Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

Carabus: Formed by Robots, crafted by People

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Dubai Design Week 2019 - Ammar Kalo combines technology with craftsmanship with his new Carabus collection.

The Carabus Collection is the result of conflating concepts of traditional craft with processes of advanced robotic fabrication.

The aim was to address issues like tacit material knowledge, craftsmanship, and through a contemporary lens. Carabus embraces the imperfections of the process and highlights both machine and hand craft using robotically formed copper as well as camel leather and walnut wood.

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Forming tool marks are celebrated throughout the object and recall the qualities of handcrafted objects. The surface dimples not only reflect the traditional craft of hand forming metals, but also adds strength to the pieces by locally stiffening the metal near the edges. 

The materials used are copper sheets, camel leather, walnut hardwood and tinted mirrors. Project Assistants: Indrajith Gamage, Bishoy Girigis.

Click on each picture below to learn more.

Ammar Kalo is a designer, architect, and educator based in Sharjah, UAE. He’s also the Director of Labs at the College of Architecture Art and Design, American University of Sharjah. His practice, KALO, interrogates the relationship between digital technology and traditional craft.

During the 2015 Milan Design Week, Kalo received a Silver A‘Design Award his chair design Stratum. Also, in October 2015, Harper's Bazaar Interiors awarded him the Emerging Designer award during the inaugural Dubai Design Week. In 2016, the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York acquired two pieces, Stratum and N-bowl, for its permanent collection.

Tanween 2019 - Made in the UAE by Tashkeel

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Dubai Design Week 2019 – Tashkeel unveils the sixth edition of its Tanween programme with new creations by Abdalla Almulla, Lana El Samman and Yara Habib.

If there is one specific initiative I like in the UAE, it is Tanween by Tashkeel. By far, the energy and vision behind Tashkeel’s founder and her team have been a driving force to position the UAE as one of the design leaders in the region.

Coral Sun Series by Zuleika Penniman, Tanween 2016

Coral Sun Series by Zuleika Penniman, Tanween 2016

Tanween is an intensive twelve-month development programme for innovative emerging designers working in the UAE. It is structured and founded on core attitudes, parameters and values: empathy to people, objects and environments; a focus on skills, materials and production processes innate to the region; an intention to trigger cross-cultural dialogues and experimentation; and an insistence on authenticity and rigour in both design and production.

Since 2013, Tanween has defined itself as a brand born of exhaustive and experimental learning. It matures and re-consolidates its ethos with every edition. The cross-generational mentorship and exchange seen in the growing Tanween community are an organic articulation of the programme’s essence of collaboration and dialogue. 

In a city such as Dubai, where manufacturers are often working to large, mass orders, bespoke design and production situated entirely in the country is rare. Through Tanween, designers have forged creative and fruitful partnerships with highly skilled craftspeople, the same ones who build dhow boats; produce khoos, weave Al Sadu and produce camel leather.

Traces of Time by Abdalla Almulla (Timepiece, 2019).

Brush finished antique stainless steel, acrylic and LEDs. 125 (L) x 5 (D) x 47 (H) cm. Limited edition series of 10.

Brush finished antique stainless steel, acrylic and LEDs. 125 (L) x 5 (D) x 47 (H) cm. Limited edition series of 10.

Stretching to the horizon and making up the vast majority of the natural landscape, sand dunes are the most symbolic characteristic of the United Arab Emirates. These iconic formations change shape over time, sculpting the interaction of air and sand; a direct manifestation of the push and pull of wind on mounds of sand. An integral contributing part of Bedouin communities in the UAE, the multifaceted dimensions of a dune, changing from first-person view to top-down photography, make it a remarkable and ever evolving part of the UAE’s natural environment, continuing to provide shelter to a diverse ecological system.

Traces of Time is the concluding result of Abdalla’s detailed studies of dune phenomena through wind patterns. The product explores the formation of sand dunes, allowing the user to experience this natural phenomenon through the passage of time and movement of light. Inspired by the process of formation of the rich geometry and patterns that exist in the desert landscape, Abdalla designed a product that looks at time, light and movement. The built-in timer moves light across the timepiece, gradually illuminating each of the six profiles as the day progresses, using two different colours of light to represent day and night. As the light moves, it brightens each numeral positioned in front of the profiles to indicate the current time.

Abdalla designed the main acrylic feature of Traces of Time to mimic the official wind studies and graphs of Dubai in 2018 – 2019. Using this data alongside visual studies through drone photography, Abdalla was able to bring together the aesthetic and topographic elements of the natural landscape in a design piece that transports a visual indication of dune formation into a domestic environment. The body of the piece incorporates antique brass finish, evoking the UAE’s heritage and ensuring the product retains its solidity and quality to stand the test of time. 

