By Catherine Belbin

UAE-based Spanish architect, urban planner and university professor Juan Roldán was recently appointed as curator of the Spanish Pavilion – ‘Interiors of Spain’, which will be one of the focal attractions of Downtown Design 2021He shares his design thoughts with Downtown Design in this Q&A interview.


Q:What will be displayed in the official Spanish Pavilion?

A: Eight Spanish companies have been shortlisted whose products reflect the variety and quality of Spanish design. These include: Boln, Cosentino, Kriskadecor, Lladró, nanimarquina, Nomon, RS Barcelona and Sol&Luna.

They will be given equal exposure in a unified space under the ‘Interiors from Spain’ umbrella.

The aim is to promote these companies and their products in the region; the space will be a meeting point for attendees.

Q: What’s the inspiration for the Spanish Pavilion?

A:The pavilion is being designed with a sustainable approach. The inspiration for the pavilion comes from many sources, including Enrique Pujana, 

Q: What’s the key to creating a high-impact temporary structure?

A: It is essential to consider how the design can stand out, without shouting, and properly communicate its contents. The correct balance between spatial design, graphics and light is the key to achieve that success.

Q: What are the major changes that you’ve seen in the approach to regional design and architecture?

A: Over the past ten years, a new design and architectural landscape has emerged. High-quality work – notably from a mature generation of designers with a deeper understanding of the Gulf's historical context – has become part of the region's cultural and social tissue. There’s a growing awareness of a distinctive and contemporary approach to design as a way of delivering social, cultural and economic added value. Thirdly, education has become the transversal element that articulates critical thinking in future design in the region.

Q: As an educator, how important is architecture to the identity of a country and its people?

A: It is simply essential. The fast pace of growth in the UAE has shaped the skyline. Students have recently developed a sense of critical thinking, with increased sensitivity for heritage and the landscape. The UAE offers incredible opportunities to students and young professionals.

Q: You’re influenced by Achille Castiglioni. What is it about his work that impacts you the most?

A: A visit to the Achille Castiglione Foundation in Milan confirmed many things I had studied on this amazing generation of Italian designers; not only Castiglione but also Bruno Munari or Enzo Mari, who designed with the restrictions of a post-war period, making the most from very little, with imagination and the most important element of their design attitude: humour.

Q: Why are you so fascinated by interior and product design?

A: I trained as an architect and urban planner, and I’ve enjoyed that part of my professional life since 2002. Architecture tends to pomposity and excess seriousness.Product and interior design have the power of transmitting moods – humour included. That is something compelling and very engaging.

Juan Roldan, sitting on one of his ‘Second Life’ chairs made from scrap birch plywood.

Q:How would you describe your style?

A: I like to think that design is not about style or pre-determined recipes; every project is a blank slate, crafted by the client's needs, budget and situation. By clearly understanding the restrictions of a design project, you can articulate the parameters of freedom to reach a good design solution.

Q: What other projects are you currently working on?

On an academic level, I’m working on a couple of collaborations for Expo 2020. As a personal project, I’m developing a new modular furniture series as part of an open code initiative.

Q: Locally based designers are being commissioned by global brands. How important is this to the evolution of design here?

A:Think about the scale of Dubai: it's not a huge city, but the amount of quality design that is being produced is growing exponentially. Our small-scale design community gives us a melting pot for collaborations that increase the density of that creative tissue.

Q: What are you most looking forward to seeing at Expo?

A:I hope it creates the opportunity to showcase the quality produced in the UAE, erasing many preconceptions about design and architecture from the region.