Exploring d3 with Mohammad Saeed Al-Shehhi

The Chief Operating Officer of Dubai Design District (d3) discusses what makes the d3 community so special, as well as future plans for the district, and gives us a sneak peak into the very best moments of Dubai Design Week

d3, the first purpose-built design district in the Middle East, played a host to some of the most exciting local and international creators for Dubai Design Week, running from October 26th to 31st. Vision explored the emerging art hub with Mohammad Saeed Al-Shehhi.

Vision: Dubai Design District (d3) has attracted a lot of attention since it was launched last year. What do you think is the importance of having a community like it? 

Mohammad Saeed Al-Shehhi: Dubai’s design scene is quite unique in the sense that the city is itself an important source of inspiration. The diversity of people and the vibrancy of activities provide an endless source of treasures to discover. Consequently, we see that the Dubai-based designers who have captured global acclaim have been in this city for more than a decade. These are the people that have learned to navigate all of the sources of inspiration that this city has to offer, from the souks and heritage buildings of old Dubai, to the innovation and technology of Dubai Internet City and the luxury of downtown.

The importance of d3 is that it provides a single home base for designers and design enthusiasts where they can download their inspiration, cross-pollinate with other designers' ideas and ultimately realise their creative vision.   

From international luxury brands to fresh graduates, anyone seeking inspiration, energy and connection to like-minded design enthusiasts will find a place within this community.  

Indeed, this is why there has been so much attention on d3 and we have to give credit first and foremost to our business partners. The international luxury brands, globally recognised architecture firms and a large proportion of UAE nationals who responded to the d3 vision and provided their feedback on the project saw their feedback integrated and thereby realised the importance of their own role in creating this regional design movement.

V: What’s the most important value that d3 embraces? And how do you integrate this value in the district’s design and functioning? 

Al-Shehhi: As the region’s design district, d3 begins and ends with the people who chose to work, live and play here. These people are the most critical component of everything we do. Throughout our process, whether it is the masterplan concept, design of our buildings or even leasing and company set-up, we maintain very strong communication channels with the members of our community.

We are also very consistent in our approach with our own suppliers by challenging them to walk in our customers footsteps and bring back insights from that journey. It is an unusual way of working and certainly takes more effort than a top-down approach, but it is of critical value to us and the benefit is already being realised through very sticky relationships with our customers.

The early commitments of international luxury brands, globally recognised architecture firms and a significant proportion of UAE nationals provided the momentum to embrace this approach, placing people at the forefront of d3.

V: Can you elaborate on the structure and features of d3?

Al-Shehhi: To nurture a creative collective of design talent, d3 will offer residential, commercial, retail and hospitality real estate whilst offering digital connectivity throughout the area. Characterised by distinct public areas, unique street furniture and shaded walkways, d3 embraces a bohemian lifestyle, inviting emerging regional designers to sit alongside internationally leading brands to create an ecosystem flourishing with innovation and originality.

The first phase of d3’s 11 buildings is complete, including state-of-the-art offices and retail space, which will ultimately house up to 10,000 design and creative professionals.

Phase 2, d3’s Creative Community, planned for completion in 2018, will provide a larger work space for local talents, as well as a natural home for art galleries and studios looking to engage directly with the region. Foster & Partners, the architecture firm behind the project, has designed a mix of flexible contemporary offices and communal working facilities around a series of pedestrianised streets and outdoor events spaces.

Phase 3 of the project will focus on the 1.8km Waterfront development, comprising of design-led hotels, unique cafés and restaurants and boutique retail outlets. 

dubai design district d3 design days creativity art culture business hub centre middle east use arab
Al-Shehhi says the district seeks to create an ecosystem flourishing with innovation and originalityImage: d3

V: Compared to other design communities in the world, are there any features that are unique to D3? 

Al-Shehhi: Through its geographical location, Dubai has become an art and design centre, marking a bridge from east to west, enabling international artistic communities to come together and reach a new customer base. With a master plan to create an entire community with retail, residential, office and hospitality space, d3 is different in that it is the region’s first master planned hub and incubator for design, art and fashion excellence.

There is a commonly held belief that design communities must emerge organically as creatives move into older, low-rent areas and that moving into new buildings would somehow reduce the potential for inspiration. This is the first belief that we challenged. When we went out to creatives and asked whether it was the low rent or the old building, or both, that made those areas work, their answers very consistently indicated that it was a matter of rent and that reducing the challenges presented by old buildings across pests, parking and reliable utilities would be something that creatives would be very open to. 

As a masterplanner, we have a number of products and a full ecosystem to pull value from, so we are able to commit to low rent in one specific area. 

V: Can you tell us more about Dubai Design Week and some of the best moments?

Al-Shehhi: Dubai Design Week was a tremendous success for us and a real test of d3 in terms of both concept and infrastructure. I’m thrilled to say that Dubai Design Week gave us proof not only that d3 works as a venue, but that its mission – to provide Dubai’s dynamic creative sector with a dedicated platform that can act as an international focus for design in the Middle East region – is timely, welcome and, above all, necessary.

We hosted a number of educational public talks, lectures and workshops to an international audience, giving a greater insight into the region's evolving design industry. A number of installations and public pavilions showcasing some of the best design from both the region and other parts of the world also took place.

Dubai Design Week also exhibited the first Global Grads Show, where highlights from the recent degree shows of ten of the most innovative university design programmes worldwide gathered together in a single space. This unprecedented event provides an unparalleled global platform for emerging talent and creatives to showcase the future of design. 

We are extremely thankful to have partnered up with Art Dubai Group, Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, and the Dubai Design and Fashion Council as we work together to position Dubai as the emerging design capital of the world.