Down to business

Regional office design industry on show.

Eames Demetrios
Eames Demetrios

Regional office design industry on show.

Timed to coincide with the start of many annual tender processes and the launch of new marketing campaigns, the Office Exhibition, which took place in Dubai in early February, illustrated the growing importance of office design in the region.

The show was opened in the presence of HH Sheikh Hanyf Hassan, Minister of Education for the UAE, featured more than 250 exhibitors and attracted what a number of them described as ‘high-quality visitors'. It also proved to be an influential showcase for the international and local suppliers vying for visitors' attention.

"A lot of strategic thought went into planning the events at this year's exhibition," said Paula Al Chami, director of Office Exhibition 2008. "As the organisers, we have seen this event grow in size and stature over the years, and are overwhelmed by the response to this year's show."


As this was the first year that the Office Exhibition was run as a stand-alone event, exhibitors noticed a change in the way office design is perceived, with the type of visitors reflecting the growing importance of office design.

"We noticed an increasing awareness of the benefits of a well designed office," said Cathy Beasley, marketing communications manager for CitySpace. "It was really good to see more end-users, such as facilities managers, coming through.

The message [about office design] is starting to spread to those who can really benefit from the knowledge.

"The quality of visitors and the exhibition itself was very professional," she said. "We had double the number of delegates at our seminars, compared to last year."

Suppliers of products and services were also measuring the show's success by quality.

"We thought the show was great," said Shahriar Khodjasteh, general manager of Officeland, the show's single largest exhibitor.

"The Office Exhibition is one of the most important annual events for us, bringing together the industry's key players and decision makers from across the region.

"It was very successful for us and showed that separating it from the Hotel Show was a good idea and that it can stand on its own feet. Although it wasn't packed, the people who were there were good quality."

Officeland used the show to promote its office interiors, as well as showcase corporate flooring products from Shaw Contract and Masland Contract.

Herman Miller, now represented in the region by Advanced Business Concept, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the world's first open-plan furniture system, Action Office, designed by Robert Propst in the 1960s, at the show.

Propst developed the original Action Office system as a series of components that could be combined and recombined to become whatever an office needs over time and that could adapt to aesthetic changes, now and in the future. More than 30 years later, there is continuing demand for the Action Office system.

Herman Miller also launched three new product ranges at the show, including Caucus and Tablet from Geiger, and Tradex, a desk product developed specifically for applications in financial markets.

Danish company Howe followed up its debut at last year's show with another appearance aimed at promoting its own particular brand of ‘clean, modern and elegant' design.

Howe shared its stand with the Danish carpet company Ege Carpets and went with an all white colour scheme, apart from a few coloured versions of its 40/4 chair. It also show cased its table designs, Tutor and Simpla, from British designer John Bollen.

Another international exhibitor was Royal Ahrend. Although it calls itself the ‘Dutch Design' furniture brand, it has a strong local association with Summertown Interiors. The company highlighted the theme of ‘Your Personal Space: where home and work, domestic and office furniture merge together'.

The partnership between Summertown Interiors and Royal Ahrend emphasises the creation of ‘productive working environments' and the provision of ‘complete turnkey solutions'. Royal Ahrend was also invited to take part in the seminar programme, with marketing manager Marc van Zoelen speaking on the subject of corporate social responsibility.


The show helped fire debate about the role of design in the office space. A series of speakers discussed aspects of office design at the Workplace Freedom seminars, organised by CitySpace. The seminars kicked off with a keynote address from Eames Demetrios, grandson of Charles and Ray Eames, and director of the Eames office.

The iconic design pair were responsible for many famous designs during the 20th century, including a large range of chairs still in production through Vitra. Demetrios spoke about the design legacy left by his grandparents and the lasting importance of some of their central ideas, marking the 100th year since Charles Eames' birth.

"My grandparents believed that the role of the designer or architect is essentially that of a good host, who needs to anticipate the needs of the guest," said Demetrios.

The guest/host idea conveys the notion that if someone is in your place, you have a certain responsibility to take care of them. The cool thing about the guest host relationship is that every culture has it.

This is an idea that can be conveyed in office design, where a company has a responsibility to look after its employees and designers have a responsibility to help facilitate that care.

The increased presence of facilities managers at the Office Exhibition shows that greater attention is being paid to the immediate needs of the end-user. Demetrios also stressed a theme of continuous improvement over innovation.

"[Charles and Ray] were always trying to make things better," he said. "Design, as Charles and Ray practised it, is something where you go through a process and come up with better and better answers.

Charles used to say the extent to which you have a design style is the extent to which you have not solved the design problem; style and design are not synonymous.

"They believed in innovation as a last resort, why change things, when you can put energy into things that really need solving. Design has become associated with innovation for its own sake.

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