When its first tenants moved into the region’s first purpose built creative hub in 2015, d3 (Dubai Design District) had its fair share of doubters. Under the guidance of its CEO Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi, it charted its own path to success, giving the regional creative industries infrastructure and a platform from where to reach out to the world.
d3’s greatest achievement lies in how it has brought a diverse cross-section of talent together, herding them into an organic community.
Al Shehhi joined d3 in 2015, bringing with him a wealth of experience in developing corporate strategies and growth plans for some of the UAE’s most well-known companies. At the helm of the district, he has commissioned studies, implemented policy and spearheaded projects that have not only attracted global design brands, but just as importantly, invited the general public into a discussion about design, arts, fashion and architecture in a manner that these professions suddenly seem more viable as career choices in the region.
“Walking around the Design Quarter today is a totally different experience to what it was when I first joined,” recalls Al Shehhi. “We have over 7500 people working from d3 on a daily basis, and we now have over 40 retailers open — each with their very own identity which is really shaping the experience for visitors and residents alike.” What hits you the most is the buzz. From smartly dressed people to unique concepts in retail and hospitality and a wide berth of design studios — established, emerging and the in-betweens — Dubai Design District has become ‘the’ place to have on your letterhead if you want to be seen as a serious contender in the design community.
‘Community’ being the buzzword; maybe it is a function of the infancy of our market, or a sense beautifully rooted in the culture, but people at d3 are rooting for each other.
“The district is one big collision zone of people, ideas and opportunity,” says Aljoud Lootah from her d3 studio. “For me, it gives us a framework to develop our creative voice and connections in a manner that seems natural, not forced. Be it prospective clients, collaborators or vendors, everyone’s doors and minds here are open to sharing their vision and resources.”
This sense of community has led to some stellar collaborations. Last year, d3 based architect Viktor Udzenija and renowned fashion designer Rami Al Ali collaborated on the whirlpool of an installation, The Eye. This bright yellow piece belies its fragility to unravel a circular space in the middle that serves as a cocoon of candid human interaction.
AR Gallery’s strategic partnerships with Swarovski and Preciosa have not only led to staggeringly beautiful installations, but also helped widened the public’s appreciation of these storied brands.
Straddling tradition and a future forward outlook is what binds the d3 community. “D3 is a platform for like-minded creatives who value design, craftsmanship and quality,” says Caroline Knight, head of marketing Middle East, Vitra. Together with their partner Swisscotec, they relocated their showroom after 20 years in Deira to d3 in 2017.
“Here, design is represented on a global spectrum, in addition to the integrated creative pulse celebrated from the region. It is this dynamic creative heart that attracted us to the district.” d3 based studio Pallavi Dean Interiors designed the space, that in addition to being home to some of the most enviable design icons, often plays host to panel talks and discussions.
“In many ways, d3 is also a seal of approval that you are unique, original and your creative voice matters,” says jewellery designer Nadine Kanso, one of the original tenants of the district. “Being part of this community has afforded me collaborations that have allowed me to think outside jewellery design and tap into other aspects of my creative being.”
For Dubai Design Week 2017, she collaborated with Fadi Sarieddine, also a d3 member, to develop a limited edition furniture and accessories collection Khawater, marrying their passion for calligraphy and its contemporary application.
So, how does one get in on the action? “We welcome all applicants that have an original and innovative concept to offer the district,” says Al Shehhi. “We are particularly keen on supporting and encouraging home grown concepts.”