With a foothold in the UAE and the UK, Lewis Adams is building a brand that celebrates the enduring appeal of handcrafted lasting leather goods that improve with age
With a critically acclaimed debut at last year’s Downtown Design, the Iraqi designer is one to watch on the Middle East design scene
The 2018 edition of Downtown Design, the region’s leading design fair, introduced a new section. Called Downtown Editions, it opened the doors to individual designers, collectives and studios from the region and beyond to connect with an international audience. Launching his eponymous brand with a new collection of marble furniture and accessories at the fair, Layth Mahdi offered a glimpse into the future of design that is “Made in the Middle East”.
Meshing digital modelling with custom scripted software and algorithms, the University of Michigan alumnus guided highly advanced seven-axis Kuka robots to mill stone in ways rarely achievable by man alone. The result is a body of work that writes a new chapter in the evolving creative vocabulary of the Middle East and is very much free of the pastiche of its past.
What inspired you to pursue a creative career?
Design has a greater impact on our lives than we might imagine. From our physical surroundings to the things we wear and buy, everything is embedded with design. From an early age I had this curiosity about the world around me. I was not only interested in how things were created, but more importantly in how they could have been enhanced.
This notion extends to my everyday life, as I find myself in constant need of creating things that make life better — from a functional aspect, or the more underrated but just as valuable perspective of adding beauty.
Before venturing into product design, you were a practicing architect. What prompted the shift?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions and I would like to set the record straight. I’m still a practicing architect —one who also enjoys designing products! On a personal level, I enjoy designing and making products because they are smaller, and faster to build than houses or other buildings.
I also think it’s stimulating for people in any creative stream to venture outside their bubble. For architects, working on different scales — urban planning, architecture, interiors and products — can be very enriching. Working with other disciplines has shown me that meaningful collaboration allows for collective learning, better results and a fun, creative process.
Please tell us a bit about your fascination with tech-aided design?
My fascination with digital technologies, especially robots and 3D printing, grew when I was the lead designer and fabricator of the CAAD Display Wall at the American University of Sharjah. This opportunity made me rethink the role of machines within the design industry. The idea of having very advanced additive, or subtractive, multi-axis machines that could really push the limitations of what is possible in terms of complex production is both astonishing and inspiring.
What is the concept behind your award-winning debut collection, Ripple?
I’ve always wanted to create a brand that would diffuse the boundaries between design, technology and material science. Last year, I was working as a robotic fellow researcher at the Quarra Stone Company Robotic Lab in the US, developing new methods of stone fabrication, when the idea of Ripple took hold. Having access to these fantastic stone resources and robots around me inspired me to do something different. The aim was to take something solid, heavy and rigid such as stone, and through technology transform it into something light and organic yet elegant and characterful.
In your opinion, what has been the turning point for the Middle Eastern design scene?
In recent years, design has become an integral part of our social fabric. Be it the contribution of government bodies such as Dubai Design District, or events like Downtown Design and Dubai Design Week, there is a wider, more inclusive, dialogue on design in the region. This, coupled with globalisation, has led to a more contemporary voice — one that has found a greater following locally and is also being acknowledged internationally.
When it comes to man versus machine, what do you feel lies in the future of design?
I believe the future is collaborative. Humans can do certain things perfectly, while robots are designed to do other tasks better, faster and more accurate. They both have their own skills and limitations. A collaboration between the two opens up creative opportunities and sets aside many limitations. Technology is driving almost everything around us.
We live in a time of creativity and transition, when the average person has more access to data than ever before. I firmly believe that the next industrial revolution will be digital, and that design will be driven by technology. It will be more effective, more intelligent and more diverse.
Technology is advancing faster than ever before. It’s interesting, frightening and inspiring at the same time. In any case, we’re on the eve of great changes.
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