More and more, communities are looking at what’s less and less. As a region, consumers in the Middle East are becoming increasingly socially aware. They respond to and form an affinity with responsible brands. We see companies and enterprises pivoting, recognizing their role in creating a sustainable future, becoming social champions, and looking at the bigger picture.
In Saudi Arabia, sustainability is deemed one of the objectives thoughtfully considered in all projects related to the 2030 vision. The UAE has sustainable development listed as one of its key goals for 2021. For both these nations, there is recognition that a creative economy will play a vital role in either’s success.
Grassroot creatives are not excluded from this set, and in recent years, with economic, social, and environmental issues coming to light—the question, “What can designers do?” particularly in the region has arise. We spoke to Shepherd Studio, a young design firm in Bahrain, and according to them, tackling Sustainability in Design is not just a topic of consideration but a necessary element that should guide creative producers:
“Given the Middle East’s positive added value to its urban fabric through new developments and innovations, positive and negative impacts result from the creation of such infrastructure. From project ideation to completion, there is a need to consider the impacts that would sprout out and affect our social, cultural, and environmental paradigms. As our studio is keen on adding value through design, we believe that sustainability acts as a spine that would complement our design process, and thus helping us actualize the possibilities of design through logical, analytical, and rational inquiry.”
“Therefore, we believe that sustainability should be addressed in the project ideation stage, from the design of a water bottle to a mixed-use development on a waterfront. Material guidelines, environmental simulations, and surveys would help designers have a better-studied design. As such, this makes a design a response, rather than an idea.”
Creating lasting impact when it comes to sustainability in design requires opening up channels for dialogue between different practitioners. However, at times, this maybe easier said than done, without a platform to connect. As Shepherd Studio shared with us, a common struggle for designers in the Middle East is project initiation and communication:
“As a relatively young studio situated in the Kingdom of Bahrain, we see a trend in a well-informed generation of designers who have the capability to propose fairly innovative design solutions, however much have been discredited as a result of insufficient communication channels. Collaborative exchange is also another concern that is a consequence of the communication. There is a need to celebrate our cultural ethos, and remember that our nomadic nature had grown through collaboration.”
“This can be resolved through design forecasting and embracing collaboration; the design community is in need of cultural dialogue and exchange, and to also widen their respected design discipline to other professions.”
One such hub for creative exchange, collaborations, and conversations is Saudi Design Week, the first and premier design festival in Saudi Arabia. In its fifth edition, SDW will delve into the notion of Sustainability in Design. This year’s theme will be explored through the Design Forum, an exhibition, workshops, and design installations like that of Shepherd Studio’s, entitled, <mat.
“Our proposed design is an interpretation of the Islamic prayer mat. The project aims to demonstrate our design development in adding value to the current design through our transdisciplinary design process, reducing the excess material of the existing prayer mat model and leaving only the points of contact between the mat and the user. As such, this guides the user to the correct positioning of prayer, and to ponder on the notion of consumption and sustainability as a social/environmental responsibility.”
With sustainability part of the global agenda, it’s imperative for the region not to get lost in translation. Hence, Saudi Design Week 2018 is hosting the conversation, so visionaries, enterprises, creative professionals can show why great design needs to be “good” design.
Words by Saudi Design Week
Images by Muzna Qamar & Abdulmajeed AlRodan