Downtown Design was designed to include a 160m long glass facade facing the canal. Image courtesy of H+A
Downtown Design was designed to include a 160m long glass facade facing the canal. Image courtesy of H+A

Dubai-based practice H+A's masterplan for Downtown Design emphasised visitor and exhibitor experience

Dubai-based architecture practice H+A designed the masterplan for Dubai design fair Downtown Design 2018, which centred on improving both visitor and exhibitor experiences simultaneously.

"The masterplan of the fair sought to do two main things," said David Lessard, partner in the firm. "One was to reduce stress levels and allow the various end-users to feel located within the space. This helps not only increase footfall for exhibitors, but it also improves the visitor experience. The second thing was to provide natural lighting." 

Partners and founders of H+A, Stas Loucas and David Lessard

Located in Dubai Design District (d3), the fair was situated within a large tent that featured a 160m glass facade on its canal-facing side. 

"In the years past, one wouldn't even know that the canal was nearby," said Lessard. "By opening that up, we created views to the outside, allowed natural light in, and encouraged engagement with the water."

H+A's design also brought the lecture hall to the centre of the fair -- "the most expensive real estate". This renewed the importance of the forum programme, as well as the participation of designers. Conceptualised as an internal courtyard surrounded by greenery, the space acted as a clear point of reference similar to an urban town square. 

Lessard added that he and his team, which included fellow partner Stas Loucas, reviewed other international design fairs before tackling Downtown Design's masterplan, including Salone del Mobile.  

"Milan is one of the best fairs in the world," said Lessard. "We all flock there as designers, but the spaces between the stands are actually not very inviting. They're not very permeable. The walls are high, the corridors are relatively narrow and arranged in such a way that you have very much a meandering experience, which takes cues from traditional retail design.

The entrance to Downtown Design 2018, with the lighting feature by Sans Souci Lighting

"Here, we weren't afraid to allow people that flexibility and freedom to just pass by all of these exhibits, giving them freedom to engage with the edges of the fair -- which on one side is d3, on the other is the canal, and at the two ends are the cafes. We wanted to create these anchors to give reason for congregation in certain areas of the fair. When you give people that freedom and flexibility, there's no sense of being overwhelmed."

Another main design feature of the masterplan was the entrance to the fair. Visitors were welcomed through a 'wooden tunnel' that offered a glimpse of a suspended bespoke lighting feature, intended to create anticipation and draw guests in to explore the exhibition. 

"We wanted to create an entrance experience," explained Lessard. "Learning from past experiences, as well as the principles of the type of work we do more regularly in our practice, which is hospitality and healthcare, the experience has to be a little bit memorable, a little bit legible, and a little bit of an introduction to the rest of the project.

"So we created this portal, which frames this beautiful glass sculpture by Sans Souci Lighting. There's a real synergy between object and sideline. From the moment you come in, you're introduced not only to this more intimate entry, but also to an element of design."