Jordanian-Canadian designer, Hamza Al Omari, is one of a generation of rising talents. Inspired by his local environment and buoyed up by the strengthening design scene in the UAE, his Arab roots inform his practice at every level.

A fascination with material that is often elements of intangible culture as well as an affinity to the natural environment around him in Dubai, inspired Hamza Al Omari to work with sand and its myriad properties. For Dubai-based studio The Foundry by Tinkah, Al Omari set out to develop a material that tames the characteristics of the desert into a mouldable medium and then produced a humble coffee cup using this new material, ‘Ramel’.

This is just one of the many achievements of Al Omari’s career, which has taken him from LOCI Architecture + Design studio to Tinkah and now Palmwood, a creative organization founded by the UAE Government and IDEO. "Discovering the edge effect between modern technological innovations and regional traditions has always been a fascination of mine in my multidisciplinary design work. Taking forward what I have learned into Palmwood and applying it to projects with social impact is a very exciting space to explore!” he says.

In 2015, Omari designed the first edition of Dubai Design Week’s Abwab pavilions, which utilized sand facades that were specifically developed for the project to control light and heat transfer. His furniture and product design have been exhibited in several galleries and publications.

During his 2016 Tanween Design Program participation, Al-Omari further focused on controlling light with sand. The nine-month program culminated in the creation of ‘Zea’, an interactive mood lighting element that uses sand and its properties to control light intensity in a space. “My projects intend to celebrate the region’s heritage,” he says. “Of course, a lot of client-driven projects don’t allow or don’t have room for a strong cultural element. However, for the most part, my personal projects are focused on our rich history. I have always been attracted to the little things that go unnoticed. It is my intention to get the user to appreciate the smaller elements that build it up. Shifting focus from the specific design language to the tug of war between the materials and textures that bring it all together.”

Riding the wave of the increasing homegrown design movement that celebrates local talent, traditions and a rediscovering of the regional language, Al Omari is part of a trend of local designers finding their stride. He says that one of the biggest challenges for designers is the cost of production. “It is really high in the UAE due to the factory sizes and the small production numbers we are limited to. That forces designers to make very slim profit margins that are unsustainable for the long term. As a result, customers would prefer to buy items from well-established brands at a similar cost instead of buying from local designers.”

Having said that, he still recognizes that steps are being made to counteract this with support for designers coming from the establishment of design institutions such as DIDI. There is still some way to go, but Al Omari says things are on the right track.