Creative Fuel at Colab’s Material Library
Where do you look for inspiration? Richard Wilson, the founder of Colab, believes you can find it at the library—specifically, a material library built to showcase products and trends from around the world. We chatted with him about the creative potential of bringing suppliers, designers, and other creators together to collaborate, whether in-person or in digital spaces of the future.
Colab takes “material library” to a whole new level–tell us more about that!
Colab is the first purpose-built material library in the UAE. Located in the Dubai Design District (d3), the space operates as a material library and inspiration and learning center. Our aim is to elevate design across the region by offering a platform to showcase the latest materials and design trends from across the globe whilst highlighting excellence in regional design. Colab also serves as a gallery, event and activation space, and networking hub to bring the entire creative community together.
We’ve been open since early 2019, and the response has been very good. We aim to serve as a resource for the A+D community here in Dubai and the wider Middle East. Our goal is to help throw the spotlight on new and innovative materials. More importantly, we have no commercial interest or relationship with the material suppliers we display.
So, the space takes many shapes… Spanning from a networking hub to the most gorgeous gallery, which form most excites you?!
I think it’s the networking and connections that Colab has been able to facilitate that excite me most. Bridging that divide between specifier and supplier, getting designers to work and collaborate with other creative and like-minded professionals that they perhaps wouldn’t traditionally work with, and seeing ideas originating and taking shape within Colab has been extremely fulfilling.
Creativity and innovation are integral to Colab’s mission, what’s something you do personally to keep that energy flowing?
I believe it was Albert Einstein who said something along the lines of: The day we stop learning is the day we die. This quote resonates strongly with me, and I’d like to believe that I am ready to learn something new every day. It is this open mind and desire to accept that we can learn from anyone and everyone that keeps the positive energy flowing.
A love of collaboration is shared by both of our teams, how do you all cultivate that spirit throughout the company?
We’re a very small team, and we’ve been together from the outset, which makes it a bit easier for us to see eye-to-eye on most things. The original intent and vision behind Colab is the basis for every decision that we make. I think this helps tremendously in seeking out collaborations and exciting partnerships.
As the Creative Director of such a physically engaging environment, how did the past year challenge your perspective? Did you find it difficult to maintain the intent of the space?
Prior to the global pandemic, we hosted regular lunch and learn sessions, informative seminars, and networking evenings as part of our mission to help expand the material palette that specifiers work with. In response to the lockdown, we launched our SHARE campaign, which moved the discussion online to stimulate ideas for students in creative fields. As such, we curated free weekly webinars inviting leaders from the creative industry to share their knowledge and real-world experience with students. With restrictions being slowly lifted in the UAE, we have once again begun to organize physical activities, now on a smaller scale but with the same objectives in mind.
Looking ahead, I am extremely bullish on Colab’s prospects in the region, given that we plan to diversify our service offering. In fact, we’re looking at new revenue streams to stay afloat whilst staying true to our original vision of providing knowledge and inspiration. All in all, we’ve been able to withstand the challenges on account of tremendous support from the industry–suppliers and specifiers–and we’re extremely grateful for this.
We know there’s a lot of great choices, but are there any materials in the library that you find particularly compelling?
Materials that have been upcycled or have a zero-waste factor and materials with low-embodied carbon really excite me. I’d like to see greater research and development into sustainable (bio-based and circular economy) materials, responsive and smart materials, and additive manufacturing. Carbon Tile, Caracara Collective, Honext, Malai, and Judhur are a few of the materials that have some great potential.
Any big news coming from the Colab kitchen?
The most exciting development for us is the implementation of the winning design from our Student Design Competition. We hope to have a quick turnaround in terms of a build schedule, and we can’t wait to unveil our new look.
Embracing the digital age, we are also launching Colab.digital, our digital materials library, which will serve as a platform to help designers and contractors understand and source materials that are currently not available in the region. Lots happening!!