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How deep-pocketed Dubai is turning itself into global centre for design

It may not have the allure or heritage of London or Milan, but Dubai nevertheless appears determined to assert itself as a significant new hub of innovative design.

This is not as strange as it may seem at first glance: the city is no stranger to reinventing itself, having emerged from the desert sands as a busy commercial centre and holiday destination in just a few decades, and having recently been appointed host city for the 2020 World Expo.

The combination of cash and commitment is a powerful one, especially in the face of Europe’s struggling economy. Last year’s inaugural Dubai Design Week included the unveiling of a new Foster and Partners-designed Design District, called d3, which combines contemporary retail, dining and design.

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Next to come for the same area is a waterfront and marina designed to attract the public, and a design school that is hoped will draw students from as far afield as Africa and China.

While celebrating international design, this year’s Dubai Design Week showcased a number of Middle Eastern designers whose creative work is inspired by traditional crafts.

d3’s outdoor area was home to Latifa Saeed and Talin Hazbar’s Left Impression terracotta seating installation, inspired by the Emirati majlis (parliament), while in a group presentation, Dubai-based

Central Saint Martins-trained jeweller Zuleika Penniman showed her intriguing collection

of delicate coral lamps alongside Studio Muju’s quirky rocking chair.

Iraqi-born architect Rand Abdul Jabbar presented her sensual table and chair designs inspired by the construction of traditional dhow ships; and young Emirati conceptual artist and designer Zeinab al- Hashemi showed her geometric modular rug made from camel leather.

Hashemi was also responsible for a specially commissioned 1.5×3 metre outdoor public sculpture for Swarovski, titled Hexalite, using 1,154 crystals and mirrored prisms to create a shimmering kaleidoscope effect.

Within the main exhibition hall, there was an international mix of creative energy with standouts by the likes of Spanish outdoor furniture brand Kettal introducing its Doshi Levien-designed rope-and-coloured-aluminium-frame Cala Armchair.

Reykjavík brand Agustav was also notable for its innovative take on the classic bookrack that comes with a set of moveable pins and waxed cotton string designed to present different-sized books in a straight line. The eco-friendly founders, Gustav Johannsson and Agusta Magnusdottir, promise to plant one tree for every item sold.