Office Exhibition 2012 runs from today until Thursday Image Credit: Supplied

Wage slaves and other workplace rodents have the perfect excuse to unchain themselves from their desks this week, with The Office Exhibition back at the Dubai World Trade Centre for the 11th time.

The show, which kicks off today and runs until this Thursday, is among the largest office fit-out and design events in the region and draws thousands of top-tier architectural and interior design firms from the Middle East and beyond.

David Wilson, Event Director, The Office Exhibition, tells GN Focus that sustainable office solutions and award-winning designs from across the planet will dominate the event, with more than 130 exhibitors from every continent attending. “Our exhibitor numbers for the 2012 show are up 15 per cent over the previous year and we anticipate visitor numbers will also increase. Last year our exhibitors negotiated business onsite with projects tendered from diverse industries such as government, shipping, universities and airports.”

Overall, more than $300 billion (Dh1,101 billion) worth of major projects are expected to be awarded across the Middle East by the end of this year, he says, citing MEED’s 2011 forecast. And according to market research firm Ventures Middle East, total interior design spend in the GCC is forecast to reach $56 billion in 2012, with both Qatar and Saudi Arabia investing in massive infrastructure projects that will require supporting commercial real estate.
The UAE will remain a major business market, Wilson says. “In the UAE, we continue to see businesses take advantage of the declining prices in prime office space and invest significantly in their interiors,” he says. Dubai is one of the world’s top ten business destinations, with more than half of the world’s largest companies running their regional offices from the city. An estimated 75 million sqm of office space in Dubai is scheduled for completion by the end of 2012, with 1.2 million sqm in Abu Dhabi due to come online in 2013, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, 2011.

Elsewhere, he pointed out, the Arab Spring has propelled governments across the region to increase spending on development projects, in a bid to head off unrest and improve infrastructure.

Quality rules
With economic uncertainty pretty much the theme of this year, how has the scenario changed for buyers? Wilson says end users are definitely being more concerned about their office procurement decisions, preferring instead to invest in quality and durable items that will last longer. “Space efficiency is also an important consideration. Business owners may be relocating to smaller, more premium office spaces, but they want to ensure that, spatially, the layout and equipment they choose still gives them room to grow. That might mean investing in flexible furniture solutions rather than hard fixtures,” he says. “Instead of constructing a wall, consider C+P’s Sonic Wall range of workstation partitions (pictured on the left) with sound-absorbing surfaces that can be printed with individual motifs to make the office space look aesthetically pleasing. Best of all, they give end users the flexibility to reconfigure their workspace without costly refurbishment expenses.”

Innovation in design
The show will also be the launch pad for some 140 new-to-region products and award-winning designs. In addition to versatile seating solutions, manufacturers will showcase innovation in workstations and desking systems, along with modular products that offer space-saving solutions for the office desk such as the More Space System, showcased by German office specialists, Novus.

European manufacturers are eager to strengthen their foothold in the Middle East with the event having attracted leading designers such as Moving SRL and Quadrifoglio from Italy, Guialmi from Portugal, CP from Germany, Burotime from Turkey, and from the UK, manufacturers Loft, JDD and Bisley.
For corporate environments, JDD will launch three thoughtfully designed seating ranges. The ‘Norah’ and ‘Georgia’ ranges are seating solutions suited for quiet reflection. Designed by Todd Yetman, Tuck (pictured on the left) features subtle curves in the seat and back to provide ergonomic support and, as the name suggests, effortlessly tucks away when not in use. The chair recently won the ‘2011 Good Design Award’ from The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.

Returning to the show for the first time since 2007 is Japanese manufacturer Okamura, widely celebrated for its game changing Contessa Chair (pictured on the right), an elegant and ergonomically designed mesh chair with a synchro-reclining mechanism. Among the UAE players attending are distributors Mobili Emirates Furniture, Ritmo Furniture, Human Space, Williams from Egypt and Office Division from Lebanon.

Design-led workshops
There’s a fair amount of cerebral action beyond the show floor, too. Wilson says last year’s inaugural industry round-table discussion was so successful, it has been expanded into a series of design-led workshops and discussions that will run on each day of the show. The seminars will cover a wide range of topics, from the evolution of the corporate workplace in the region to reinventing the classroom.

As part of Green Day tomorrow, a series of seminars will bring together green contractors, design leaders and development authorities to address the UAE’s progress in sustainable architecture and design, tried and tested strategies and how to enhance project value through adopting sustainable practices. Contributing to the event are the architectural and interior design firms Aedas, Bluehaus Group, DWP and Stride Treglown, as well as groups such as the Emirates Green Building Council and Dubai Chamber. The event is put together by Summertown Interiors, the first contractor in the UAE to be awarded the LEED Gold environmental rating certification for its offices.

“We have also continued our knowledge partnership with the International Interior Design Association [IIDA] who will collaborate with the American University of Sharjah on our Design Seminar and Workshop programme,” Wilson says.

The most buzz, however, will be around the declaration of winning entries in The Office Exhibition Interior Design Competition, an announcement that will be made today. The award is made in partnership with the IIDA, and recognises outstanding commercial interior design in corporate, education, health care, hospitality, government, restaurant, retail and fitness/spa projects across the Middle East.

Commenting on the competition, Cheryl Durst, Executive Vice-President and CEO of IIDA, said, “Design in the workplace matters because it facilitates human interaction and performance. Good design is not only aesthetic but should also benefit the end user. Through the competition, we aim to recognise and celebrate those commercial spaces that are artistic, innovative and functional.”

Winning design projects will be on display all through the show — a good reason to push back from your desk this week.