Reality in an Unreal Context

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Stella Hernandez, Faculty, Environmental Design December 13, 2017

One of the interesting facts I learned while visiting Dubai was the way in which people from around the world come here to be part of such a unique global urban experience. “Design Week 2017” took place in this diverse and innovative city full of ambitious architectural projects.

The event featured international and local designers and offered a platform for the flourishing design community in the United Arab Emirates. Within the frame of this event, the “Global Grad Show” exhibition was set up to highlight some of the most innovative design projects from students around the world. We were honored to be part of this event presenting the “Healing Tree” project and featuring the great work done by our students in the Safe Niños studio.

The show opened an interesting dialogue within the local design community and with international visitors around the topics used to select the projects in this student exhibit: Connect, Empower and Sustain. In a city that houses many of the most important design firms in the world and that generates some of the most sumptuous and high priced projects, it is stimulating and contentious at the same time to see new generations of designers focusing on topics that use empathy and sustainability as the main design drivers. How to empower people with limited health care or resources, how to connect communities and people with disabilities or how to embrace sustainable local practices that make a global impact, were some of the questions tackled by the students and their projects.

Two of the keynote presenters at Design week addressed topics showing how empathic and sustainable practices can balance the power of innovation and adaptation to global needs. Swiss inventor Elmar Mock (one of the creators of the Swatch) opened a very interesting discussion about creative practices and what he calls “Reinvention versus Renovation”: when we renovate we look for an evolution of what exists but when we reinvent we are truly innovating. Italian architect Mario Cucinella presented a very interesting dialogue and examples on how design should provide appropriate responses to create harmony between environment and cultural context.

Both of these talks and seeing the talented work presented by the students at the Global Grad show gave me the opportunity to reflect about the relevant topics we should take on as designers and the learning strategies that we need to use to respond to all these changes in the world. Just like in recent years, the exuberant city of Dubai has seen the need to make changes and become somewhat more conscientious about the environment and its heritage. Design practices should be open to create and reinvent, offering new opportunities for new world challenges. It has been very inspiring to see within the frame of this city, so many young and talented design students from around the world gathering together to show how design can transform life globally and make us more conscious about real people, with real needs to address, and a real environment to care for.

Stella Hernandez holds a B.S., from ArtCenter College of Design and a B.A.,  from Xavier University Bogota, Colombia. She is an industrial and environmental Designer and the owner of StellaH Design.