Cyril Zammit, director of the international fair Design Days Dubai has coordinated this major design event for the last two years. The 3rd edition will take place on 17th -21st March next year.
Interview with a key figure in a new forward-looking generation in the Arab world.
Cyril Zammit, why did you choose to set up Design Days in Dubai?
Dubai is capital of business and luxury in the Middle East and also an international hub thanks to Emirates Airlines. It was the most strategic place in the Emirates with many business visitors from across the globe and a very developed infrastructure. It seemed a natural choice for hosting Design Days Dubai.
Dubai is often perceived as a purely economic centre. Do Design Days Dubai fit into a wider cultural context?
Dubai isn’t only an economic centre. The city revolves around business, lifestyle and culture. At a cultural level the city is flourishing. In just a few years the number of art galleries has increased from four to fifty. Two galleries are dedicated to classic design such as Bauhaus and modern. There aren’t yet any galleries for contemporary design. However, we want to develop this via artist residences organised by the United Arab Emirates French Institute and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority. As a large metropolis, Dubai needs to organise more events like this to make the city more appealing.
What place does Dubai want to occupy in the world of design?
We really wanted to play an important role in the world of design. The monarch, Cheikh Mohammed bin Rachid Al Maktoum, opened the Dubai Design District, a business area that will boost creative activities in design, architecture and fashion.
Downtown Dubai is also being developed. This is a large area for leisure and culture centred around the world’s largest tower, Burj Khalifa. The architects working on this project managed by Emaar Properties are keen to incorporate design into their constructions. Currently being built, the Cultural Quarter will soon open new spaces dedicated to art (galleries, museums, exhibition halls and opera).
Can we talk about an Arab school of design? What about the local creative energy?
Historically, Arab art was heavily influenced by Moroccan and Lebanese traditions. The Emirates were inhabited by nomadic people, so we don’t really have any architectural heritage. However, we are starting to see the beginnings of a local movement with, for example, locally run architecture studios like Dxb-lab.
The Emirates are forward-looking and the new generation of architects strives to produce beautifully executed and streamlined pieces. Today, we have everything we need to carry out our projects including the materials, political will and enormous freedom. Unlike in Europe, we are not weighed by the need to conserve an architectural past. We have a blank canvas, something which is very rare.
There is a very positive energy here in Dubai and the sense of community is very strong. We all support each other to order to create the future, rather than just talk about it.
What are the next big changes taking place in design spill over on to the international scene?
Earlier I mentioned the new Dubai Design District that’s dedicated to fashion, design and luxury businesses. We want to create new synergies. Dubai is very well connected. What’s more, it is a very stable country that acts as spokesperson for the Arab world and helps show the way forwards.
What will the Arab world and Dubai bring to ideas about design?
We have some very important universities such as the American University of Sharjah whose College of Art, Architecture and Design offers 400 student each year access to the best tools and technology in order to produce the future design elite.
Once students have completed the international programme, they can settle here and take parting in creating a new identity. I don’t know if we will use the traditional Arab model, I think that rather we will use it as a base for developing a new identity.
How does Dubai imagine itself in the future? To what extent will design be part of this vision?
Dubai imagines self as the leading city in the whole region. The monarch launched many significant projects including the new areas that I’ve already mentioned. He is very involved in these new constructions which have an important design element. Some of his children are also very involved in managing culture in Dubai through the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority. This younger generation which has studied abroad and has acquired a very international outlook will undoubtedly contribute to the development of a local identity.
How do you perceive public spaces and their organisation?
For six months of the year, it is too hot and humid walk in the streets. Our cities have been built to adapt to this climate – everything is air conditioned and we use cars a lot. Public spaces are therefore quite limited, but there are some wonderful initiatives such as a self-service bike system in Downtown Dubai.
In Abu Dhabi, we have taken into account the impact of vegetation in the city with studies conducted by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council. Although the Emirates have a reputation for being big water consumers, there is however, a recycling system to avoid wasting water, for example when watering green spaces.
What is the role of street furniture in city planning?
In the Emirates, reflections about street furniture often take place after the projects have been constructed. Marc Aurel was involved in helping us last year. Developers have started to think about its importance from the beginning of each project. In Downtown Dubai we’ve created pleasant spaces to stroll or have a coffee. These are vibrant living spaces.
In conclusion, will you be presenting works relating to street design at Design Dubai Day 2014?
During Design Days Dubai, we organise workshops and seminars to discuss this kind of subject. As the events brings together design galleries street furniture is also represented. In 2013 reflections on its importance within the city were the subject of a round table conference. We intend to reinforce the link between design and architect in Dubai.