Echo: new Dubai festival looks at what happens when art, design and technology converge

Audio-visual performances by Boris Chimp 504 will be part of the Echo festival in Dubai. Courtesy of Boris Chimp 504

The event will take place from December 14 to 16 at Dubai Design District, and will act as a platform for innovators

Casually throwing around phrases like “generative design”, “living technology” and “experiential marketing”, Noura Hawilo might as well be speaking in a foreign language. The American University of Sharjah graduate is outlining the concept behind Echo, a new festival dedicated to the “convergence of art, design and technology”. And one of the key aims of the event is to make some of those terms more mainstream.

Hawilo is a conceptualiser (yes, that’s a thing) at Mice International, an events-­management company in Dubai, and has spent the last two years putting the Echo line-up together. “After I completed my bachelors’ degree, I joined the hustle and bustle of Dubai’s working population. I started to notice that there was a gap in the market, specifically around the intersection of art, design and technology – a lack of conversation that appeals to the public regarding innovation and technology, and what they actually mean for our everyday lives.

“There is so much noise around innovation and technology at the moment, and frankly people are confused about what it means for them, now and in the future. Echo wants to create awareness, inform, educate and inspire.”

The event will take place from December 14 to 16 at Dubai Design District, and will act as a platform for innovators, in the very broadest sense of the word. Given that innovation is not confined to a specific industry, Echo will present the full gamut of forward-looking concepts and creators, from fashion designers who specialise in wearable tech to DJs who conjure up visuals to complement their playlists.


“We hope to create a mind-blowing movement of artists, engineers, designers, technologists, scientists, and anyone interested in innovation or creating the future,” says Hawilo. “It is a movement that is focused on sharing knowledge, collaborating, experimentation and, ultimately, creating products, services or art pieces that can change the world.”

Echo will consist of an expo with immersive installations, a conference, workshops and talks during the day. In the evening, the Echo Sound Festival will play host to influential and disruptive DJs and artists, who will collaborate to create audio-visual experiences. “We are delighted to have Boris Chimp 504, who will expose audiences to an audio-visual, real-time performance that emphasises audio synthesis and graphical languages,” explains Hawilo.

If it all sounds a little futuristic, that’s because it is. Given its breadth, what’s the one unifying element that ties the event together, I ask? “Thinking about the future,” Hawilo says. “Each aspect of Echo touches upon forward-­thinking. And, in order to create the future, or bring it forward, the best way to succeed is to be broad and inclusive. It’s about the marriage of different components.”

The conference will present speakers such as Dr Koert van Mensvoort, whose Letter to Humanity took a year to write and is addressed to all seven billion people residing on Earth. The letter looks at the evolution of the planet and its inhabitants, and the role that technology can play in our future. Having already been translated into 27 languages, including Arabic, the paper suggests that we, as a species, are standing at a crossroads, where we can either harness technology in a positive or ­catastrophic way. A key ­question that van Mensvoort asks is: “What if we used technology to magnify our best human qualities and support us in our weaknesses?”


Koert van Mensvoort is one of the speakers confirmed for the Echo conference. Photo by Jeroen Broekmans

Wearable tech will also be placed in the spotlight during the Echo conference, with the appearance of Dutch designer and self-professed innovator Anouk Wipprecht, whose Speaker dress is a stunning example of how this genre is evolving. Part super-hero costume, part protective exoskeleton, the Speaker dress is a “wearable” that is constantly reacting to the environment around it. For example, when you step into the wearer’s personal space, the dress’s ­spider-like extremities will extend outwards to create a protective barrier. Sensors on the dress will measure how close you are to it and react accordingly, “provoking a territorial reaction and encouraging you to back off”, says Wipprecht, who describes her creations as technological couture.

“While technology came into our lives to help us, nowadays it more often than not overwhelms us,” she says. “Technological couture and smart fabrics can create a new wave of interfaces that are not handheld, but integrated and communicating with our skin and emotions, amplifying our internal states.”

In our digitally infused age, interactive, immersive and multisensory are the big buzzwords – and will lie at the heart of the Echo experience. During the event, Refik Anadol, a Turkish media artist and director who is a lecturer and visiting researcher at UCLA’s department of design media arts, will bring his Infinity Room to a Dubai audience for the first time.

This is an immersive environment where light is used to blur boundaries between the actual and the fictional, as well as the physical and the virtual. While some of the concepts sound incredibly complex, Hawilo believes that Echo will appeal to “anyone and everyone who is interested in art, design, technology and music”. In truth, anyone who is even faintly curious about what the future holds should find something to pique their interest.

“The team at Echo is already going home each day with new ideas and new information that makes them wonder and think about how the future is going to affect them, and how it is already doing so,” Hawilo says. “It is not just about an app or a new service feature, it’s about the food we will eat, the way we will dress, how we will get from point A to point B, the future of our careers, and how we will engage with each other. We want to make people aware about what the future holds, expose them to current and future trends, and maybe even give them a new business idea, a new art concept, or equip them with the tools to develop a new service or product.”

A glossary of key terms, by Noura Hawilo, founder of Echo


A live audio-visual performance by Boris Chimp 504. Courtesy of Boris Chimp 504

  • Immersive experience (noun): Immersive experiences stimulate our senses; they draw us in, transport us to another place and keep us in the moment.
  • Wearable technology (noun): A category of technological devices that can be worn by a consumer and often include tracking information related to health and fitness.
  • Intimate technology (noun): Refers to systems that colonise our bodies, influence our behaviour and define our identity. Think of brain implants and bio-cultured heart valves.
  • Generative design (noun): A form-finding process that mimics nature’s evolutionary approach to design. It can start with design goals and then explore innumerable possible permutations to find the best solution.
  • Experiential marketing (noun): Also known as engagement marketing, experiential marketing is a strategy that directly engages consumers, inviting and encouraging them to participate in the evolution of a brand or a brand experience, rather than looking at consumers as passive receivers of messages.
  • Multi-sensory integration (noun): Also known as multi-modal integration, this is the study of how information from the different sensory modalities, such as sight, sound, touch, smell, self-motion and taste, may be integrated into the nervous system.
  • Sustainable automation (noun): Sustainable automation technology minimises negative environmental impacts, conserving energy and natural resources. They are safe for employees, communities and consumers, and are also economically sound.

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