Colab, the first purpose-built material library in the UAE, has offered young designers an opportunity to get real-life work experience through a competition before they graduate.
Founded by Richard Wilson, Colab operates as a social business venture that functions primarily as a material library and a centre for inspiration and learning. Speaking to Gulf News, Wilson gives insight into the concept behind Colab and the design competition that he launched during the pandemic.
What is Colab about and why did you create it?
Colab aims to elevate design across the region by offering a platform to showcase the latest materials and design trends from across the globe whilst highlighting excellence in regional design as well. It also serves as a gallery, event and activation space, and networking hub in its bid to bring the entire creative community together.
We have been very active in sourcing innovative and unconventional materials from all corners of the globe. Before the global pandemic, we hosted regular lunch and learn sessions, informative seminars and networking evenings in Colab as part of our mission to help expand the material palette that specifiers work with and their understanding of newer materials as well.
In response to the lockdown, we launched our SHARE campaign, which aimed to leverage COVID-19 necessitated distancing to move the discussion online and stimulate ideas for students in creative fields. As such, we curated free weekly webinars inviting leaders from the creative industry to share their knowledge and real-world experience with students. With restrictions being slowly lifted in the UAE, we have once again begun to organise physical activities albeit on a smaller scale but with the same objectives in mind.
Tell us more about the Student Design Competition you launched earlier this year.
We partnered with Broadway Interiors, an international award-winning design consultancy, to launch a design and build competition open to final year students and challenged them to redesign the interiors of Colab incorporating a selection of material finishes. Students were asked to submit their ideas, with winners gaining the opportunity to see their vision realised and exhibited within Colab for two years. The competition called for students to develop a design concept for a full wall(s) or floor for implementation within Colab.
Why did you launch this competition?
This competition promotes a ‘real world’ design experience for final year students interested in pursuing careers in the interior design industry. Not only does this competition challenge them to reimagine the interiors of Colab with a select quantity and variety of materials, the winning entrants will have an opportunity to work on site with our contractor for a two-week stint and realise their designs.
Tell us about the shortlisted entries.
A key element to the competition was ensuring complete anonymity throughout the submission and judging process. All submissions were initially requested to be sent to Colab without reference to the University they attended and each entry was then checked again by the Colab team before being shared with the judges.
With an impressive list of submissions to go through, the judges initially shortlisted four entries (three from the Herriot Watt University, Dubai Campus and one from Zayed University). The students were invited to present their concepts in Colab and answer questions that the judges had. Due to the quality of the submissions, the judges — including Broadway Interiors, Bishop Design and NOMAD|K — then narrowed it down to three finalists, who were recognised at a small ceremony during Dubai Design Week with select members of the design community and suppliers in attendance.
The top three finalists — Farah Hazim, Hooria Muhib and Zarshah Sharif, all from the Herriot Watt University, Dubai Campus — will be mentored by Chris Barnes (Broadway Interiors), Kevin McLachlan (NOMAD|K) and Paul Bishop (Bishop Design) respectively. Following a short and intense mentorship program with the judges, the finalists are due to present their final design concepts in the first week of December to Colab when the winner will be decided.