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Abdalla Almulla is an Emirati architect and Founder of MULA design studio.

In 2014, he received a Bachelor of Architecture from Woodbury University, San Diego, USA and was awarded the Grand Critique Faculty Choice Award and the Best Degree Project Award in architectural design graduation research based on geometric explorations. 

Mokaعab by Lana El Samman (Modular table / shelf, 2019).

Oak wood, gold powder coated mild steel, woven palm fonds and camel leather. 50 (L) x 50 (W) x 35 (H) cm & 50 (L) x 50 (W) x 50 (H) cm. Limited edition of 10 pieces (5 per size).

Oak wood, gold powder coated mild steel, woven palm fonds and camel leather. 50 (L) x 50 (W) x 35 (H) cm & 50 (L) x 50 (W) x 50 (H) cm. Limited edition of 10 pieces (5 per size).

Lana chose the traditional architectural practice of locally woven palm-leaf (arish) as her starting point. Palm leaf has been used in many imaginative and ingenious ways to construct buildings, creating a cool interior that emits a beauty in the patterned shadows that alter during the day as the sun travels through the sky.

Mokaعab seeks to share such centuries-old skills with a new generation who call the UAE home. The traditional weaving technique of dried palm fronds (khoos) practiced by women has historically been used for various objects as well as wall and ceiling decorations.

When designing Mokaعab (cube in Arabic), Lana’s intention was to interpret Emirati culture, traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design by using a variety of materials and methods. Each cube is made of a wooden structure connected by metal angular components that are welded together to create a uniform shape that can be stacked or laid out to fit the intended space. The surface part of the cube is intricately woven from camel leather and khoos. Lana worked closely with Sharjah Institute for Heritage to interpret the traditional craftsmanship within a modern element. The strands of camel leather provide the necessary sturdiness and rigidity for a functional surface while the hand-carved vertical wooden tubes accentuate the beauty of UAE craftsmanship.

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Leaving Lebanon as a child, Lana continued her studies in Canada to obtain a Bachelor’s in Interior Design and a Masters’ degree in Italy at the Florence Institute of Design International (FIDI).

In the UAE, Lana worked at the Sharjah Art Foundation and worked in the production and design team before joining Moltini & C. 

Katta by Yara Habib (Room divider, 2019).

Aluminum, stainless steel, zinc plated steel, Burma teak veneer on MDF, knotty oak veneer on MDF, Corian, woven faux suede thread. 200 (W) x 4 (D) x 180 (H) cm (open size). Limited edition series of 10.

Aluminum, stainless steel, zinc plated steel, Burma teak veneer on MDF, knotty oak veneer on MDF, Corian, woven faux suede thread. 200 (W) x 4 (D) x 180 (H) cm (open size). Limited edition series of 10.

In the UAE, congregational bedouin tents were called 'Bayt Al-Sha’r' (literally the ‘House of Hair’), a reference to the goat hair, which was handwoven using a craft technique called Al Sadu by the women of the community. The tent’s interior divider was one of its most salient features, practically dividing the common and private spaces to differentiate between the public space for the community, and the private space for the family. The dividers would be also be decorated using the distinct Al Sadu weaving style and adorned with geometrical patterns and rich colours.

In designing Katta, Yara Habib considers the traditional tent divider as a witness to dialogue and harmony, developing a design that balances respect, culture and openness. The resulting room divider provides “personalised privacy”, the levels of which can be controlled via interactive rotating elements. The screen becomes a reflection of tolerance that respects boundaries, inviting the user to decide how much to reveal or conceal through the different layout combinations that Katta offers.

Katta is a screen-divider that holds 400 pieces made of a variety of materials with individually hand-woven wooden panels, inspired by the traditional patterns and crafts of the UAE. Each individual panel can rotate and pays special attention to the shapes, symmetry and rhythm that is particularly found in Al Sadu; and uses wood, aluminium, Corian and faux suede to bring together all the intricate elements.

The complex and arduous process of weaving the threads into each panel is a way for the designer to connect with the history and tradition she is inspired by, evoking the motions of the Bedouin women who would gather to prepare, dye and weave the goat hair for the 'Bayt Al Sha’r'. The harmony of materials and form, each complementing and supporting the other to form the entirety of the product, is an essential design feature of the screen divider that is inspired by the cultural diversity and peaceful coexistence characteristic of the UAE. 

