The first thing that comes to mind when imagining the UAE is a collection of cities that emerged from the desert. The sand in the UAE is abundant - yet is one of the most unused resources in the UAE. Our ancestors lived in harsh desert conditions and used their immediate surrounding and its resources (such as sand) to survive. Sand is a unique resource which has a cool touch in the winters, and warm feeling in the summers. The chemical compounds (silicone dioxide, glauconite and magnetite) found in a single sand grain provide the material with its strong characteristics. It can be used to form variations of forms and shapes, and can easily be spotted in our everyday lives. Sand can be used as a candle holder to light up paths, a safety cushion on a playground, an absorber for oil leaks, a component to create concrete building blocks, or even filled into a bag to hold open a door.
This brings about the question, “So what can we do with sand?” With the right research driven team, passion for experimenting, and interdisciplinary skills in design, The Foundry’s Kholoud Sharafi and Hamza Omari succeeded in finding a unique use for sand.
The Foundry is a creative inventive brand which encourages its designers, writers, and creatives to experiment and explore new variations of commercial products and designs objects. Staying true to the brand’s contextual practice to “draw from its environment”, Kholoud and Hamza explored how sand can be used to create an everyday object which can be reproduced and easily used.
The Research and Design Process
The designers started their research process by collecting samples of sand from across the different colored desert patches in the UAE. Next, they divided the sand samples made up of variations of chemical compounds. They combined sand’s tactile, visual, and heat insulative properties with ceramic’s slip casting ability. They proceeded to experiment with different methods of casting and explored different variations of slip casting techniques, mixture ratios, and firing temperatures. Using the trial and error process, the elimination process, and months of research, the team was finally able to achieve what they originally planned: a Bedouin coffee cup, a local object derived from a contextual material, created solely from research.
The cultural inspiration
The form was created to mimic the traditional Bedouin coffee cup, the source of inspiration for the product. Culturally, the coffee cup is used as a method of communication between the host (lightly scooping the cone-shaped cup, offering it to the guest as a sign of hospitality) and the guest (who holds the cup from its rim, politely slightly tilting it, which the host understands as “I have finished drinking”).
Ramel (Arabic Word for Sand) - The End Product
The sand cups effortlessly blend with the curvy surfaces of the sand dunes. The rim of the cup highlights the crisp clean edge of the ceramic, a symbol of the nonverbal communication between guest and host. The initials of “The Foundry” are inscribed into the bottom of the cups. The designers have added a handle to the coffee cups as a method of adding a contemporary element to the ancient cup, as well as preventing the spillage of coffee.
We caught up with Hamza to learn more about the Foundry’s design techniques, the challenges that they faced during the production of Ramel, and their future plans.
Tell us more about the various prototypes that eventually led to Ramel, and future iterations.
Hamza (H): We currently have our hands full with refining the technique and process to make the end result even better. We do have plans for further variations but nothing has been realized just yet.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced?
H: Our biggest challenge by far was understanding the chemistry behind the material. We re-approached ceramics techniques to ensure that they worked with Dubai’s sand, and tweaked the process slightly after each test. After creating a successful result, another challenge we faced was making the process scalable and reproducible.
What was your favorite part of Ramel’s design process?
H: The hunt for the right sand involved spending a lot of time outdoors, collecting sand samples. Without a background in geology, we chose samples based on colors we found on google earth, and then driving to those specific coordinations with our jeep to collect abundant sand samples for performing experiments. Although pushing through a lot of failed experiments is frustrating, once you work your way to a successful result, it all becomes worthwhile. You feel a renewed sense of drive and achievement.
Do you imagine Ramel branching out into other products (example: coffee plates, etc.)? Will there be future explorations for products that complement Ramel?
H: Ramel is more of a material design project than a product design project. More than 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily, so what better way to introduce a product from the Middle East than by introducing a product from the globally loved coffee culture!
Moving forward, Ramel will take different forms. We are currently still exploring the coffee culture direction, with a full set of coffee elements in the works. We do believe Ramel should (and will) most probably expand beyond tableware.
What is the single most important element that customers would benefit from Ramel?
H: The benefit is not a tangible one, as much as it is an ideological one. We aim to create objects with a strong regional identity but with the ability to be exported and adopted internationally. Not only would customers be utilising a home grown design language, but celebrating the story behind traditional coffee etiquette.
Brand: "The Foundry By Tinkah" or "The Foundry"
Product Name: Ramel C01
Materials: Ceramics and Dubai Sand
Made and Designed in: Dubai
Designers: Kholoud Sharafi & Hamza Al Omari
Photo Credits: The Foundry
Kholoud is the co-founder of Tinkah,a multi-disciplinary design firm that creates evolving artistic expressions and creative solutions to a wide spectrum of disciplines, which also created the research-based brand “The Foundry”. She is leading the design communication team at Tinkah, and is continuing to establish The Foundry along with its research. Some of her former work of art has been auctioned off at Sotheby’s, and some of her other work was exhibited amongst Barjeel Art Foundation, The Jordan National Gallery of fine art, and the British Museum’s private collections.
Hamza Al Omari
Hamza is an industrial designer, currently conducting research and re-imagining furniture and products at Tinkah/ The Foundry. Omari believes that good design maximises function with form, encompassing both social and environmental integrity. His work has been featured in several publications including Architectural Digest and Dezeen magazines, as well as exhibited in several galleries across the UAE. Hamza designed the first ‘‘Abwab Pavilions for Dubai Design Days’, utilizing facades filled with sand in his project to control light transfer, heat transfer, and to create a play on shadows.
The Foundry & Tinkah
The Middle East is home to many ancestral products whose stories have not yet been told. The Foundry was created from frustration over the region’s lack of innovation in product design. The brand aims to provide a place where designers can experiment, and even recreate stories based on existing products and designs found in the Middle East.
Words // Wrichitects - Yosr El Sherbiny
Photos // The Foundry
Location // Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Published // Jdeed Magazine - Issue III (printed)
More information // https://thefoundry.ltd/