DUBAI: With social distancing measures in effect across the UAE, designers have responded to the “new normal” with three innovative seating arrangements now on show at Dubai Design Week, which is set to run until Nov. 14.
The American Hardwood Export Council invited Emirati designers Aljoud Lootah, Khalid Shafar and Hamad Khoory to design a hardwood bench for outdoor use during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the “Please Sit Here” initiative, which reexamines a simple object that is often taken for granted — a bench.
“Social distancing has begun to dominate the way we live and the decisions we make,” said Roderick Wiles, AHEC regional director for Africa, the Middle East, India & Oceania. “While incredibly important in the fight against the spread of the virus, it also curbs our freedom of choice and forces us to behave in an unnatural way. People are social by nature and regulations that inhibit normal social behavior do not come naturally.
“There is a pool of excellent design talent in the wider Middle East region and a small core of really exciting designers in the UAE,” he continued. “Their design styles and influences bring something completely different and often unexpected to a project like this, which gives it great authenticity.”
Designed in keeping with current two-meter distance regulations, the seats “negate the need for warning signs and allow people to sit in a relaxed way without having to think about whether they are too close to the next person,” said Wiles. “However, the design of the bench will also allow for conversion to accommodate more people, closer together when the time comes for social distancing regulations to be relaxed.”
Lootah’s minimalist and experimental approach emphasizes modern interpretations of Emirati culture and artisanal techniques. Selecting red oak for its color, texture and grain, Lootah notes that it is an appropriate, exciting time to explore sustainable materials, especially one suitable to extreme Gulf climates. “‘Jalees’ is designed to recognize the primitive characteristics of outdoor benches found around the UAE in every Emirati home, this seating design pays tribute to its minimal structure and attributes,” she said. “The essential vertical and horizontal wooden planks have inspired the minimal design of this outdoor seating bench creating an appealing modern interpretation. Contrasting the horizontal octagonal wooden planks are circular seats with metal inserts that slide along the length of the bench to create social distancing when needed between strangers and to bring family together at the same time.”
Warm, modern regionalism defines Khoory’s practice, and in embracing wood as a living, natural material, he left his bench untreated. “Inspired by the traditional Majlis with its inherent values of humility, equality and community, the bench is an exploration of connection and separation,” he explained. “Employing the poplar wood in cuboid modular units of a seat, tree, planter and sanitization area, the modules engage with a linear comb-like Maplewood base, a plug-and-play approach of slipping into and out of the comb, with many possible configurations.”
“As a designer, I believe my aim is to solve problems, enhance life and offer solutions for humanity,” said Shafar.
“From the first space shuttle and the release of IBM computers to the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War, the 80s offered hope to humanity once again to achieve the impossible,” he said. The decade’s energy and “supercharged aesthetics” inspired “POP UP,” his timber smart-seating bench that provides interaction as well as special features through a bespoke app.
“The 80’s neon linear lights, ad boards, synth wave music, catchy pop colors and retro cyber-technology inspired the design, conveying the optimism and strength that we need to overcome the pandemic,” he said.