Studio head at Foster + Partners explains how d3’s Creative Community will bring designers together

With Phase I of Dubai Design District (d3) already fully operational with big names in regional design setting up their offices and showrooms, the anticipation for the second phase of the project is increasing, more so since the announcement that Foster + Partners  is heading the project.

The architecture giant was invited as part of an international competition to design Phase II, known as the “Creative Community”, inspired by similar art districts from around the world such as the Meat Packing district in New York and London’s Shoreditch.

DesignMENA speaks to Gerard Evenden, head of Studio 5 at Foster + Partners, who explains that the idea of creating an affordable environment for artists and start-up firms, as well as, tenants was an intriguing opportunity for the practice, which has already established a growing portfolio of projects in the region.

Gerard Evenden, head of Studio 5 at Foster + Partners

“There are many art districts [around the world] but they all tend to start up in industrial areas with some dereliction and nostalgia, so to create that environment from scratch with the same ambiance and vibrancy was a challenge and it was what drove us to thinking that the competition was worth entering. I don’t think anyone has attempted to do this before,” Evenden says. The Creative Community is a mixed-use development featuring workshops, design offices, live-work units, retail and F&B, all geared towards creating a sense of collaboration and community.

Evenden says the idea was to create something that can be adaptable, inhabited and transformable, so as more designers and artists move in, the more they personalise the community.

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

Evenden says that the studio didn’t want the development to become too refined, which is achieved by the minimal use of materials. The concrete façade is aimed at encouraging the artists and designers who will inhabit the area to interact with the space and colour it as they wish. The architecture is designed to work as a backdrop for the creatives to utilise, rendered in concrete to offer “tougher architecture” to the entire region.

“Architecturally it is quite a challenge because the tendency here is to always refine everything until its perfect, but here we are trying to design something that isn’t quite so perfect which will inspire that culture which is going to come from the creativity of the artists and inhabitants,” he explains. “The whole project is conceived from interaction and we are looking for the artists to really inhabit the space and when I say ‘inhabit’ I mean the inside of the unit, but also the spaces around the unit to bring the art to the outside of the development.

“Part of creating a community like this is getting people to meet and to discuss and that is where the retail and F&B become very important because they are the meeting places. And how they combine will be a very important part of that. And of course, we have live-works units so you will have people who are residents there,” he continues.

The majority of the eateries will be located on the ground floor of the development, while the design offices and the live-work spaces will be set on the second and third floors. Below the entire development is an underground parking space, which is an important part of the overall masterplan since the first built phase has no proper parking areas.

“Parking will be accommodated beneath the new creative community and I think that is a fantastic thing because what it’s going to do is as people park underneath the building, everybody will move up into the creative community and then move across to the Phase I and you are going to have this population movement,” Evenden says.

Outdoor areas also play a big role in the overall concept of the creative community, with the project centred around three courtyards.

“It is amazing how Dubai has all these new developments with outdoor living and external spaces have become very popular. We wanted to build on that and I think that is the right way if you are designing correctly for the climate. There is a large part of the year when people love being outside and we should be able to accommodate that,” Evenden explains.

The three courtyards each hold a different character with heavy landscape focus. The first of the courtyards is an events plaza for people to put up large-scale installations, or hold big events, but the prime idea is for it to become a space that is constantly changing one event after another.

Another courtyard is primarily related to food and beverage and is the space where most restaurants and cafes are concentrated. The third courtyard will accommodate the planned design institute. Further details about the institute have not yet been announced.

“The idea of those courtyards is that they all have a different character and what we are trying to do is concentrate the landscape into those three courtyards and get three separate identities so they feel very much like different places. We are using the landscape as part of generating that identity,” Eveden explains.

“Everywhere has shading and the principle is that there is a shaded route through the development and also the landscape will be added to enhance the shading and create places where people can sit and linger longer. We know from our work in the Middle East to date that if you can provide shade through landscaping or through physical shading you can begin to lower the temperatures significantly and it does begin to become tolerable,” he continues.

“Of course what you’ve got to be is very conscious of the time and the amount of water that you are using. So rather than blanket landscaping everything and making everything green which will be terribly heavy on water usage, we decided to concentrate the landscape into those three courtyards and really make it spectacular,” Evenden adds.

The d3 masterplan was designed by Woods Bagot, with Phase 1 completed in 2015, and Phase 2 planned for completion by mid-2018.

Phase III of the masterplan includes a waterfront area which will completely alter the overall feel of the district.