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Yara Habib is a Lebanese-Canadian designer who grew up in the UAE. She holds a BA in Graphic Design from the Lebanese American University and an MA in Graphic Branding and Identity from the London College of Communication. Before moving back to the UAE, Yara had established her own branding and design studio and worked in both Montreal and Lebanon. 


Dubai, City of Design Discoveries

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From Pakistan to the USA, several furniture designers will premiere this year in Dubai during Downtown Design and Dubai Design Week. Here is a brief selection with a strong focus on the UAE.

Alkhayl Collection by Hajar Altenaiji (UAE)

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Al Khayl (the horse in Arabic) is of considerable significance in the UAE. Equine products are exceptionally handcrafted and made of finest leather available while suiting the different riding preferences for both the horse and rider. The colours of the collection are purely inspired by the earthy shades of Arabia and the basic hues of Arabian Horses. This series of design objects pays homage to the design and aesthetics of this realm of products, while also evoking the colours and artistry of the region. 

Click on each picture below to learn more about each creation.

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Multi-faceted product designer Hajar Al Tenaiji emphasises the concept of design as a stand-alone art object.

Based in Abu Dhabi (UAE), Hajer’s contemporary illustrations and designs draw inspiration from the divers visual culture of the Middle East, including palettes of colours, silhouettes, modern painting and illustration driven by the desire to express yourself and transform the world around you.

In her practice, Hajer focuses on the importance of the harmonisation of materials, mediums and working parts to construct contemporary objects and designs that optimise user experience, interface, and visual appreciation.  


Forma by Roudha Alshamsi


The Emirati designer has observed how crucial it is in her society to pause, share and listen. She got inspired by the traditional Emirati floor hand rest called “Mesnad” to create her contemporary versatile Forma collection.

Each piece encourages togetherness whether sitting comfortably on the floor just like it was in the old days or pulling up the design together for those one on one chit chats.

Forma looks quiet unique as a stand-alone piece and as a collective unit. The collective pieces blend well to a bench design while the floor back rest transforms into a floor Majlis “Jalsa”.

Sarab by Jawaher Alkhayyal (UAE)


Like a mirage, on a windless summer afternoon, some moments resurface from the back of our minds, giving us a glimpse of long bygone memories before fading out again.

The Sarab (mirage in Arabic) collection is an interpretation of these moments, reminding us of our bestowed past. A series of carefully hand crafted furniture, merging the essence of the traditional Emirati household into your contemporary space. Each piece has been designed to incorporate the Emirati craft of palm frond weaving into everyday objects, transforming the functionality and visual aesthetics of the woven strap. 

The process of creating all traditional palm frond woven objects starts with a long woven strap, which is then connected to form numerous conventional objects including: baskets, floor mats and food covers. The Sarab collection explores different thicknesses, forms and patterns of the woven straps to create a variety of objects, testing the material’s strength and flexibility. Historically reliable materials including brass and camel leather have been infused with traditional weave, elevating the form and aesthetics of each piece.

Jawaher is an Emirati designer who completed the Master in Luxury and Craftsmanship at ECAL (Lausanne, Switzerland). She also holds certificates in lighting from Chelsea College of Arts, furniture design from Central Saint Martins and business in interior design. In 2018, she was commissioned by the Cultural Office of HH Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Maison Piaget to create an installation at Art Dubai. A year before, she conceived the booth of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority with Alya Al Ghafeli at Design Days Dubai.

Fernando Mastrangelo Studio (USA)

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For his first time in the UAE, Brooklyn-based Fernando Mastrangelo is presenting The Capital Collection. The series of sculptural mirrors are all sculpted by hand from natural or repurposed materials such as sand, salt, silica and crushed or powdered glass.

Photo by Benjamin Hochfelde

Photo by Benjamin Hochfelde

The Capital Collection is a tribute to Dubai as an architectural oasis that has emerged from a sand-covered landscape.

Individually titled Aurora, Marina, and Sahara, the diverse trio of mirrors are unified in their use of hand-dyed sand as their primary design material.

Click on each picture below to learn more about each creation of The Capital Collection.

Fernando’s work is part of the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum and the Cooper Hewitt Museum. He has designed custom commissioned works and spaces for top-tier international brands such as Audemars Piguet, Stella McCartney and Dior. 

Fernando received his BFA in Sculpture from Cornish College of the Arts in 2002 and completed his MFA in Sculpture in 2004 at Virginia Commonwealth University. After graduation, he worked for Matthew Barney before launching his own studio in 2006.

