Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

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.

Is it a snake or A dragon? Simply the new Swatch HQ by Shigeru Ban


For his second collaboration with the Swiss brand, Shigeru Ban delivers an organic 240-metre long office structure by the Suze canal in Biel.


To the Japanese architect, no need to search for an animal metaphor when it comes to the shape of the building. More modestly, he admitted to have followed two elements: the parcel boundaries (the Swatch Group site has been built on both sides of the historic watch campus) and the watch strap. “Although the mechanism is always the same inside, the exterior can change” explained the Shigeru Ban to Neuer Zürcher Zeitung in an interview (dated October 15th, 2019). Note that so far 9,154 models have been produced.

The Swatch Group site has been built on both sides of the historic watch campus: first a new Omega factory on the city side, then Cité du Temps in the North and now the headquarters over 240 metre.

If you like numbers and statistics, here is an impressive.

-        At 46,778 sqm, the HQ project is Shigeru Ban’s largest and most exuberant hybrid mass timber project to date, on of the largest hybrid mass timber in the world.

-        The supporting structure of the HQ used almost 2,000 cubic metres of native wood.

-        Its grid shell roof structure consists of 7,700 unique timber pieces, designed by a specialised computer programme to promote efficiency and minimize errors. All wood pieces were fabricated with a precision of 0.1 mm (0.003 in), allowing each piece to fit perfectly on-site. In contrast, the Omega Factory is a strict, precise, and rigid rectilinear building. Its clean-room construction is unprecedented for a timber building. It was produced in cooperation with Blumer-Lehmann.

-        400 team members are working in an open landscape under the roof structure

-        the USM furniture has been reused from the previous office, reducing waste.


Shigeru Ban has composed a wooden honeycomb pattern filled with different elements: windows, photovoltaic elements and ETFE air cushions (a Teflon derivative known from football stadiums). The semi-transparent pillows were because they are so light and reduce the load on the 4,600 beams made of glued laminated timber. No light penetrates through the PV units, so they are increasingly used above the warehouse in the rearmost part.


Inside, there is a wild mix of colourful plastics, cardboard tubes, glass cabins and tubular steel classics. "Yes, it's my most playful project so far," explains Shigeru Ban, "it's the expression of Swatch's character: playful and colourful."

Solar car prototypes from previous years stand in the lobby.

White Swiss crosses are distributed over the entire roof from the inside into the honeycomb, a Swatch tribute to the Swissness of the brand. Because everything lies in the detail, the white crosses are also perforated, so that they swallow a part of the many sounds in the open-plan office. 


Above all, there are fresh air on the nine balconies. Nick Hayek even joked in front of the press suggesting that maybe the balconies are not just for the smokers, but for all employees who wanted to escape from his cigars. 


If you follow the Suze (Schüss in German) Canal in Biel, you first follow the long and straight facades in the grid of the city, shaped in the 19th century according to the rules of industry and hydroelectric power. But where the Schleusenweg behind the city park leads out of town and the homes of watch factories are replaced, the 21st century begins. 


The huge, upward-pointing chrome steel funnels on the façade of the already inaugurated in 2017 omega manufacture was a hint that something has happened.

The last stage north of the existing clock campus explains unequivocally the end of the industrial grid: This organic form has no counterpart in Biel.


The spirit of Nicolas G Hayek is very present. The adjacent street has been renamed to celebrate his legacy and his children Nayla and Nick Hayek (right) named the Auditorium after him, situated in the head of the HQ. During the press conference, Nick Hayek, CEO, reminded the guests that it is the second cooperation with the Japanese architect, after the Nicolas G. Hayek Centre in Ginza.


To satisfy everyone’s curiosity, a round pavilion is open for watch sales in the Cité du Temps with the colourful Swatch Museum showing 6,234 different watches. There, a wooden bridge connects the cubical museum wing with the open-plan office.


Pictures courtesy of: Philippe Zinniker, Didier Boy de la Tour, Peter Klaunzer, Stefan Wermuth

“The dream that still hasn’t come true”*


From sketches by Pierre Paulin made 50 years ago, OMA / Rem Koolhaas was invited by Paulin Paulin Paulin to completely redefine the interiors of Villa Lemoine. A legacy in the making.

In 1998, Pierre Paulin and Rem Koolhaas met for the first time during 
the inauguration of Villa Lemoine on the heights of Bordeaux. In 2008, during a joint conversation Pierre Paulin confided* to Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrist Obrist his regrets about a modular residential concept he had developed between 1969 and 1972 and that remained unpublished: the Pierre Paulin Programme.


Eager to continue this discussion, Paulin Paulin Paulin invited OMA / Rem Koolhaas to take up the challenge to completely redefine 
the interiors of Villa Lemoine using
 for the first time the complete intelligence of the Pierre Paulin Programme. OMA appropriates the designer’s programme by adapting it to the constraints of space and radically transforming the uses and perception of the home. Through a real metamorphosis of space, OMA plays on opposites.


The layout of the smooth aluminum slabs on the ground is transformed to fit perfectly with the layout of the raised foam squares, creating a new moving floor, like a habitable landscape. Known for its minimalist and denuded spaces, the house has a new idea of comfort. It’s the transition from empty to full. 

The Lemoine Villa - OMA / Rem Koolhaas, 1998 

The only private house to receive the Équerre d’Argent, it is listed in the Supplementary Inventory of Historic Monuments in 2002, barely four years after its delivery. The Lemoine Villa is a private residence of three floors on a cape-like hill overlooking Bordeaux.


