Heritage, tech and foreign guests at Beirut Design Week

File - Beirut Design Week in Beirut, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Beirut Design Week, the city’s most extensive platform to promote and connect the local design industry, will kick off Monday with six days of open houses, workshops and lectures.

This year includes more than 80 events hosted by local design studios and visiting industry professionals, including guest speakers British fashion journalist Hilary Alexander and London-based artist Mona Hatoum. The week will incorporate new technology workshops, a focus on urban design and preservation, and a larger presence of foreign participants than in past years.

“There are many more international designers coming from abroad,” said Maya Karanouh, chair of the MENA Design Research Center, which founded the design week in 2012. This year has drawn some 21 visiting participants, with French product designers, British curators and a whole exhibition dedicated to the Dutch creative industry.

In past years, participants from abroad included lecturers and workshop instructors; this will be the first year foreign designers are exhibited. Beirut Souks will host from June 9 to 14 Dutch Design and Danish Architecture exhibitions.

“This year is pretty interesting because the new Dutch Ambassador [Hester Somsen] really wanted to make a statement, not only from a cultural perspective for the economic benefit. She tried to get the best people, who’ve had the most success to come join,” said Doreen Toutikian, director of the MENA Design Research Center.

Lebanon has one of the highest concentrations of designers per capita in the world, but a miniscule population makes dependence on the local market impossible, Toutikian and Karanouh explained. Beirut Design Week was created for the benefit of Lebanese designers, but having an international presence, they said, is great for cultural exchange. Such international collaboration is essential for local designers who must tap into markets abroad, as well as students who need specialized training.

“Lately many of the graphic designers from Lebanon who focus on typography end up doing their master’s in Holland,” Toutikian said.

Beirut Design Week encompasses the varied fields that fall under that professional umbrella: fashion, product, architecture, graphic, urban planning, plus the artisanal craftsmen essential to production. This year design technology and application development will have a bigger role than in past years.

Visitors from Aalto University in Finland will guide a three-day workshop at Badguer in Burj Hammoud that will harness technology to better connect communities. Representatives from Philips Design will also lead a practical tutorial on using Axure RP, software to design prototype smartphone applications.

“This is the most tech-design workshop we have because people will actually be learning a new software,” Toutikian said.

One of the cultural hits of last year’s design week was a walking tour through Burj Hammoud’s artisanal workshops. Organizers have expanded the focus on preserving cultural heritage with another walking tour of the old stairs from Gemmayzeh into Mar Mikhael. Led by a researcher at ALBA University, the tour will cover the history and purpose of these stairs, most of which date back to the Ottoman era.

“It’s general history about why they exist and what their value is, a lot to do with Lebanese heritage, architecture and urban structures,” Toutikian said.

Although the Tourism Ministry has been supportive of Beirut Design Week since its inaugural year in 2012, this is the first year the event is officially under the ministry’s patronage, Karanouh said.

“We started with 50 participants and it has grown in maturity, it has grown in the public eye. More people every day call us instead of the other way around and want to be added to the participants list. At the end of the day it’s getting recognition on that level that is really important.”

For a detailed list of events, visit Beirut Design Week’s website

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 06, 2014, on page 2.




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