People behind the scenes

Dubai is definitely the center of design sector these days. A city that, however, already looks forward, more specifically to 2020 when the city will host Expo. We interviewed William Knight, Director of Dubai Design Week, Rue Kothari, director of Downtown Design and Rawan Kashkoush, Dubai Design Week planning director to talk about Dubai Design Week, Downtown Design and future projects

William Knight, Rue Kothari and Rawan Kashkoush

Compared to other international design events, Dubai Design Week is quickly growing year after year…
William Knight, director Dubai Design Week. Dubai Design Week has quickly become the region’s largest creative festival; I think this is because it reflects and appeals to a broad range of interests; specifically the growing design community in Dubai and the increasing size of audience here and from across the region that want to experience and engage with creativity and design.
Our programme is a real celebration of design, covering the widest possible range of disciplines; the events, exhibitions and installations are relevant to the industry, but also easily accessible. As interest and knowledge in design, original ideas and creativity develops, so do opportunities for organisations to demonstrate their commitment to design. With continued support and great quality content from international global design leaders and outstanding regional and UAE brands we can continue to keep growing and developing.

Is the Expo 2020 helping this growing?
Design weeks and expos are based on the same concept of shining a light on progress, new ideas and showcasing talent. The Expo 2020 theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ strikes a great tone. Contributing to the overall awareness of the potential of design can only be a good thing, and of course such a huge event drives investment; this estimated to be worth $100-150bn and will make a significant contribution to capacity and skills. Overall the preparations for Expo 2020 makes a great contribution to raising the profile of Dubai and the city’s commitment to design and innovation.

Rue Kothari, Fair Director, Downtown Design and Rawan Kashkoush, Head of Programming, Dubai Design Week
Rue Kothari, Fair Director, Downtown Design and Rawan Kashkoush, Head of Programming, Dubai Design Week

The fair will host the new Downtown Editions section: why did you decide to dedicate a sector to the limited edition products?
Rue Kothari
, Director Downtown Design. Editions will present limited edition design from individual designers, young studios, craft collectives and design councils. It will host unique design objects and installations from around the world including Manfredi Style (Italy), British European Design Group, Indigenus (South Africa) and Mai Walkens (Belgium), but will have a distinct focus on regional designers. Presenting 40 designers from around the Middle East, including Design Weeks from Amman, Casablanca and Beirut, we are giving a strong voice to our homegrown talent and offering them a formidable opportunity to meet buyers. These same buyers love to discover something new, innovative and creative, and this large section will be the perfect complement to our growing number of the world’s leading contemporary manufacturers of design.

The fair is growing over the last years: what is the key of its success?
Our fair doubled in size last year and has grown again by 30% for the 2018 edition. Aside from the physical footprint, we evolve the concept, look and feel and features every year to ensure that the fair remains dynamic, interesting and relevant. This year we worked with another award-winning design company H+A, who have helped us to masterplan our fair experience; how people engage with the content and the space itself. For the first time we have six large-scale installations including Preciosa’s Breath of Light and Marc Ange’s latest reworking of Le Refuge, as well as a landscaped indoor garden, pop-up retail, Design Bar by House of Negroni and Bishop Architects and bespoke café concepts. This new creative direction and our fresh blueprint for the fair will establish Downtown Design as the only fair in the Middle East, and distinct in its style and approach.

What do the visitors and the exhibitors search at Downtown Design?
With so many new brands, installations and concepts, visitors are looking to be inspired by the design they see, meet the people behind it, and look to specify products and entire concepts for their projects in the Middle East. Our exhibitors all invest heavily in their stand concepts and want to create the biggest impact possible, connect to their target buyers and enjoy the whole experience of participating at Downtown Design.

Is there a ‘fil rouge’ among installations, exhibitions, events or are many different expressions of design?
Rawan Kashkoush
,Head of programming Dubai Design Week. When looking at the diversity of Dubai Design Week content, one can use the same lense the team uses to tackle the event – ensuring a breadth of experimentation and engagement across local, regional, and international content, through three categories; commercial, educational and cultural. There is then undoubtedly a number of strands one can extract. One such example is local and regional designers who look to safeguard their culture and craft through revising traditional techniques or materials and update their use to pave a more defined path for the contemporary aesthetic of the region. Architectural exploration is another strand. Dubai is a city that boasts an exciting skyline and inspires exploration in building styles, this can also be seen in the sculptural and research driven architectural installations, particularly stemming from the use of sustainable materials or building methods, that can be visited at the main hub of Dubai Design Week activity, Dubai Design District (d3). Finally, there is an immense presence of design developed in Dubai this year, through various exhibitions, and in the brands and designs featured at Downtown Editions, the new showcase at Downtown Design of bespoke and limited edition design from all over the world, with a spotlight on the region.