Despite its (partly-justified) reputation as a commerce-driven city with a dearth of art and culture, the evolution of Dubai's socioeconomic landscape in recent years has given rise to a new demand for cultural spaces, in particular local galleries and contemporary art studios. Al Quoz district, once a bland industrial quarter on the fringes of the city, has been the unlikely epicenter of this awakening, with a vibrant art and design community sprouting up between the extant manufacturing estates.
The heart and catalyst of this regeneration is Alserkal Avenue, a private compound of warehouses previously part of a marble storage and processing facility. Alserkal Avenue, now home to the city’s trendiest cultural spots, with a multitude of creative spaces, contemporary galleries, museums and artist residences, inaugurated its expansion this year, doubling its previous size.
As part of the consulting services to design a permanent conceptual wayfinding experience that was installed later, PenguinCube was involved in creating a temporary seamless wayfinding system for the inauguration event. The aim was to encourage the flow of visitors from areas they were used to navigating toward the new expansion.
The key client objective was to make the new and old parts of the development appear seamless—to give the impression it had always been there as one greater whole. Members of the community had already been referring to the new spaces as “Phase II” or “new”; hence, the PenguinCube team decided any signage with text would further enhance this problem.
The team’s solution resulted in a minimalist, text-free design, which proved an instant hit with visitors and tenants alike. The human-scale arrows are made of mill-finish steel “L” channels and were assembled on site. The entire project, from design to delivery, took two weeks and was executed at very low cost.
Eight identical arrows were placed in key locations across the development between the existing spaces and the new spaces, providing clear, inviting visual clues to visitors to explore and roam around with minimal guidance.
The size and proportion of the arrows were calibrated to fit standard fluorescent light tubes, which were integrated into the steel to maintain a functional and prominent presence during night time. The lack of any design detailing and finishing—such as the grinding of welds and joints, paint finishes or coating—and the exposed wiring were an intentional design statement that emphasized the Al Quoz district’s industrial aesthetic.
Not only were these structures ideal for clear wayshowing, but they also caught the eye of Instagram users, hundreds of whom took photographs of the installation, transforming it into the object of a social media trend. Many visitors' comments indicated they considered the arrows themselves as art installations.
Though designed only for a single event, the arrows proved so popular that the client now deploys them whenever they have events at the development, referring to them as the “the gift that keeps on giving.”
"The minimalist and iconographic use of the arrows at this scale communicates direction to the visitors in the most simplistic way possible. Visitors are engaged the minute they encounter the first arrow and that experience continues throughout the wayfinding experience with the added social media trend as more visitors discover and capture the massive scale of the wayfinding system."
"The assignment called for temporary signage to help redirect visitors. The solution was unique, rough and vibrant—similar to the artistic district the arrows were placed in—creating an instantly iconic twist on directional signing."
Elsa Abi Aad (project design, supervision manager), Mia Azar (creative director), Tammam Yamout (project director)