UAE’s small and mid-size design agencies are putting regional context at the forefront of their creative concepts.

As a growing regional design community makes itself heard in the local architecture and interiors scene, it is opening doors to a realization amongst the clients and end-users that the Middle East offers a very rich context to work with.

“Now we find that clients are able to identify good design that is homegrown and that is created and designed by local architects and designers,” says Tarik Al Zaharna, Founder and Director of Dubai-based T.Zed Architects, and one of the subjects of Downtown Design’s Voices of Design shorts. “That, in turn, gives us the confidence to further explore our heritage and the local context to develop design solutions that truly resonate.”

Tarik’s belief is evident in his studio’s nuanced approach to the design of KOA Canvas, a unique residential development in Dubai’s Al Barari district. The development offers a solution for those looking for a residence that could serve as a retreat, double up as a place where the grandkids could grow and potentially even have an office. Utilizing indigenous plantation and materials to great impact, the project’s programme offers a contemporary solution to the regional way of life.

For Pallavi Dean, Founder of the award-winning studio ROAR, it was her memories of Sharjah in the 1980s that inspired the creative approach for Al Rawi, a destination for the Emirate’s creative community to work and play located by the corniche. “As a kid I used to go to the Sharjah Expo, a red and white pavilion not far from the site, to tank up on books,” she recalls. “I thought it was befitting that Al Rawi’s interiors be inspired by books and our relationship with them.” Bespoke elements that evoke memories of a good read dot the venue. From the woven texture of the handrail inspired by the stitch that binds books, to a wire-frame installation depicting an open book suspended from the ceiling and custom-made tables with calligraphic design — the multitasking space honours the client brief while reflecting Sharjah’s literary heritage and the designers’ own memories of her childhood.

Jonathan Ashmore of the Dubai and London based studio Anarchitect recently unveiled his latest hospitality project; Al Faya Lodge, a five-room boutique hotel housed in a pair of buildings that were once a grocery store and a clinic in the Sharjah desert. The refurbished low-lying structure that sits at the foothills of Mount Alvaah features rust coloured weathered steel, echoing the rich deposits of iron ore in the area. A material palette inspired by the sun-beaten location - locally sourced concrete and stone, alongside granite, travertine and hardwood – highlights the new architectural interventions. With its strong visual language, the lodge contradicts and blends with its landscape, all at once.