Design For the Expression


The Index Trade exhibition this year (March) was profoundly propitious and as enlightening for the industry people, whether amateurs or experts, as it has been in the previous years. Launched in 1990, each year INDEX brings together Middle East and North Africa’s largest gathering for the design community. Showcasing a plethora of prowess and exhibits – from all over the world, useful for industry people of the likes of architects, interior designers, developers, procurement professionals and even students (for networking as well as sourcing), it sets the design tone for all to look up to.

This year (only the second time the event has proposed a theme) the underlying theme was Design for Self-Expression – more of a transition i would say rather than a shift from that of Design for the Senses (interiors that stimulate) last year as a lot of key propositions were carried forward and amalgamated with new ones to form the intended leitmotif. While last year the focus was on design schemes evoking the comprehensive set of humans senses including touch, feel and smell instead of mere visual aesthetics (in short an all inclusive sense awakening experience), this year was focused on self expression – be it at work or at home; how a design scheme should reflect an occupant/owner’s self-identity; in turn proposing a theme unique to the dweller per se and consequently encouraging individualism, customization, experimenting and embarking on unique adventures/experiences of your own! As one would expect, the exhibits were brimming with various different innovative, handcrafted, and artistic artefacts/design pieces/sculptural forms, all of which seemed to be unique and rare in their own special way. It was an absolute delight seeing the Pantone colour of the year 2018 – Ultraviolet – in various arenas including the main theme picture (see title picture of this blog post) the surrounding walls, floors as well as some of the artefacts exhibited.

Some of the revered displays at the exhibition:

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Each of the exhibits represented nothing short of aesthetically meaningful interiors, fit to be categorized as designs for expression! The enthralling collection compelled me to find out the hidden stories behind each creation; however due to time constraint, I could only get in touch with a handful of maestros whose narratives I’d like to share with you as well:

Note: If you wish, you could skip forward to the concluding section on the ‘design talks’ at the end to find out the main gist of the conversations with the industry experts. 



One of the most eye-catching and spectacular exhibits, Made By Rain attempts to record rainfall on textile in the most elemental yet sensational manner. Dutch Artist ALiki van der Kruijs used her self-developed technique ‘pluviagraphy’ to catch raindrops in ink enabling her to document this phenomenon of nature most beautifully on textile. What particularly mesmerised me was the fact that each textile pattern has its own unique identity depending on the place, date, time interval and weather conditions. Believe it or not, the top left pattern represents ‘The Hague, The Netherlands, 12th May 2017 52° 4’44.14″N/4°17’19.72″E 18:02-18:03 0.11mm !!!!! 



Carina Wagenar’s Medallion Artworksslideshow

I feel immensely fortunate to have had the privilege of Ms Carina Wagenar’s company at her exhibit at INDEX. The luxurious elaborateness of her artisanry astounded me greatly – each personalized wall jewel, a world of stories in itself! Carina described how ” a lot of details in life tend to be missed out on” particularly in our fast-paced lives and it is exactly these that we need to grab on to, a lot of times (in my opinion) for spiritual rejuvenation. These “large medallions are inspired by ancient Egyptian times in which amulets were considered a sacred, magical charm and protective item, made of nature’s abundance”. Gold-plated modern materials are used for each of the creations. 

The one shown on the left (bottom) is an XXL Amulet Medallion ‘Scarab’ and basically represents the idea of living a balanced life with strength. Carina explained how the scarab, the god of the rising sun, is a beloved symbol  of rebirth, immortality, potency, reproduction and wisdom. The amulet is seen possessing two equal parts representing a human’s left and right hemispheres – our thinking (left) and feeling(right) – which must be developed in unison to be able to lead a fair and balanced life. 

I would really urge all of you to pay a visit to her website for a breathtaking collection of gorgeous medallions with substantially deep themes. Each piece is carefully handcrafted and unique. Some of my personal favourites include the ‘Medallion Letters to Theo’ – about the bedroom of Van Gogh in Arles, the Medallion Burning Out – representing the pressures associated with everyday life routines, and the Meadallion Overseas Myth – about having ideals and dreams and being brave enough to follow them.


