Khadija Al Bastaki, executive director of Dubai Design District, on creating a design community to fight the impact of COVID-19

Creating a design community attractive to local and international talent will support the UAE’s long-term economic growth and diversification. This is vital as the region bounces back from the double-headed challenge of COVID-19 and its economic impact. Dubai has always been a hub for creative leaders. Its architecture, infrastructure, ease of doing business and attractiveness as a coastal, metropolitan city with high-end real estate has put us on a path to rival great design destinations such as New York, London, Paris, and Milan. But in a world shaken by an invisible virus, what role will creative talent play in enabling the fastest recovery in the world? We have seen how the best and brightest minds underpin the social and economic fabric of our communities.

In May 2020, seven luxury fashion designers from Dubai Design District stepped up to make more than 13,000 medical gowns and surgical masks for hospitals as part of an initiative between the Arab Fashion Council and Dubai Health Authority. The fashion industry has thrown its support behind this global fight, but what it does next is equally important. Countries such as China have already taken steps to embrace cashless economies in the post-coronavirus world. So how might haute couture respond? High-end attire integrated with technology is an entirely realistic OP-ED possibility. But what form will this functional fashion take? We may seek to celebrate our life after lockdown with lashings of maximalism or embrace minimalist, comfortable clothing. Either way, fashion will reflect the cultural mood of our times, allowing us to express our personality. If fashion reflects individuality, then architecture reflects the personality of our urban world. We are on track to become one of the world’s smartest cities in line with the vision of our leaders. But in the age of artificial intelligence, architecture has become almost self-aware. We will need local and international architects to create new masterplans for the cities of tomorrow that adopt a flexible, sustainable and competitive approach to masterplanning that re-thinks urbanisation and population density. Interior design will also contribute to the livework- play spaces we inhabit.

The local industry is largely made up of SMEs and boutique studios who form the backbone of our economy. We have become acutely aware of how interior spaces affect our moods and ability to work during the pandemic. Under the UAE’s National Wellbeing Strategy 2031, to make our nation a world leader in quality of life, the design has a major role to role in creating offices, restaurants, shops and homes that improve our happiness, positivity, and mental well-being. Tying all this together is Dubai Design District. We are home to more than 350 architecture, fashion and interior design studios including local and international companies such as Dior, Burberry, Zaha Hadid Architects, and Foster + Partners. We have continued to support creative talent by providing state-of-the-art infrastructure and services to improve the ease of doing business which has attracted the best and brightest minds to our community.

We also develop homegrown talent at the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation – the region’s only university exclusively dedicated to design and innovation – and use relationships with Zayed University, American University of Dubai and the American University of Sharjah to promote education. The in5 Design innovation centre also provides creative co-working spaces and prototyping labs to help startups and entrepreneurs scale up their ideas. Dubai is regularly ranked as one of the best places in the world to live and work – and one of the top five cities to find a job in 2020, according to a new study. With the UAE’s economy tipped to grow by 3.3% next year, nurturing and attracting creative talent will spur the country’s rapid recovery, contributing to the long-term sustainable development of the UAE. It will ensure Dubai remains a creative hub for generations to come.