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Going spaces
by Muhammad Yusuf January 11, 2018
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Sharjah-based Fikra Design Studio has announced the opening of “Fikra Campus” (FC), the first space of its kind to include a design studio, a co-working space, a cafe, design shop, library and an experimental gallery space that altogether pioneer a year-long cultural and educational programme.

FC is located in the iconic Gibca Building, Al Wahda Street, and is open to the public from Sunday to Thursday, 8 am -10 pm. It is accepting applications for memberships right now. Fikra is a global award-winning multidisciplinary design organisation and is a catalyst that encourages an investigative and research-based approach to design.

Commenting on the new initiative, Sheikh Salem Al-Qassimi, Principal and Founder, Fikra, said:  “The formation of this project stems from the legacy of Fikra Design Studio over the last 11 years of continuously pushing the boundaries of design while incorporating a deeper understanding of culture in the visual communication sphere.

“The urge to initiate a creative space that fosters community engagement, cross-disciplinary exchange and cultural production was remarkably compelling and an obvious step for the design studio to take”.

FC’s opening also sees the inaugural of its first exhibition titled “Making a Space”, which presents the making of FC — a design project that aims for the development of a physical and intellectual space. Curated by Al-Qassimi, it displays the process of planning, designing and developing the campus from within the finished space and traces its evolution, looking much beyond the mere handover of a design.

Fikra has also announced its first design-residency programme in Sharjah. It is an annual design residency calendar aimed at international and regional designers who seek to conduct design research and delve into an experimental process of creation.

It is designed to encourage the production of new work and engage in intellectual discourse relating to contemporary design practice and visual culture. Completed work will be displayed in the gallery space.

Founded in 2006 in Sharjah, Fikra started as a multidisciplinary design studio that specialises in bilingual art direction, branding, publication design, web design, exhibition design and curation.

FC’s modular expanse is multi-purpose: it can hold events, workshops, panel discussions, film screening, summer programmes and thematic exhibitions.

“We will promote design led by research and vice versa”, said Al-Qassimi. “We hope to bring together critics, mentors, and even poets, artists and engineers, and provide a platform to all those who are involved in creating design ecology. We will look at knowledge through the lens of design, with a multi disciplinary approach. We intend to illuminate the learning process”.

During a media tour, he pointed out that the space is placed within a community setting. A quick look at the library – since the concept of the campus revolves around knowledge – showed that FC has covered almost all bases connected to design.

Books available there include titles on exhibitions; design, plus interactive design; curation; catalogues; art; theory; research; data; design education; manuals; guides; animation; photography; branding and identity; illustration; graphic novels; print and book making; architecture; typography; spatial design and also rare books.    

“Design is maturing in the region”, Al-Qassimi said. “So there is work to do! We have to produce education tailored for this region: that is the goal of Fikra Campus”.

He called for design that is culturally relevant and something that fits geography. “We will learn not in a university, but in an informal environment”, he said. He said that the space did not come abstractedly, but through long deliberation. “It is a coming together of many ideas”, he said.

He laid great emphasis on contextually relevant study and practical ideas. It is not only design theory that the campus will deal with but it will also allow designers “to experience their profession through the lens of design”, he said.

He said that though there was a “members only” area, the focus was firmly on the general public. He felt there was high potential in the lay public, which could be shaped into a support system for design.  “Our space is where the larger community can discuss design”, he said.     

There is a meeting room for members and also a rooftop space, which will be opened for outdoor presentations and talks. “We want to help design entrepreneurship”, Al-Qassimi said. “So we also have provision for start-up labs. We have reduced rents and made them affordable so more people can be involved”.

Al-Qassimi is a multidisciplinary graphic designer and entrepreneur. He is currently serving as an Assistant Professor of Design at American University of Sharjah (AUS), College of Architecture, Art and Design.

He studied Multimedia Design at AUS, earning an MFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). After working in various companies in the UAE and abroad, he founded Fikra Design Studio in 2006 – which has won many awards through its multidisciplinary efforts.

He has participated in several exhibitions both in the UAE and abroad, and has published numerous articles, reviews and essays on Arabic typography, culture and design. He has also won several international awards, namely, the Type Directors Club (TDC), the Young Creative Entrepreneur Award by the British Council, protoType at Typecon2016, ShjSeen Startup Award, and has been featured in Forbes Middle East ranking list “The Leading Young Entrepreneurs in the UAE”.

Cool designs for hot changes

From cities to small towns to suburban corridors, innovation spaces are transforming the landscape. Over the past 10 years, these spaces — such as research institutes, incubators, accelerators, innovation centres, co-working spaces, start-up spaces and more — have grown at a considerable pace across the globe.

Yet what easily gets missed is that these innovation spaces are physical manifestations of broader economic, cultural and demographic forces, elevating what matters in today’s economy.

The ambition to remain cutting edge has driven leaders of industry, and their architects, down the path of creative experimentation in design. In doing so …. design have embodied a shift away from ‘style’ and more toward embracing core values aimed to help people flourish under new economic and demographic conditions.

Increasingly, architects and designers are tasked to redesign spaces to do more than simply house innovation-oriented activities. Their goals are also to “create communities,” “facilitate collaboration” and “create serendipitous encounters”.

Through design, architects and business leaders are essentially being asked to re-wire the social, if not organisational culture, as much as to adhere to strict building codes.

- Julie Wagner and Dan Watch, Brookings Institution.

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