RENATE VOS Product &Interior Design

Image source: Renate Vos

Renate Vos is a Dutch designer experimenting with material and techniques to produce truly unique handmade, functional and rare pieces. Albeit representing clear and elementary design language, the final pieces have an exceptional and extraordinary aesthetic appeal which Renate is known to have created by intertwining various different materials together to bring her concepts to life. For instance, the vases marked ‘A’ (top left and bottom right) were a result of her experimenting with cork and rubber whereas lamps/light fixtures marked ‘B’ were an outcome of combining concrete with silicone rubber, essentially “celebrating the fusion of soft and hard”.


image source: Blue Alchemy.

Siba Sahabi’s ‘Blue Alchemy’

Another one of the most primitive yet undoubtedly outstanding and spectacular exhibits at the INDEX; This collection of seven iconic felt vases represents the first man-made pigment developed as early as 2600 BCE, a colour the Egyptians are known to have revered  and associated with life, fertility and rebirth. Well what are the odds: some 4000 years later today, these marvels blend in perfectly with the pantone colour of the year 2018- ultraviolet! All the vases are handmade using coiled felt strips. There is also a magnified glass tube placed inside the vases capable of holding water. Some of Siba’s other mesmerising collections include Sherazade (the most famous Persian female character and storyteller of “One Thousand and One Nights, also known as The Arabian Nights) – Inspired by nighttime silhouettes of Middle Eastern rooftops, Perspectives – aimed at unifying European and Middle Eastern History Influences (in turn combining the European linear perspective with abstract Middle-Eastern patterns, know as ‘arabesques’) and many more that you can view on their website. As with many other exhibits, Siba’s collections also represent extraordinary experimental work with materials including paper, resin, acrylic, felt, brass, copper birch, porcelain and chalk.




Undoubtedly, of the most ethereal artisanry displayed at the exhibiton were Ebano International’s Bronze sculptures. Carolina Aroiaca explained how each of the sculptures was uniquely handcrafted with semiprecious stones outsourced from Brazil. I was absolutely enthralled by the alluring collection combining bronze sculptures with the otherworldly appeal of the stonework which included amethyst, citrine- produced after heat treating Amethyst itself, and many others.


Art by Pablo Lucker

Art by Pablo Lucker

Perhaps one of the displays which best took advantage of the ‘geography can be decorating destiny’ approach was by artist/designer Pablo Lucker. A full life size wall was embellished with his artwork mainly inspired by the local surroundings (UAE) and included his artisitic expressions of UAE landmarks such as The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the UAE national dress, the Desert Safari Jeep and Date Palm Trees as part of the natural landscape of the UAE. Lucker explained how his projects took up all sorts of avenues including walls, sculptures and even cars!!! Everything is customized according to the clients’ wishes and developed real time to bring in the WOW factor! 


INDEX ‘OFF THE WALL’ experience

Image source: INDEX OFF THE WALL

Perfectly conforming to the ‘Design for the Expression’ theme this year, an exclusive room design was put up for visitors enabling them to express themselves in “a whole new way” and a “whole new dimension” as well. Upon taking pictures of themselves in a 3×3 metre room visitors pose in a way that when they rotate their picture, an illusion is created of them floating in the middle of the room. Interestingly, the room displayed furniture and decor worth approximately “$400,000 from US designer Jonathan Adler supplied by FOUR Dubai” and was “designed by award-winning Dubai-Based interior designer Sharon Jutla”.



Swipe over to see some of the experts having graced the Design Talks with their presence:

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Here are the key takeaways from the discussions held:

  • Experts from different design fields gathered together in a panel of discussions and emphasized on sustainable materials/designMr Duncan Denley (Managing Director desert INK – specializing in landscape solutions for a variety of sectors including residential, hospitality, leisure, and institutional) explained how “sustainability today is about being local” and that their efforts are always directed towards sourcing local materials – “things closer to our doorstep” – as these always prove to be sustainable in the long run. He also asserted how such choices greatly reduced carbon footprintHe further elaborated how their focus is to design local by harvesting seeds from native plants in the desert which utilize much less water and minimize water resource wastage (Green Space Design). “It also aids cultural sustainability as the people relate to these designs greatly”. So with the world getting interconnected and globalization on the rise, there is a need to preserve self identity and self-expression (on the part of individuals and nations as well) and this approach fulfils exactly that. Desert INK is currently working on their upcoming Sustainability Pavilion for EXPO 2020 together with Grimshaw.
image source

Mr.Duncan also mentioned their recently completed project, THE BLOCK which is a park in the Dubai Design District. Here Desert INK made use of 800 30-ton concrete blocks (left over from canal construction) for the design of this park along with recycled materials – featuring a multitude of play areas, an outdoor gym, sports facilities as well as food outlets.







