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A design route from London to Dubai, the city where everything is possible: an interview with William Knight
The new Dubai Design Week director unveils the secrets and goals of an immaculate land that looks straight to the future
William Knight is widely acknowledged in the world of the Design Weeks: he has been the London Design Festival director from 2004 to 2012, while playing a critical role as Show Director, Design Trade Events at Media 10. Also, he was appointed Show Director for two of the British capital’s key commercial annual design events, 100% Design and Clerkenwell Design Week. Nowadays Knight has left London to become Managing Director & Head of Design at Art Dubai Group.
The very first initiative to have all of his hallmarks is the Dubai Design Week 2017. What does such a Design Week veteran expect from such a young adventure? We asked the man himself, who told us he took the job with the aim to create a brand new reality in-between “a commercial design experience – like Design Trade Events and 100% Design – and a more cultural dimension echoing the London Design Week and Clerkenwell Design Week. My varying skills are perfectly functional to shape Dubai as an ideal stage for a barely three-year-old trade fair. As for me, I needed to demonstrate my competence, my ability to build and collaborate with a wide and varied team of creative figures. I am drawn to the idea of breaking new ground where everything is still possible, meaning a city and a country which firmly believe in the future and put design at the core of their vision.”
The Dubai Design Week was never so buzzed-about as now that you are in charge. In your opinion, is the current edition more special or unique then the previous ones?
Needless to say, events like Design Weeks tend to constantly grow and change, provided that their foundation is solid enough: we are willing to give the Dubai Design Week a deeply sustainable touch, so that the project is enabled to survive the test of time and still exist in 5, 10, 20 years. More than anything, it is a matter of cooperation with the local design scene, official institutions and all possible partners we can engage with and throw right in the heart of the Dubai Design Week. Moreover, we need to acknowledge Dubai as a truly international hub that connects the East and the West, s well as the North to the South.
Abwab, a site-specific architectural installation which combines the best of design from the Gulf area
What is your ideal audience?
First of all, the world of businesses. We have just stepped in the Dubai Design District, an international business hub that aims to become a landmark for interaction, learning and engagement with the regional and global design community. Not only the location is key, but the Dubai Design Week is going to certainly enhance D3 to improve the focus on design and creativity, while also offering Dubai a further occasion to involve with both the general audience and members of the trade, and give them precious insights on the design world’s major goals, evolutions, key strengths and levels of awareness. This is a huge part of our job: to boost the city’s reputation and add a fresh new dimension to the history of Dubai.
Middle-East design, a travelling exhibition curated by Suzanne Trocme
Normally, good design is a blend of talented designers and skilled artisans. How about the local scenario?
Manufacturing processes were never a major component of the Emirates' economic model, but there is a constantly increasing number of companies that is getting more and more competitive, especially in the construction sector. The whole industry unravels around Dubai, and also deals with wider projects currently being implemented in the Emirates and the entire region. Indeed, the industry itself is Dubai Design Week's most privileged interlocutor, and is thus provided access to the local design community. Eventually, our main goal is to show the life-cycle of design products as it is managed and processed in the UAE.
Tell us about the biggest difference between the Dubai Design Week and its fellow sisters hitting Milan, London or New York every year.
Well, there are many. First of all, the event's format: huge Western trade fairs follow a precise formula comprehensive of a trade show – focused on the design production's commercial side – and a boundless series of installations and exhibitions aimed at delving deep into design's cultural aspects. Here in Dubai, the initiative takes on a unique twist, since any city boasts its own peculiarities, local design scene and design history, which are all quite young down here. Moreover, Dubai is strong of its highly strategic location on the territory, a significant plus that makes it a potential Middle East Design Week, and sees us all at work to enhance such geographic proximity with the neighbouring Middle-Eastern region: see Abwab (the Arabian word for “doors” NdR), a site-specific architectural installation which combines 45 locally delivered projects, keenly selected by Lateefa Bint Maktoum, Joy Mardini, Max Fraser e Rawan Kashkoush; Once Upon Design: New Routes for the Arabian Heritage, a space curated by Noor Aldabbagh devoted to contemporary design in the Gulf area; Middle-East design, a travelling exhibition curated by Suzanne Trocme which explores the legacy and influence of design and craftsmanship on contemporary designers. We also included some exclusive contents and unique features, although the Dubai Design Week follows the conventional lines of many other Design Weeks already hitting the world.
Once Upon Design: New Routes for the Arabian Heritage, a space curated by Noor Aldabbagh
What is your long-term goal?
Dubai is rich with design-related opportunities, whether speaking of building projects, materials and design products' potential uses. See the work of Meraas, a property developer that incorporates leisure, hospitality and Real estate through strategic investment and revolutionary urban planning to create integrated communities based on international standards of sustainability.
So eventually, our long-term goal is to spread such vision all over the city of Dubai and make the Dubai Design Week bigger and bigger by involving a massive number of stakeholders and letting them interact smoothly with the local design community.
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