Beirut Design Week Conferences

Despite all of the political tensions in the country, the second annual Beirut DesignWeek took place from June 24 till 30. It aims at introducing all type of Lebanese designers’ new collection, whether jewelry, fashion, furniture and even product. Each day focused on a specific neighborhood: Mar Mikhael/Gemmayze, Hamra, Ashrafieh and Saifi Village/Downtown.

The conference day took place on June 29th, at the Lebanese American University, in Beirut, from 10:00am till 8:30pm (supposedly). It was the day I was looking the most forward too: although I am very interested in design but it’s something I see everyday, everywhere. It’s constantly on TV, in magazines… The more theoretical approach to design is, in my opinion, as interesting if not more: you understand the way people think and the way they tackle a certain issue or idea, before developing it and putting it into practice (/creating something).
There were fourteen speakers all together (I told BDW that is was a bad idea to fit them all in one day). They all came from different backgrounds and different design fields, but all had something very interesting to share. I will sum up what some of the speakers discussed:
It started out with Ruedi Baur is a Swiss graphic designer, architect and urban designer. His topic was “Civic Design for a Civic City”. 

Ruedi Baur 
Ruedi Baur at the BDW

He started out by explaining that design was something complex and it needed a civic dimension. In the modern world, the city needs transformation into something more functional and more human. Design has drastically changed in the past 10 years: we now use it for positive things. Design works for people and nature: it’s against the market and it’s efficient. He wondered if it was possible to interfere where design proves efficient without being asked. Baur mentioned “Reanchanter et Recredebiliser”, which means, “possibility to start again and change outside perception”. Today, there is such a thing called “Utopia of proximity”, it’s not the utopia of the 1920’s and 1970’s, but the of proximity: you believe in desperateness, you can’t do everything but you can do. The prototype becomes a tool of communication and perception: design becomes a factor of communication.
 He then discussed a three of his works, works in progress or propositions.
The first project is in Marseille: he tried to connect two commodities of 10 000 people each, located on either side of the highway and ended up by creating giant stairs to connect to the two sides.
For the second project, Baur was asked to redesign all the writings in the city of Negrepelisse: he wrote the name of the city at the borders in different languages because Negrepelisse (“Negro”) was very harsh. He removed the word “Public” from all the places: Public Pool became “The pool”, it was something from everyone and there was no need to remind people. The only tool of communication became the chalk: he placed 50cm boards of 1.20m high all over the city so that people could write their thoughts and whatnot, and larger boards of 3m high for advertisements.

The last project he discussed was a proposal for a psychiatric clinic for children. He thought that the current situation needed more free elements. After analysis, he tried to modernize the current atmosphere. His aim was to get out of the cliché. He suggested installing a transparent box at the entrance: on the bottom you would find a transparent pool and on top of it a giant red Lego brick, that kids usually play with in psychiatric hospitals. It was rejected.
The second speaker was German architect Conrad Bercah, accompanied by Ayssar Arida and Imad Gemayel. He introduced his new multimedia application entitled “Archipelago Two-Lines”. From 2009 to 2011, Bercah lived between three cities: Venice, Berlin and Beirut. The app is based on his traveling notes (videos, interviews, interactive maps, diagrams, and surveys).An archipelago is a group of islands. 2011, he said, was the tipping point for new things: ebooks, for the first time, outsold printed books (sad). The fact that more people were living in an urban environment was leading to an urban and financial meltdown.

He took a bottom-up and not top-down approach: he did a street report, described what he saw as your everyday-Joe and not an architect or designer. The term “Town” seemed more appropriate than the word “City” since he believe it has lost its original meaning. “Town” has Scandinavian origins and means fence, a defined space, something that can be built and un-built. Bercah was more worried about the empty space in an archipelago, about the distance and perimeter. He compared Berlin to Beirut and studied their relation with Venice. He noticed that Beirut had an obsession with the center: central district and around it are the peripheries. Of course the CD is always the most developed part of the city that contains all of the infrastructures, and then the further you go away from the center, the poorer it becomes. The West is usually obsessed with centers as well, but Berlin doesn’t have just one, but multipolar. He sees Berlin as an archipelago: there are 20 independent small towns. Venice is a number of islands along a canal: the church established itself in the center, later they created public spaces around it, afterwards the streets leading up to it, then the palaces for nobles and finally the houses for the workers.
It has been released in English as an app for the iPad. It will be available for Amazon Kindle Fire and all tablets operating on an Android platform in December 2013.
Suzan Lee, founder of London based BioCouture ( and probably my favorite speaker. BioCouture is “ pioneering design consultancy focused on bringing living and bio-based materials to fashion, sportswear and luxury brands”.

A while ago, she questioned and thought about the future of fashion design: not what was going to be the next trend, but what technique or way or working will revolutionize the fashion industry. Your typical materials, such as leather and cotton, are becoming harmful to the environment. A biologist (she didn’t share his/her name) informed her about a technique where the design and the material could be formed together. They experimented with the cellulose of “Nata del Coco”, it’s high in fiber, it has no fat and is very fulfilling: it’s used in creams, in high-end Sony earphones because it carries the sound in a perfect way. BioCouture focuses on literally growing material from anything: vegetable leather grown from tea. They add indigo to it and the item doesn’t degrade quickly, contrary to popular beliefs.
They created a product using fungi and waste materials. They start by creating a mold. The result pieces are loose and need to be put together. They were also able to build construction bricks from sand: they don’t need to be baked at a 1 000 degrees anymore, it happens on room temperature which makes it very sustainable. Moreover, they are able to grow skin and hence create “victimless leather”. They will be able to build everything together: the shape, the material and even the color. Everything is eco friendly. The next generation of 3D printing will be 3D printing of live objects such as cellulose, molecules… live objects that of course won’t go in the human body!
Later came Lebanese lawyer, Rony Sader. He discussed Intellectual Propriety, something that most of the designer.
 He started by telling us about the different IPs: copyright (entertainment), patent (machines), trademarks and trade secret (only three people know the formula of Coca-Cola). Ideas cannot be protected, a design can.
Copying can be legal: with a license, it’s copyright, fairly used for teaching purposes, belongs to the public domain if it’s above 50 or 70 years old, depending on the country, or an inspiration, in which case it should be mentioned as a source.
He advised us that whenever we have an concrete idea: we have developed it, we have sketches, writings about it, we copy all the documents, mail it to ourselves. We will end up with a document signed by a government official. Of course, never open it.
Later in the day, Micheal Anastassiades, object designer, ( took the stage. A year after graduatin from the Royal College of Arts, he opened his first studio in Waterloo in 1994.

His main field of interest is light design. He has created a couple of odd products: the social light is one of them. When people in the room are talking, it turns on and when everyone is silent, it goes off. The anti-social room has the opposite effect. But he also has classics: he was asked to design a light for a 1850’s Greek Orthodox church in London. He had an installation at the Victoria and Albert’s museum in the Music Room: so he placed a glass box in the middle of the room and inside was a pendant ball of light that swung from left to right; it created a rhythm in an otherwise very silent room (quite ironic since it’s the Music Room).

He had also prepared a slideshow of some his recent projects that I thought were quite interesting, concerning light installations or champagne glasses. He has a very interesting approach to design. He likes to keep it clean, simple and to the point. 

There were many more speakers, but those are the ones that I found the most interesting and appealing. There were some speakers that I didn’t get a chance to listen to because I was tired and the conferences were taking too long.
I hope this made you want to look them up and find out more about them!


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