  • What was also discussed was how in today’s design era, the boundary between the outdoors and indoors is blurring and becoming seamless; where focus is on sustainable landscape when the likes of natural ventilation and shading are preferred.
  • John Watkinson (CEO JOIE Brands – specializing in building passionate brands to enrich human experiences) also confirmed the sustainability idea in his industry; according to him when it comes to brands, their first and foremost focus is on the client’s psychology and individual expression (what they value and hence the theme Design for the Expression) rather than mere reason/function to make the overall brand identity sustainable in the long term. In this regard, Kristian Stinson – Commercial Director Studio EM explained how the idea of an interactive 3D window in Wagama was extremely well-received as opposed to being completely rejected when proposed in the context of a mall design! 
  • Sneha Divias (Founder Sneha Divias Atelier – An award winning architecture and design boutique practice) added how mostly clients are not fully aware of sustainability as a concept in design. So keeping with her ideal of transparent communication, she explained how they focus on educating the clients first and removing their preconceived notions in order to ultimately convince them and mould their design towards sustainability. Sneha also enlightened the design talk listeners about her latest project Oli Oli – Dubai´s first educational play space with interactive galleries for children in Al Quoz area.
  • In the retail and hospitality design, interior design/layout/psychological tactics which could prove to be more engaging for the end consumer, were discussed. Patrick Bean – Design Director Hospitality at LACASA Architects & Engineering Consultancy  explained how the focus is now shifting from a desire for 5-star spaces to ones which actually engage the people and help augment their personal/psychological expression. He also mentioned how renovation/retrofitting and curating with accessorizing were becoming increasingly popular for hotel designs rather than building from scratch. Patrick also shed light on the concept of immersive retail such as that depicted by ‘Louis Vuitton’, ‘Zara’ and ‘Ralph Lauren’ incorporating features like the interactive changing rooms. He proposed differentiating points for the designs of malls for example, by adding something different like workshops and a sense of community (communal areas  in UAE malls such as sports facilities etcetera) rather than the mere existence of shops.
  • Theodora Kioussis – the creative director at Esadore Creative, a design house specialising in spaces such as High-End Resort Spas and Cafes –  added to the conversation by saying that in order to make people ‘stay’ and ‘draw something from their visits’, it is important to not just focus on the aesthetics but primarily the impact of the design related to the human senses (touch, feel, smell, experience). She also warned how unlike most of the hospitality and retail sectors, spa design in particular is supposed to be much less sporadic and transient in nature –  “there needs to be something to stay also as it is an extremely heavy/expensive investment”.
  • Paul Bishop (Owner and Managing Partner at Bishop Design) was quick to point out that as we move towards the design for expression era today when nothing is static/boring anymore with quick turnaround times and exciting changes taking place constantly, fashion/films/media and the design industry do not stand much far apart anymore – something which was prophesied by many industry experts such as Henry Holland last year at INDEX as well. He also proposed exciting design options such as more sporadic and pop-up environments. It is then all the psychological and subliminal mental recollections that you really need to tap into. Hence suggesting that it is not so much about design anymore in the retail and hospitality sector than it is about the theatrics of the likes of the very famous and one-and-only Nusr-Et steakhouse! “It is tactile, sound, the impeccably comfortable and personable experience that makes the people come back!” said Paul.
  • The role of lighting was highly emphasized as well. The design experts were unanimous in agreeing to the fact that lighting has about 90% of the role in attracting and retaining customers when it comes to retail and hospitality sector especially. I personally feel that the importance of lighting is actually increasing in time with space restrictions and wanting to make smaller spaces look bigger with efficient/better lighting. A combination of natural light, speciality lights (to create different moods) as well as flattering light (such as that imparted by candle lights) was discussed in the same regard. The importance of the role of lighting has been emphasized upon time and again dating back to ancient times especially when minimalist architecture and design started gaining prominence. Many architects in the past (such as Tanizaki in the 1900’s) stressed upon the same; in particular to the interplay of light and shadow to create design magic. According to Vinod Pillai – Specialist Lighting Designer LW, “Lighting can actually make or break a space…it’s that important!”. He further went on to coat a research study whereby appropriate improvements/changes to lighting systems accounted to about 30% decrease in sick leaves at a workplace. 
  • Also Esther Jongsma – Founder VANTOT, pointed out how “just like colours, different kinds of lighting speak differently to differently people”. Hence the choice of lighting must be done keeping in mind the context of the design, its purpose, the location (availability of natural light), and most importantly, the end user; deep blue light, in Esther’s experience appealed greatly to an autistic client of hers; otherwise usually found to be repelling by most clients. She ended her discussion touching upon the sustainability issue and discussing lights that brighten/dim out according to need. 
  • The importance of biophilic designs was discussed at great lengths as well. Basically biophilia refers to our innate tendency to affiliate with nature and hence the need for nature-inspired designs. The topic was touched upon during the INDEX talks last year as well (2017) however the term biophilia was only formally addressed this time around. The panel included: Andrea Sensoli – founder Superfuturedesign also resposible for the bettair housing (see section ‘Design for the senses’at the dubai design week 2017,  Maja Kozel – Founder MajaKozelDesignMartha Thorne – Dean IE School of Architecture and Design, and Matt Hall- General Manager Interface. The discussion was specifically geared towards the design of working environments and staff well-being (the benefits in relation to residential/commercial/retail design were also discussed apart from being part of the design talks during INDEX 2017 as well). Various manifestations of biophilic design were discussed which included incorporating natural lights and materials, mimicking nature and its processes; in turn obtaining the resultant beneficial effects on workers’ emotional well-being, health and productivity due to nature’s ability to create emotional responses. Martha explained how nature must be incorporated in the most “most natural and sustainable way” in addition to being in harmony with the overall design concept. Matt aptly added how the totality of biophilic design is far from being restricted to just the ‘green’; for instance , in the UAE it also includes the natural topography, sand dune and aqua colours! In this relation, Martha added how the frontier between the exterior and interior has proven to be the most comfortable space over time; so ideally the verandas and porches are very important for any design structure and less built up space and larger gardens are the key. However in light of the space constraints and land/property prices spiking, this is not always possible. So biophilic design could even include the quality of the air, an indoor/internal garden or a specific window view of sand dunes/ocean from the apartment/building window (elaborated upon by Maja).