The lower level is a series of caverns carved out from the hill, designed for the most intimate life of the family.


The ground floor on garden level is a glass room – half inside, half outside – for living


The upper floor is divided into a children’s and a parents’ area. The heart of the house is a 3x3.5m elevator platform that moves freely between the three floors, becoming part of the living space or kitchen or transforming itself into an intimate office space, and granting access to books, artwork, and the wine cellar. 

Visits (individual or in groups of up to 20 people) to the Villa Lemoine are possible until November 29th, 2019. Please write an email to

The Pierre Paulin Programme (1969 -1972)

Starting in 1969, Pierre Paulin had been in contact with Herman Miller. Together, Paulin and the company planned to produce a range of original and revolutionary equipment for residential homes. 

1972 mock-up.jpg

Part of this visionary global project, the user could combine spaces and modules according to his or her personal culture, psychological self- conception and the image he or she wished to project.

The goal: Construct/Deconstruct and become the user’s companion by making it possible to move beyond the limitations of interior design, master one’s surroundings and become the architect of spaces dedicated to life and work. 

This mock-up is the result of a truly visionary universe. The entire production rests upon a dual layout consisting of a perfect grid configuration, where modular horizontal and vertical elements (floor and seating elements; dividing walls and storage) allow for an exponential number of combinations to create living spaces (bedrooms, living rooms, libraries, wardrobes, offices, kitchens, dining rooms).

Paulin’s mock-up counts six levels. Meant for serial production, level 0 (ground floor) spans the ensemble of basic modules the occupant may assemble and disassemble to create a personal living space depending on the number of rooms desired, furniture, chairs, and in function of family needs and how those might evolve over time... The five other levels comprise a sampling of different possible uses that make it easier to understand the project and allow each viewer’s imagination to roam free. The various platforms invite everyone to draw inspiration from or build on whatever the potential purpose of a private living space might be at any given time. 

Thanks to numerous sketches and preliminary floor plans, this mock-up remains the manifestation of a visionary world, one that is particularly well-captured in Paulin pieces such as the « Déclive » articulated recliner and the “Tapis-Siège” (Carpet Seat). An avant-garde designer, Paulin anticipated the necessary alliance between a changing world, new techniques and a living space that was conceived like a refuge, an intimate enclosure. With this project, the body dictates its relationship with the space around it, placing a priority on personalized use. 



Pierre Paulin (1927-2009)

Paulin Portrait_500.jpg

Pierre Paulin wanted to become a sculptor. Influenced by the work of his uncle, the automotive designer genius Georges Paulin, he decided to turn to design. His first creations were presented at the Salon des Arts Ménagers in 1953 and enjoyed immediate success. Pierre Paulin will work subsequently for several publishers including the firm Thonet. 

In 1958, the Dutch brand Artifort recruited Paulin, giving him the opportunity to express his vision and use his workshops as a laboratory. Paulin then chooses to use tubular structures on which he applies Pirelli foam he comes to cover with stretch textiles borrowed from the swimsuit industry, he then opens the way to a whole new school of organic design released from the old constraints. 

As soon as they were launched on the market in the 1960s, Pierre Paulin’s armchairs enjoyed a resounding international success and entered the design collections of the greatest museums in the world (MOMA, MET, Center Pompidou, V & A, Museum of Decorative Arts, etc.) 

In France, Pierre Paulin has also worked for many years alongside the Mobilier National for major projects including the Louvre Museum, the private apartments of President Pompidou in the Elysée Palace, the office of President Mitterrand or still the facilities of the Palace of Jena. 

Pierre Paulin passed away on June 13, 2009.  

Pictures of Villa Lemoine by Marco Cappelletti, Copyright OMA

* Excerpted from a conversation between Pierre Paulin, Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrist Obrist, recorded in 2008 on the occasion of the ABITARE Talks during the Furniture Fair in Milan.

House Bras


Just outside Antwerp, DDM Architectuur worked on a discreet monolithic house surrounded by water and nature.


House BRAS is designed to blend into its surrounding natural landscape. Located in Brasschaat, on a lush green site abutting a pond in the middle of an old allotment in the suburbs of Antwerp, its meandering plan allows daylight to penetrate during all seasons and at any time of the day while achieving unobstructed views of the garden.


The ground floor consists of three main zones – the living area with an open kitchen, an exercise area with a swimming pool and sauna, and a room for music offering a panoramic view of the pond.

These zones are physically and visually connected with glazed passages along four closed blocks covered in dark larch veneer leading to ancillary spaces such as stairs, pantry, entrance, and bedrooms.

On the first floor, DDM Architectuur positioned the master suite with views of the tree crowns and a library overlooking the pond through the double-height music room.


Technical spaces and car parks are located underground and are accessible through a ramp that appears to cut through the pond. Trusses are integrated into the roof slopes, making it possible to realize large column-free cut-outs in the natural stone envelope. These openings are finished with aluminum joinery.


To emphasize the monolithic character of the house, the 5th façade is also clad with muschelkalk (shell-bearing limestone) natural stone slabs. The slabs in 3 different sizes are placed in a directionless Roman pattern so that the roofs and facades fuse together enabling the house to blend into the landscape like a stone in a forest.


Pictures by Lenzer