As the threat of climate change grows, this year’s Dubai Design Week is presenting monumental installation works that tell how design can have a positive impact on the environment

From flash floods and heat waves in Europe to an increase in dust storms in the Middle East, scientists believe that evidence of man-made climate change is at an acute turning point and will only become worse and more frequent unless carbon emissions are cut dramatically and rapidly. Regions facing the highest ecological threats, include the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, with over 1.4 billion people in 83 countries facing extreme “water stress”, equivalent to 20 percent of the global population not having access to clean drinking water.

How is the architectural and design community responding to environmental threat? This year Dubai Design Week, running from 8-13 November, is presenting Design With Impact, a programme that features both regional and international designers, architects, collectives and firms that will produce a series of immersive installations placed throughout Dubai Design District (d3), using materials that are both sustainable and environmentally friendly to create works that spark conversations on the climate crisis, showing how the structures in which we live, work and recreate, can have a positive impact on the environment.

“This year’s fair expresses how we see the future—with over 30 large scale installations built around the theme Design With Impact,” says Kate Barry, Director of Dubai Design Week. “Sustainability is not a new buzzword; it is a practice we all need to take onboard in one way or another. This year we talk about Impact, as the idea to showcase all different ways design can have a positive impact on the environment.”

Installations include works by OBMI, Sharabassy Built Environmental Studio, UN Studio, ARDH, FADAA, Quartz, Sara Alrayyes, Dewan Architects, Shema John, and Murgan A.

Homegrown UAE-based ARDH Collective unveils ‘From the Dunes & Trees’, an installation that celebrates the history of innovative building techniques in the United Arab Emirates. Built in a circular form reflective of the ongoing lifecycle of the materials used, the installation presents the launch of DATEFORM, RAMEL, NEAR, the three flagship materials by ARDH Collective, incorporating the collective’s desert sand-based concrete, date-seed based solid surface material and the region’s first plant-based vegan leather. The installation is sponsored by Dubai Culture and features a collaboration between ARDH Collective and MODU Method.

“It's great to take part in making, even a marginal, difference in today's world; it's also exciting to see new materials be introduced to the industry in a manner that is sustainable and better for the environment. Through collaborations such as this one (ARDH Collective and MODU method) we really get to test how far these materials can go, and hopefully provide a new source for inspiration when it comes to design and construction,” stated Omar Al Gurg, Creative Director & Founder at MODU Method.

Riyadh-based Quartz Architects have created a poignant spatial provocation of cascading waste, creating a tent-like structure created from trash that hangs over people’s heads prompting them to ask: how much does your debris weigh and what will happen if the world becomes engulfed by waste?

As a result of population growth, urbanization, and increasing demand for housing, the construction industry is booming around the world. Construction and demolition waste made up approximately 3 billion tons of world waste in 2012 in 40 countries, according to research. During the first phase of the Jeddah Redevelopment Plan, the mayor of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, announced the demolition of 26 districts covering an area of 18.5 million square meters.

“The alarming case led designers to wonder what would happen if the world became piled high with waste, and what if the only solution was to turn them into something else?” asks Shahad Alsudais, architect and founding partner of Quartz Architects. “Will we continue to maintain the waste disposal practices we have now? What impact will demolition and construction waste have on our reality? Will they be part of it in a new hybrid world?”

The installation reflects on these questions, encouraging visitors to ask themselves questions that are often ignored and deemed uncomfortable, a recurring motif in the textual representation that designers participating in Design with Impact use in their work.

In Al Gargoor, a public space circularly devised space featuring a variety of furnishings made from gargoor, a fishing net used by fishermen in the Gulf, Bahraini designer Sara Alrayyes strives to maintain the value of the gargoor as a functioning object as well as its heritage, with the idea to develop creative objects by upcycling old Gulf fishing nets.

“I took a used gargoor net that most Bahraini families have in their homes, at least families with fishermen, and I started to test the material to see its elasticity to see if it were lightweight and durable and as I experimented with it, I discovered that its material has great potential,” said Alrayyes. “They are made using a traditional method. Yet people are now neglecting the nets and governments are restricting the use.” Alrayyes decided to put them to use and see how the gargoor could be used in upcycling to create furniture to preserve its traditional and aesthetic value. “I wanted to use it in its natural form to show people that there are alternative uses for the gargoor today and I came up with furniture designs catered to the human body and the positions in which we sit.”

Jordanian studio FADAA has created KIN, an installation made with the firm’s bio-bricks, created using discarded shellfish from restaurants in addition to natural, low-carbon lime. The structure, featuring two tall cylinder-like shapes, is immersed in nature, surrounded by native plants and species demonstrating how man-made, sustainable creations can correlate with the natural environment, both aesthetically and functionally.

“Our proposal rekindles our interspecies entanglements and collaborations,” explains Bisher Tabbaa of FADAA. “KIN creates a circular model where our goal is not only to minimize our negative impact on our environment, but rather using bio-based materials and designing a model that embraces multispecies interaction whereby benefit is mutually extended. Our biobrick has the potential to become a new vernacular material for coastal cities by using seafood waste and integrating it with existing crafts and technologies.”

As these designers show, creating beauty in design and architecture can be done in unison with nature and in a way that protects and preserves heritage and tradition—actions, as demonstrated by Design with Impact, needed more than ever now.

Written by Rebecca Anne Proctor.