The Young Collective Artists (YOCA) - Pakistan

Established in 2006 by Zayd Bilgrami, Ahsan Najmi and Sarah Najmi Bilgrami, YOCA mixes the use of luxury material and revive vernacular material through skilled craftsmanship. The founders studied at Rhode Island School of Design and won international furniture and interior awards three years in a row in Italy.

Unity Table

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Etched by hand is a conceptual representation of the world map. This weave is positioned on a solid rose wood hand carved drum base inspired by the traditional instrument the tabla, used in local sufi music songs of peace. The two mediums are held in place by a Solid Brass ring.

The base is built by pressing curved veneers of Rose wood carefully aligning the wood grain. Once the top and the base are fused, a solid Brass ring in fitted to hold the two together. Each surface is stained in varying shades and then lacquered in polyurethane coating. 121.92 cm DIA x 41.91 cm (H) 

The Amoeba Table

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The Amoeba Table is crafted from the trunk roots of Rose Wood trees. Each root formation is carefully selected and then cut in the direction of the grain. The tabletop sits on a set of drum like, brass legs, which are the pinnacle of local heritage craftsmanship. The use of brass is not only intrinsic to YOCA’s signature design aesthetic, but also contributes to the revival of the skill of incorporating brass work itself. 

122 cm (L) x 115 cm (W) x 41 cm (H). 


The selection also includes (click on each picture for additional information)

Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council

"Safeefah X Clay" collection by Abdalla Al Mulla & Pepa Reverter

"Safeefah X Clay" collection by Abdalla Al Mulla & Pepa Reverter

Dubai Design Week 2019 - Crafting connections and empowering women, Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council debuts its product collection.

lrthi Contemporary Crafts Council (Irthi) is an affiliate of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment and is based in the Emirate of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) and patroned by Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah. 

Irthi operates a pioneering programme of creative, cultural and commercial initiatives designed to empower women through craft.

Spanning Middle East, North Africa and South-East and Central Asia, the council’s activities centre on the preservation and promotion of indigenous craft heritage, the engagement of young generations and the development of new international market opportunities.

At Downtown Design 2019, the first two collections from Irthi’s Design Labs and Crafts Dialogue will be presented. Although based in the Emirates, both programmes are thoroughly international in outlook, and the collections will feature contributions from Pakistan, Japan, the US, the UK, Spain, Italy and Palestine, alongside regional artisans. Each collection includes 3-10 items, all made by hand by over 40 women artisans employed by Irthi’s Bidwa Social Development Programme.

Based in Dibba Al Hisn, Bidwa aims to give Emirati women practising traditional handicrafts such as Talli (hand braiding) and Safeefah (palm-frond weaving) the training and market access they need to generate a sustainable income and achieve professional and social empowerment.

Crafts Dialogue

The programme allows for a design and production dialogue between pairs of international and local designers to create collections that combine Emirati and European elements. This project is a result of a collaboration between "Creative Dialogue" agency and Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council. The Crafts Dialogue project features a series of four limited edition collections. 

Emirati Clay x Italian Murano Glass by Fatima Al Zaabi and Matteo Silverio

Using parametric design and digital fabrication tools to create moulds, while artisans directly manipulate the glass and clay in the moulds.

“Safeefah” by Ghaya bin Mesmar and Mermelada Estudio

In this chair collection, the designers envisioned a new use for Safeefah weaving, this time as furniture. Reinterpreting the traditional “Areesh” houses in the desert (palm fronds), the chairs combine both themes of privacy and protection from the image they drew inspiration from. Bidwa artisans* wove the upholstery of the chairs by combining old and new Safeefah and other weaving techniques, using a new colour range.

Emirati Talli x Spanish Leather by Sheikha bin Daher and Adrian Salvador Candela

This collection of fruit bowls is combining natural Spanish leather and subtle Talli weaves. The colours and textures of the leather, which are transformed naturally by water and sunlight, also evoke images of weathered hands weaving Talli threads in perpetual meditative movements.

Safeefah x Clay by Abdalla Al Mulla and Pepa Reverter

Incorporating traditional palm frond as decorative belts, the collection consists of clay stools and tables that function as dining furniture, and can be stacked to look like a totem pole.

Design Labs

Similar to art residencies, the Design Labs programme facilitates an exchange of crafts, design, and knowledge between international or regional designers, and Bidwa artisans and trainees under the creative direction of Irthi. Several objects are produced for each collection but due to a lack of space, I have picked up only one creation each time.