Foster + Partners picked to inject some Shoreditch edge in Dubai

Dubai authorities have chosen a Foster + Partners design for a new quarter they hope will incubate a hip new creative scene in the city.

Covering a million square feet, the "Creative Community" neighbourhood is intended to foster the artistic vibrancy of places like New York’s Meatpacking District and East London’s Shoreditch, which evolved over years thanks to cheap rents amid declining industrial activity.

It felt like a new chapter in Dubai was unraveling before our eyes– Hind Mezaina, photographer and blogger

The area (artist’s render pictured) is expected to open in 2017, providing an incubator for emerging local designers and artists, plus space for art galleries and studios.

In 2013 the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid al Maktoum, called for the creation of a purpose-built district called Dubai Design District (d3) to nurture local design talent.

Foster + Partners won the job of masterplanning d3 and says the Creative Community will be its "thriving cultural epicentre", "inspiring emerging designers and artists, and attracting visitors to the area".

As ever with Dubai, there is a business angle. The backers of d3 believe the Middle Eastern design industry is a growing part of the region’s economy, worth around $2.3bn in 2014, d3 says on its website.

The Creative Community will be "a dedicated destination for all things design, fashion, art and luxury", said d3’s chief operating officer, Mohammad Al Shehhi, a young former executive in Dubai’s broadcasting industry.

Foster + Partners sought inspiration by visiting leading design destinations around the world, including New York’s Meatpacking District and East London’s Shoreditch, "to better understand the core ingredients that make them popular and relevant". 

Creativity killed off

But have they missed the boat with Shoreditch?

A lecturer in fine art at Goldsmiths, University of London, Benedict Seymour has said that the creative pulse of Shoreditch was a victim of its own success because, once it became known as the locus of a ‘scene’, in came the gentrifiers.

Urban texture of Shoreditch, London, 2012 (James Petts/Wikimedia Commons)

"While the area now hosts bluechip art galleries formerly based in the West End," he wrote in the journal Variant, in 2004, "the initial ‘cultural’ elements that gave the area its charisma of community and experiment have mostly been killed off, priced out by rising rents, and supplanted by expensive apartments and culinary distractions".

Nevertheless, d3’s Al Shehhi said that the lesson from its "extensive research and fact finding" was that affordability of space was one of the key ingredients of a thriving design hub.

One local commentator is hoping to be convinced that it will work.

"For the past couple of years, Dubai Design District has been a bit of an abstract concept," wrote photographer and blogger, Hind Mezaina, on the d3 website.

"I’d drive by it almost daily, seeing it rise, but not sure who will move in, what will this district’s added value to the city and its people."

But after a three-day open house at d3 last month, she said: "It felt like a new chapter in Dubai was unraveling before our eyes. It felt like a new space for the creative community."

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