hotel in Business Bay.
First item on the agenda was an examination of trends across the Middle East which will be a feature of 2014.
New eco-friendly and sustainability building regulations come into force on January 1 and the panel felt this would have a major impact on design and construction.
But the members said they would have to be backed by economic incentives in order to be effective.
Pallavi Dean, design director of her own interiors company, said: “Sustainability is always an issue but it needs to be approached in a holistic manner. There is no point in just adding bicycle racks to a building. Who cycles out here?”
The panel said it felt design professionals needed to educate clients about the importance of this subject – which is nowhere near as high profile in the Middle East as in others areas of the world.
Brian Johnson, partner in Godwin Austen Johnson, spoke next and explained how history and culture can bring resonance to modern design. He used pictures of the ancient city of Isfahan to show how seemingly chaotic streets can make their own pattern as well as drawing attention to the vibrancy and dynamism of the ancient architects who designed the bazaars and souks of the past.
The impact of lighting buildings was discussed by Dean Skira who runs his own lighting and architectural design practise.
“Humans and their emotions should be top of the agenda when it comes to lighting design,” he said. “Lighting is like music. It is intangible but people react to it very strongly.”
The next panel discussion was on bridging gaps between vision and reality in building design.
Again, the panel spoke of the need to education clients as they recounted stories of how projects had been turned down as being “too radical” – particularly some lighting designs from previous speaker Skira.
Sarmad Al Tekreeti, managing director of interior designer business Loran Emirates, said he thought designer-client relationships should be better taught in universities, as the harsh reality of budget-centric business deals can be a harsh blow to fresh graduates.
Tekreeti noted that universities offered little education of what it’s like to work in the real world, with regards to managing particularly difficult clients.
But other members felt it was important that creativity be allowed a free reign and that educators not focus on the restraints that are often dealt with on design-driven projects.
“If initial visions are watered down and then final designs watered down even further what will be the end result?” asked Linsey Dolan Thomson of Herriot Watt University.
FHSI Architects founder Fariborz Hatam spoke next – asking leading questions about how boutique practices can better cater to specific client demands than larger companies.
Technology integration with regards to residential design and the impact of the Expo on Dubai were discussed in workshops.
Peter Aylett, technical director of Archimedia Middle East spoke about home cinemas, lighting, internet connections and how to create modern solutions surrounding common issues.
While looking forward with expectation to Expo 2020 Bart Leclercq of WSP Middle East also sounded a warning note and said those who had remained in the UAE following the economic crash had the responsibility to ensure another boom and then bust cycle was not going to be the result of the initial optimism.
Johnson said: “It is very encouraging to see so many people here. Things are going crazy again and everyone has got something else to do – but nothing better.”