Indy's Blog

June 29, 2012   Posted by: Indy

Desert Mirage

Desert Mirage
Tuesday June 26, 2012
by Rob Kirkbride

Courtesy of www.mmqb.com

In many ways, Dubai is a mirage. Is a shimmering reflection on what a city can be when determined leaders bring together business, architecture, bright young professionals and artists.

Most business travelers who visit this city will probably never stumble upon The Pavilion in Dubai, which is a shame, since this small oasis in the desert of retail gluttony near the Dubai Mall is equal parts art gallery, eatery and hub for many mobile workers in the area. Though I only spent a few hours in The Pavilion, I quickly realized there is much to be learned from how the arts and work can peacefully coexist and flourish. In fact, everything about The Pavilion is focused on the arts: It is dubbed as a contemporary art space providing a place to view, discuss and participate in works by local and international artists.

And yet it was filled with young professionals who apparently wanted to capture this creative buzz and instill it in their work. It was fascinating to see how the young professionals interacted.

Work was happening everywhere in the gallery, though most of the work was centered around a long wooden bench. Along the spine of the table was an overhead beam with LED lighting. The table was in constant use and all the young professionals were working on iPads, Mac Books and other high-end computer devices. A few pairs were using the space along the bench for meetings and some shared lunch. The Pavilion also has a full service restaurant.

There were three casual areas around the Pavilion. One was more open and contained lounge seating that was filled with 20-something and 30-something professionals, their laptops propped on their knees as they worked. Another casual area had small tables and booths, most being used for quick meetings. The third area was a meeting room, but instead of being shaped like a tradition office gathering space, it was shaped like a small, open home made of wood.

The Pavilion is a non-profit space developed by the Multidivional Group of Cultural Engineering as a unique hub for a diverse range of art events offering a platform to promote an active arts community to the public and to support the work of a raising generation of artists in the region.

It is designed to be a place for artistic discourse, research and education. The building itself includes two art galleries, restaurant, cinema, library, espresso bar, shisha cafe and lounge. There is a large blackboard on the wall that lists all of the upcoming events at the Pavilion as well.

One upcoming event is a Pecha Kucha night. Pecha Kucha originated in Japan and follows a format that allows each of the evening’s presenters to showcase 20 images – each shown for exactly 20 seconds. This gives the presenter 6 minutes and 40 seconds before switching over to the next participant. The quick and set pace of the format keeps interest flowing, momentum high and more opportunity for all presenters involved.

The Pavilion’s galleries are worth visiting as well. Sauce is a fashion and lifestyle concept boutique offering a curated mix of unique pieces by up-and-coming designers, contemporary labels and international favorites (including Mary Katrantzou, Alexander Wang, Roksanda Ilincic Tata Naka and Sacai), in addition to local designers, quirky lifestyle items and home interior accessories. The Third Line is an art gallery that represents contemporary Middle Eastern artists locally, regionally and internationally. Along with traditional gallery exhibitions, The Third Line also creates paths for dialogue between the artists and the public by organizing non-profit, alternative programs.

Created in 2007 as a centre for social studies, research and development, Traffic’s 10,000 square foot space serves as a platform for the curious. Other aspects of Traffic include an educational program, a bookstore and a ping-pong table.

The Pavilion also has a place to use bicycles and Segway scooters.

Though its roots are in the arts, The Pavilion, which is open from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. daily, has morphed into a creative space that includes more than just the fine arts. It is unclear whether the developer of the space, Emaar, the same that built Burj Khalifa and its surroundings, intended that The Pavilion become a co-worker center, but it has regardless.

It is a lesson developers of similar spaces in North America could emulate. Instead of trying to draw in business users, it might make sense to create an artistic center that other creatives are naturally attracted to.

Work takes another form at Ishtar Decor. If the Pavilion is the glitzy mirage found in Dubai’s wealthiest areas, Ishtar is the kind of company that keeps the city looking so great. It is a hybrid, of sorts, one part office furniture dealer and interior design house that does full turnkey fit-out and office finishings through its Poltrona Frau Group Design Center, Office Inspiration and Integrated Hospitality sourcing.

But the most interesting part of the business is found far from the world class skyscrapers, huge shopping malls and galleries in Dubai. Ishtar Decor has its own manufacturing plant in the Al Aweer Industrial Zone far outside the city. Few outsiders see Dubai’s industrial district, which is teeming with small manufacturers, car repair shops and warehouses.

Ishtar Decor is located in this dusty industrial maze that is found in the desert outside Dubai. Even those that have traveled into the industrial area many times find themselves hopelessly lost among the ratty hodgepodge of dusty gray buildings. And yet many who make furniture in North American would find something miraculous happening at Ishtar. Fine furnishings are being made using outdated equipment and relatively unskilled labor.

Ishtar Decor doesn’t make furniture, per se. It makes custom interior products and other items that support the furniture it does sell through its office furniture dealership, which operates as an independent part of the business. Mike Tokempash is the managing director of Ishtar Decor and has worked building Dubai since 1991. Tokempash is Iranian, though he is a British citizen who was trained as a civil engineer. “Making furniture is a different art,” he said, smoking a cigarette and drinking Turkish coffee from his office. “We would rather make one offs.”

Though his business has suffered as Dubai has gone through its most recent recession, he stays because of the potential in the market. He has no interest in going back to the UK and he is afraid to take his family back to Iran. “This place was the best of the two worlds,” he said.

Ishtar Decor specializes in making the small detail pieces needed to make everything come together. The company also is there to make sure all the pieces in an office work together. If items were shipped from a North American office furniture maker incorrectly, Ishtar makes the pieces work on site, building products that bridge the gaps, if necessary.

The company has been part of almost every major building project in Dubai. It created a 38 meter table for the Burj Al Arab, the city’s famous sail-shaped structure. It also built a custom cornish for the Mirage Hotel. All of the pieces came from the small workshop in the desert.

It is astonishing the level of quality of fit, finish and form Ishtar can manage from its humble workshop. The small plant often runs off a large generator in the parking lot since electricity can be scarce in this industrial zone. The landlord was going to charge him for taking two shipping containers off the property. Instead, Tokempash turned them into a workshop.

“This is what we have,” said Tokempash. “It isn’t much, but we can make beautiful products from here. We don’t cut corners; we take pride in what we do.”

Just like the rest of the world, work is changing and evolving here in Dubai. Despite the difficulties, companies like Ishtar find a way to make sublime products in less than ideal conditions. And groups of young workers are leaving the office for something more satisfying than the typical office, drawn to The Pavilion by the creative space and buzz.

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