Note: Steelcase and Interface have been involved actively in researching about biophilic designs and have published reports that interested readers can have access to through their websites.

  • The growing importance of augmented/virtual reality and 3D printing in the design industry was also emphasized upon. Fahda Barrak – Design Director, Draw Link Group explained how its their very first experience with advanced 3D printing and can’t wait to deliver soon to their clients; she considers it their USP and has great expectations in the future. She went on to state how the technology has aided them in printing design concepts on site, reducing carbon footprint and saving on both time as well as cost.
  • A recognizable shift towards smaller and more scalable spaces in the residential sector especially; also the younger generation shifting towards environmental designs more and more as well as smaller carbon footprint  in the light of the urban sprawl particularly in the UAE. Inhabitants now look more and more for communal amenities incorporated into residential setups (refined boutique spaces, well designed efficient modern clutter-free spaces, pool/leisure/library areas).
  • Lotfi Amara – Head of Interior Design RSP elucidated how “public arenas are now evolving to become an extension to residential spaces – where F&B’s/cafes, supermarkets have actually become places where residents/people want to peer out and socialize”. So all these spaces are no longer kept in the background of the buildings and in fact the forefront of the design scheme as places to socialize and meet for both adults and kids alike. Moreover (as pointed out by Rania Hamed Founder & Principle VSHD), multi-functional spaces seem to be on the rise for example serving as a library/cafe/workspace all in one. 
  • Increasing innovation in material types including smart materials (equipped with artificial intelligence such as self cleaning floor tiles), engineered wood driving away the fear of wood for most uses and material hybrids to improve on quality/functional efficiency.
  • Last but not the least, another vital topic of discussion was how visual merchandising can actually complement eCommerce (instead of competing with it) with the aid of the right interior design techniques/schemes. The experts pointed out that considering the need for human interaction, the traditional brick-and-mortar stores will never be out of trend; given of course, that the right design schemes are laid out, perfect product placement schemes (like IKEA), placing products together for added purchases, unique delivery and packaging, and in short trying to keep clients happy and engaged rather than merely stacking up products without any key drivers/product endorsements. An example given (by Ala Hason – Senior Vice President HKS Architects) was Dubai Mall; having employed just the right ambience factors such as perfectly suitable music as well as cleanliness measures.


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