Foster + Partners, Dubai Design District, Creative Community, Dubai

d3's Creative Community on hold, Foster + Partners confirms

The second phase of Dubai Design District (d3)’s masterplan has been put “on hold”, Gerard Evenden, head of studio at Foster + Partners confirmed.

The UK architecture firm was commissioned to design phase 2, also known as the Creative Community, which would comprise a mixed-use development featuring workshop facilities, design offices, live-work units, retail and F&B, as well as the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI) campus.

He told Middle East Architect that the future status of the entire project remains unknown.

“We are hopeful that it will restart,” he said, adding, “I thought it was a great project for Dubai, and if you see how successful d3 is, [the Creative Community] was the next extension.”

Middle East Architect contacted d3 for a comment, which explained that the second phase is “evolving” from its original masterplan.

“The original masterplan for Dubai Design District is evolving to meet the changing needs of both the city of Dubai and the wider demands of the existing and future community of creatives,” said Khadija Al Bastaki, executive director at d3.

“d3 will continue to focus on the design and creative community at large through supporting and developing projects that provide creative talents with valuable insight and experience that will enhance their personal and professional development,” she added.

In September 2018, Foster + Partners released its annual statement revealing that the firm has seen a fall in turnover, profits and staff.

The company also reported a significant drop in the number of projects in the Middle East (although Foster cites Kuwait International Airport as the firm’s largest project of 2018) and South America, as well as a general decrease in workload across the UK and North America.

“I think [the market] has slowed down a bit this year,” Evenden said. “We had a number of projects which all had momentum and then they slowed down a bit which is a great shame. But things change and projects go through cycles. We are still very much focused on the [Middle East] and I think, for us, it is still a very important place to be working.”

Visionary architecture

The Creative Community was first unveiled in 2016 and was set for completion in 2019, with phase 3 scheduled for 2021.

Foster + Partners was invited as part of an international competition to design Phase 2, which was intended to draw inspiration from similar art districts around the world, such as the Meatpacking District in New York and London’s Shoreditch.

The plan consisted of 370 individual units rendered in concrete to further encourage personalisation and to uphold the industrial nature of an art district.

Evenden described the project as “forward-thinking” in its design. He went on to explain how the proposal by Foster + Partners for the Creative Community could be seen as challenging, as nothing like it has previously been attempted in the country. Without existing local models and the lack of data to support their potential success, Evenden further noted that such projects also present a risk developers in the country are perhaps not ready to take.

“In recent times, we have come across a number of people who have been quite forward-thinking in terms of design in Dubai. The Creative Community was a great example of that,” he told Middle East Architect.

“The great challenge for us, and the greatest experiment on that project was: would the artists come and would they inhabit it and would they take it over, which is the Shoreditch model. You have to bring the people in and then let them take it over, because that’s what builds the creativity. It’s organic, and that’s a risk,” he said.

The project was to consist of structures that were unlike the highly-precisioned buildings found across the city, and instead opted for a concept that centred on being a “tough, artistic community”, complete with rough concrete blocks and pre-fabricated buildings.

“A lot of these things takes courage and actually [Dubai] is pretty good at having the courage to try [such] things,” he said.