One For The Table
November saw Downtown Design take place – an important platform for the region’s trade professionals to discover global designs. At the show, the frst edition of the ‘Italian Way Product Design Award’ in the UAE was launched as a way of bringing together Eastern and Western culture in the form of product design.

The competition called for established and budding designers to design an object that would work for the dining requirements of a typical Arab home, all the while accenting Italian craftsmanship as well.

The designs were judged by a panel of experts and the winners – dynamic duo Felix Trunk from Germany and Jozef Hendricks from Holland – scooped the honours. They were awarded a trophy designed exclusively by Ana Magarida D’Castro, founder of BIA Architecture.

Their design, a table, drew inspiration from the UAE’s desert landscape. Oasis Living caught up with the creative pair for a chat on their winning project.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR DESIGN BACKGROUND

Felix: I studied product design in London and have since worked with several luxury brands such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton. Now though, I’m a creative director for an international design agency in Dubai, and have been for the past four years. I work on a wide range of projects for many luxury brands here as well, basically designing anything from retail spaces to furniture, products, and packaging.

Jozef: I have a background in engineering and a fascination with lights. For the past eight years, I’ve been the creative director of Studio HID in Abu Dhabi – designing, managing, and building custom designs with a focus on chandeliers and large interactive light installations. Currently, I’m working on an interactive solar powered light installation to set in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Park. It’s called ‘Tree of Light’.

WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN DESIGN?

Felix: I guess it really started very early. From building sandcastles and playing with Lego, having a curious mind and questioning how things worked and why they were there - we just understood later that that was called design and we could make that our profession.

Jozef: Playing with ideas and objects is still what we do now, just with bigger tools and of course in a more refned and grown-up way.

HOW DID YOU COME TO HEAR OF THE ITALIAN WAY PRODUCT DESIGN AWARD?

Felix: A friend of Jozef’s told him about the competition and since we’ve always wanted to work together on a project, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

Jozef: The brief sounded interesting and our team-up worked out well thanks to our understanding of each other coupled with our different skill sets.

HOW DID THE TWO OF YOU MEET? WAS IT THROUGH A DESIGNING EVENT?

Jozef: No, actually we met playing frisbee in Safa Park three years ago!

TELL US ABOUT THE THOUGHT PROCESS BEHIND YOUR DESIGN – HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CONCEPT?

Felix: As both the Arabic and the Italian cultures cherish hospitality and feature an extensive culture around food, our aim was to choose an object that brings people together to share stories and focus on commonalities rather than differences.

ozef: In the search for cultural context Felix recalled the Arabic saying used when welcoming guests into the home, "ahlan wa sahlan" which directly translates to “welcome to my dune”. We chose to literally translate this into the shape of our design.

Felix: Dunes are shaped purely by natural forces and are in constant motion, never standing still and constantly changing. We would like to take a snapshot of this and freeze it in time. The general idea then is to design a system rather than the shape directly. We propose to 3D scan actual dunes by using flying drones with LADAR scanners. The resulting 3D point cloud information will then be turned into the surface of the table. This could be customised for any client who could pick a place of signifcance to them or could pick dune shapes of personal preference.

Jozef: To enhance the concept of connecting Italian and Emirati cultures, we decided to use one traditional material from each country. Italy’s famed marble for the base juxtaposed with warm brass from the UAE for the oval plates. The plates have controlled geometric shapes, contrasting the organic lines of the dunes, and feature ftted impressions on the bottom that make them sit naturally on the peaks. While researching, we also came across a number of interesting fndings such as the importance of seating arrangement for guests. And the number seven is also of signifcance in Islam such as there are seven verses in the frst surah in the Qur’an and during the rituals of Hajj, pilgrims walk around the Kaa’ba seven times. Therefore, we wanted to express this by positioning seven dishes floating on the surface.

WHAT MAKES YOUR DESIGN FUNCTIONAL?

Felix: We discussed the idea extensively with Emirati friends, who told us about the usual seating arrangements and the traditional rituals around local food culture. This is something we wanted to respect and reflect in every decision we took.

Jozef: So, we went ahead and prototyped the general height dimensions and layout by sitting on the floor and using plates on stacks of books. This was done to test the ergonomics of taking the food from the centre while not obstructing the line of sight between the guests. We also found raising the base platform will improve the overall ergonomics while not compromising on any aspect of the ritual.

DID YOU CONSIDER MAKING ANY OTHER DESIGN FOR THE COMPETITION?

Jozef: Yes, of course. We explored a whole range of conceptual spaces and objects, then weighed up the benefts of each and concluded that we should risk submitting the biggest and costliest one as we found it the most innovative as well as the one which answered the brief in the most direct way.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WINNING THE COMPETITION?

Felix: It feels fantastic for several reasons really. For one, we are really looking forward to making the table and turning our vision to reality using tools and processes that we’ve wanted to work with for a very long time. And it's especially encouraging to work on more speculative projects and more self-initiated work that resonates with people.

WHAT OPPORTUNITIES HAS THIS ACHIEVEMENT OPENED FOR YOU?

Jozef: It has opened new doors and connected us to more like-minded people. We are especially looking forward to displaying the table next year at Downtown Design.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?

Felix: I want to continue to work for big brands as well as for myself. I also plan on starting a furniture and lighting project which mixes ancient ways of manufacturing and contemporary design as I enjoy using opposing, almost contradictory, approaches of computational design and very analog traditional manufacturing techniques that are on the verge of dying out.

Jozef: We would like to continue to work together on more conceptual projects of this magnitude as this was a very interesting combination of skills and thought processes. Personally though, I’m always looking for new and exciting design challenges that will take interactive and sustainable design to the next level.
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