While the World Is On Hold, Dubai’s Young Designers Imagine the Future

Carlotta Marelli
·5 minuto per la lettura
Photo credit: Courtesy Hang Tat Henry
Photo credit: Courtesy Hang Tat Henry

From ELLE Decor

On the design calendar, November has always been the month for Dubai Design Week — a final chance to throw your summer clothes in a suitcase and jet off in search of new additions among the pristine skyscrapers of the Dubai Design District. This year, however, the t-shirts and sandals are already gathering dust and the sun of the United Arab Emirates is nothing more than a distant memory. But even in the midst of this European autumn, we take the time for a virtual voyage to Dubai, navigating the most interesting projects from the Global Grad Show’s sixth edition online. As one of the most talked about events of the Emirate design week, the kermesse attracts design lovers, talent scouts, and industry professionals from every corner of the world.

Addressing the most urgent global issues this year, the GGS is much more than an event for those passionate about design: with its 1600 participants hailing from 270 universities and 5 continents, the Global Grad Show 2020 takes stock of the greatest challenges the world faces and explores how design can help solve them. All this with a spirit of altruism and generosity — the most important intrinsic value embedded in these university projects — constructed with the authentic conviction that the harmony between man and nature can be improved through design, protecting those that are fragile while creating more cohesive communities.

Projects then were divided into five key themes: living with illness and disability, coping in a complex world, saving and protecting vulnerable lives, cleaning a waste-filled planet, and sustaining the urban experience. Here we’ve selected some of the most interesting works from each theme, while all of this year’s projects can be found on the Global Grand Show website.

Projects from the Global Grad Show 2020 to live with illness and disability

Under this category we find projects that reflect a global preoccupation with the health of humanity, many of which are surprisingly current if we remember they were conceived before the pandemic. Here we’ve selected Quarantent, a project from Raissa Xie and Sudeepti Rachakonda of the Parsons School of Design in New York, which responds to an open call dedicated to Covid-19. With a folding curtain to be installed both indoors and outdoors, family members can quarantine from one another to avoid infection. Inside, we find a mattress, small washer, toilette, shower, and a small window to receive food.

Outside the immediacy of Covid, another project that captured our attention is Catcher, an intelligent device from Liye Zhang (Politecnico di Milano). The device translates sign language into spoken language in real time, removing the daily communication barrier between those that are deaf-mute and those who don’t know sign language. A small object to carry around the neck like a pendant, it features a camera to perceive and interpret sign language to then translate into the spoken word.

Projects from the Global Grad Show 2020 to save and protect vulnerable lives

Photo credit: Courtesy of Zeenat Nasir
Photo credit: Courtesy of Zeenat Nasir

In this group we see projects that aim to stabilize social balance between countries, but also within single cities, as is the case for Zeenat Nasir’s project, Zambeel, which attempts to offer a discreet sleeping solution for the workers of Karachi. Here in the Pakistani city, which each month welcomes 45,000 migrants in search of work, finding a job can often be easier than finding an affordable place to stay, causing many to sleep on the street. Zambeel is a temporary solution to the problem, tucking an integrated mattress in the back pocket of a canvas bag. Meanwhile, the front pocket can be used as a pillow and space to store valuable objects. A lock-and-chain system guarantee its security, while the discreet design of a backpack means it can be carried without embarrassment.

Projects from the Global Grad Show 2020 to cope in a complex world

Photo credit: Courtesy Wonmo Yoo
Photo credit: Courtesy Wonmo Yoo

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a social anxiety that has spread exponentially alongside social media, which brings those who suffer from its effects to leave their devices on 24/7, causing sleeping disturbances. The project from Wonmo Yoo, of the Samsung Art and Design Institute of Seoul, transforms the pillow into an intelligent device to face this problem. While using the Pause Pillow, pressure sensors within the pillow trigger the incorporated Wi-Fi module, sending a disturbance signal to cut our smartphones off from the internet.

Projects from the Global Grad Show 2020 to clean a waste-filled planet


Photo credit: Courtesy Sande Jackson Mugenyi
Photo credit: Courtesy Sande Jackson Mugenyi

Design plays a leading role in understanding the properties of biomaterials to construct a circular economy in which nothing is carelessly disposed of. The most interesting projects in this section then are those that develop solutions to the zero kilometer issue, confronting the problem of waste at its source, as is the case for a project from Makerere University’s Sande Jackson Mugenyi. The young creative’s low-cost plastic sandals for students are produced with recycled plastic collected on African streets and transformed into shoes through a simple machine that can be used everywhere.

Projects from the Global Grad Show 2020 to sustain the urban experience

Photo credit: Courtesy Munira AlMulla
Photo credit: Courtesy Munira AlMulla

For the last of these overarching themes addressed by young designers on display in Dubai, we’ve chosen The Spaces In Between, a project from Munira AlMulla that confronts the great distances between residential and public areas in cities like Dubai, which are often separated, isolated, and void of pedestrian areas. The solution proposed from this budding architect is a system of spaces to create hubs that encourage walking and the restoration of unexplored public areas, inviting us in new directions and towards new possibilities.