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The installation “Breath of Light,” by Michael Vasku and Andreas Klug of Preciosa Lighting, comes to Downtown Design in 2018.

Design in Dubai

Article by S. Hottinger-Behmer 11.19.2018

Discover the people and places that make the emirate a forward-thinking leader in the world of design.

It wasn’t so long ago that Dubai, the city of superlatives, was largely marked by outlandish architecture and a “bigger is better” approach, boasting everything from the world’s tallest tower to a man-made archipelago in the shape of a palm tree. Fast-forward to today and this vibrant desert metropolis is maturing and solidifying its position as the undisputed capital of design in the Middle East. As the city prepares to welcome the world to Expo 2020, we highlight the must-see spots that strengthen its status as a contemporary design hub in the region.


Dubai Design District

A pavilion made of discarded coiled springs for Abwab 2017, an architecture exhibition during Dubai Design Week.

A collaborative, creative ecosystem of sorts, Dubai Design District — or D3 as it’s known to locals — follows inspired ambitions to place itself among leading creative clusters along the lines of London’s Shoreditch, Miami’s Design District or New York’s Meatpacking District.

Dubai Design Week ( — the ultra-cool district’s signature event and the Middle East’s largest creative festival — takes place in November, showcasing exhibitions, workshops, installations and pop-ups featuring works by creatives from the region.

Baxter Design Group is among the exhibitors at Downtown Design 2018. Photography by Baxter

Part of the weeklong event is Downtown Design (, a get-together of trade professionals and design enthusiasts displaying contemporary pieces by established and regional talent along with limited editions from studios and local design collectives.

At the district’s very heart, The Lighthouse (Building 6, Dubai Design District,, with its cool, calm and carefully curated concept store, acts as the unofficial HQ of the creative set. It’s a one-stop destination for design aficionados looking for stylish tabletop accessories, handmade glassware and coffee table books, while the all-day kitchen serves up Mediterranean-inspired fare and artisan coffees.


Alserkal Avenue

Galleries Night at Alserkal Avenue, which is a series of warehouse spaces. Photography courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

Occupying an area between futuristic skyscrapers and tourist-led attractions such as the recently opened Dubai Frame, part of the former industrial district of Al Quoz has been morphing into the city’s ultimate arts and culture hub since its inception back in 2007. Alserkal Avenue ( boasts an array of warehouses hosting 25 art galleries, eateries, an independent cinema and art spaces.

Startup galleries like Lawrie Shabibi (Unit 21, Alserkal Avenue,, which promotes young artists from the Middle East and North Africa, rub shoulders with more established global players such as Custot Gallery (Unit 84, Street 6A, Alserkal Avenue,, showcasing works by Ian Davenport, Nick Brandt or Fernando Botero. The warehouse complex is also home to the studios of renowned artists of the caliber of eL Seed, the French-Tunisian painter known for incorporating Arabic calligraphy into his street art.

The 2017 installation “While We Wait” seen through the doors of Concrete. Photography by Musthafa Aboobacker/courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

At the heart of the neighborhood lies Concrete (Street 8, Alserkal Avenue,, the Rem Koolhaas/OMA-designed multipurpose space that cemented itself as the city’s landmark large-scale exhibition venue, hosting shows in partnership with leading museums and galleries such as the V&A and the Hayward Gallery in London.



VOD Dubai International Jewellery Show.

When it comes to jewelry, the Middle East is hugely proud of its heritage and homegrown heroes who hail from all over the region. While run-of-the-mill pieces can be found at Dubai’s Gold Souk (54 Al Khor St., Deira), insiders will lean toward up-and-coming names like Saudi-born and Dubai-based former architect and interior designer Lana Al Kamal. Drawing from a multitude of elements from nature, her pieces change with movement, echoing the natural flow of raindrops, leaves and insects. True to her millennial following, her collection is exclusively available through the brand’s Instagram account (@lanaalkamaljewelry).

Those on the lookout for ultra-exclusive high jewelry pieces should pay a visit to Alkhallafi’s grandiose private studio in D3 (by appointment, Known by word of mouth for his uncompromising bespoke pieces, Ahmad Alkhallafi is the man behind some of Dubai’s most inspired one-of-a-kind creations.

For those in search of more showstopping gemstones and diamonds, the annual VOD Dubai International Jewellery Show ( features a cross section of industry players from retailers to end consumers.


Jameel Arts Centre

Jameel Arts Centre. Photography by Serie Architects

Situated on the Jaddaf Waterfront at the tip of Dubai’s Culture Village, the newly opened Jameel Arts Centre ( is the latest not-for-profit contemporary art institution to open its doors in the city. The multidisciplinary complex houses a dedicated exhibition space, a research center and the UAE’s first open-access contemporary art library and resource center.

Its programming aims to raise the profile of Middle Eastern artists through discerning partnerships with leading international institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the V&A in London and the U.K.’s Delfina Foundation. It also pushes boundaries with shows like Ala Younis’ much-celebrated solo project “Plan for Feminist Greater Baghdad,” which was shown simultaneously in London and Dubai and included in the 56th Venice Biennale.

In addition to its flat-based architecture, one of Art Jameel’s highlights is the Courtyard Garden designed by landscape architect Anouk Vogel. It features a display of sculptural plants native to the world’s various deserts — an oasis amid Dubai’s arid urban landscape.


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