Can Design Education Help Position Dubai As The Design Capital Of The World?
The Middle Eastern megapolis is betting a better tomorrow on the launch of its Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation
Though owners of the Middle East’s most diversified economy—its oil revenue makes up about 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product—Dubai is as much a victim of reality as the rest of us, no matter how much the megapolis might seem like a lucid dream. Brexit, regional economic lag, and tumbling currencies worldwide have started to nag the metropolis’ prosperity. And so, the city is broadening its economic base, doubling down on both design and innovation, with design education serving as the intersection of this emerging Venn diagram. The Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), announced during this year’s Dubai Design Week, will be erected to meet that intersection and the MENA region’s design needs, part of a market valued at $100 billion as of 2014.
To say that the UAE’s development plans are ambitious is on par with saying that the Burj Khalifa is a skyscraper: it’s home to the world’s tallest man-made structure and hotels, its largest flower garden, largest indoor theme park and largest shopping mall. Plus there are plans to build the world’s largest underwater hotel and ferris wheel there as well. And none of this even considers other developmental wonders like the first 3D-printed office building, rumblings of the planet’s largest concentrated solar power plant, the purpose-built Dubai Opera, attractions like the Burj Al-Arab, Palm Jumeirah, and the Khalifa itself, and industry havens like Dubai Design District (d3).
As the DIDI team tells us,
“Design is critical to achieving these [development] goals, as it sits at the core of effective strategy and change.”
d3 will come to serve as DIDI’s creative home base. This means that the institute’s student body, expected to number at 550 bright minds, will share the pavement with the likes of Hugo Boss, PUMA, IBM Middle East, and Foster + Partners, the architecture firm behind the 100,000-square-foot campus’ design. Therefore, those learning under the wing of the institute will be in direct line for real-world mentorship and employment opportunities. And those will be many.
DIDI is being launched to meet the region’s blossoming design requirements, after the MENA Design Education Outlook, a report commissioned by the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC), pinpointed a need for 30,000 regional designers by 2019.
As DIDI tells us, it “is focused on attracting top talent from the region and nurturing, mentoring and creating the next generation of designers.” Their aim?
“To build a platform which would provide the right opportunities and the tools for regional talent to create and craft a better tomorrow.”
After taking in the report’s findings, “plans to launch DIDI were put in place, and in order to ensure that the curriculum truly catered to the needs to the region’s burgeoning design talents, DIDI sought to gain insights from world-class education institutes.”
Who are those world-class education institutes? None other than Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and The New School’s Parsons School of Design (Parsons).
But, as a reference point, Parsons boasts an enrollment of 5,854 people (these are 2015 numbers). Despite world-class mentorship, it bears asking how the institute intends to meet the region’s lofty designer numbers, in about two years time no less, with such low enrollment numbers? (With the first intake of would-be designers and innovators scheduled for fall of 2018—for what will be a four-year program—the timing certainly isn’t in the school’s favor).
Something the institute is acutely aware of:
‘While DIDI is being launched with a view to meet the region’s design requirements, we are simultaneously collaborating with design institutions and universities in the region to encourage and support them with the development of their design programs. With the growth of the design education sector, the region’s requirements for 30,000 designers can be met one step at a time.”
For its part, DIDI believes that regional needs cannot be met if next-gen designers aren’t skilled enough to meet the demands of a fluid and volatile future, and that can only happen when a world-class curriculum is designed in a way that reflects that. And so, it has “developed a first-of- its-kind curriculum aimed to empower students to design their own four-year educational journey, culminating in the region’s first Bachelor of Design degree with cross concentrations in Product Design, Strategic Design Management, Media, Visual Art and Fashion Design.”
“The flexibility of the system DIDI has developed allows students to choose from a variety of combinations—enabling many more possibilities and guaranteeing more rounded and future-ready graduates. As such, DIDI is grounded in an ambition to develop the next generation of this region’s designers, and nurture the creative minds that will drive its innovation and growth from within.”
Even more impressively, DIDI’s educational structure, which prides itself on being non-traditional, will also ensure a low student-to-teacher ratio of 17-to-1.
The architecture itself will be an extension of the university’s education ethos. For example, a staircase at the center of the building will link all six of the institute’s floors, ensuring the whole of the student body can converge for studying, socializing, and innovating in a communal capacity.
But can one design education institute, no matter how state-of-the-art, how well-connected, how well thought-out, how well-positioned, be enough to position Dubai with the the Helsinkis, Bilbaos, Berlins, Londons, and New York Cities of the world? No one knows.
Nestled in a pocket of the globe that faces dire habitability concerns, hard-pressed to make sustainability a part of not just its now but of its tomorrow, Dubai uniquely understands what is at stake and what becomes possible when design education is used “as a positive lever for the sustainable growth of [an] industry.”
DIDI reminds, “Some of the key findings highlighted in the study were the shortage of dedicated design education facilities and design education offerings, and the low awareness among students of design courses currently available, in addition to the need for educators to offer courses that were more suited to the needs of the industry.” Depending on how successful DIDI becomes in its mission, those findings might not only come to guarantee us a better MENA region but a better world to boot.