Design Weeks are flourishing in the Middle East & North Africa

When the MENA Design Research Center was launched in 2011, the goal of its founders was to create social impact the MENA region and develop awareness about the role and value of Design. Now four years later, we begin to be able to quantify the growth and impact that the center has partially set in track. One of the most well-known activities of MENA DRC is the Beirut Design Week, which was the first design week to be established in the region in 2012. Now, fast-forward four years later, there are already four design weeks that are right on track, and another two just on the doorstep.mena-design-weekEach Design Week is unique in its goals, features, participants and events. For Beirut Design Week, which is founded and organized by the MENA Design Research Center – a non-profit organization, the goal is to develop local entrepreneurship, provide cultural exchange for skills and experiences, enhance design education, and create awareness about design for social impact. The neighboring design weeks have some similar aspects but to varying proportions.

Soon to follow Beirut Design Week a year later in 2013 was the Bahrain International Design Week which took place in one venue, the Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre. The goals of the event are commercial, promising market share and exposure for all exhibitors.

In 2014 followed Saudi Design Week organized by Oasis Magazine in Partnership with the King Faisal Foundation for Research and Islamic Studies. Closer to the BDW model, the program is divided into curated exhibitions, workshops, and a design forum, showing a more versatile approach that is both commercial and educational.

chronology-mena-design-weekThis month marked the beginning of Dubai Design Week, which took place in various locations and focused mostly around Dubai’s latest large scale real estate project, the Dubai Design District – which is set to be finalized in the next couple of years. DDW is owned and managed by the Art Dubai Group, a joint venture company between the Dubai International Financial Centre and Middle East Fairs Ltd. Bringing in high-end talent as well as established educational institutions from all corners of the world, the Emiratis prove again that high investment pays off.

Next month we will witness the launch of Cairo Design Week, who are already developing a partnership with Beirut Design Week and their near future seems promising. Moreover, talks with Amman Design Week have also been initiated, the event is set to take place in 2016. Can you guess who will be next? I have a pretty good idea…

Beirut Design Week 2015, Entrepreneurship, EVENT, Market

Beirut Design Week Meets Live Love Beirut at Mzaar

Every year Lebanon celebrates the feast of the Virgin Mary in mid August. The national festivities usually take place in the mountains and are a call to all the residents and tourists to leave the coast and enjoy a day of cool breezes, sunshine, local markets, entertainment and -of course- food. For the first time Beirut Design Week took a small group of its young and talented designers and migrated for one week outside of the Capital to take part in this event in Mzaar in partnership with Live Love Beirut. As a means to promote young talent and help designers sell their products and services the Designer Market was designed and developed by MENA DRC. Exhibitors included the lovely Vanina designers, Creative Space Beirut, Ghassan Salameh, Second Street, Patil Tchilinguirian, Kaheled el Mays, Waste, Oddfish, Celine Khailarallah, We Shape Hearts and Margherita. Apart from a fantastic week where all the designers got to know each other better and discuss their careers, challenges and sales methods; many of them made good profit and a few new long-term clients. As a first trial of BDW to be part of another event, it was a relative success with many lessons learnt for the coming years

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Beirut Design Week 2015, EVENT, SOCIAL INNOVATION

Disrupt! Design! Crowdfunding Campaign Launches at BDW2015


No one acted surprised when the lights went dark in Beirut Souks on a Monday night early in June—power cuts are regular enough. But that blasé reaction turned to curiosity when the sounds of the rainforest, not generators, followed, and that curiosity turned to excitement as fog poured in and video footage of a waterfall shined through the mist onto a bare souk wall.

“It’s the rainforest!” one young shopper enthused as crowds gathered with smiles on their faces and cellphones in hand to record the unfolding display.

The dramatic public intervention jumpstarted Beirut Design Week, and showed in a very public way how design can make a social impact in the region. As far as campaigns for change go, that was just the beginning. Only a few hundred meters from the pop-up rainforest, teams of Lebanese designers were busy pitching their own social initiatives.

Tackling a broad swath of social issues, the groups of designers participating in the Disrupt! Design! initiative were appealing directly to Beirut Design Week attendees for the funding they needed to get their projects off the ground. Through the Disrupt! Design! initiative the teams had already been equipped with training from the MENA Design Research Center and the crowdfunding initiative Zoomaal.

The diversity of their projects showcases just how many different paths social intervention can take:

Ensa Project With a 2D-animated series, the Ensa Project is looking to empower young Lebanese to address persistent social issues. One key to the project is the online platform where users can interact, share their own stories, and submit ideas for future episodes.

Beirut RiverLess Having already gained UNHabitat and municipal backing for its ambitious strategy to revive and restore the Beirut River watershed, Beirut RiverLess is looking to change the public’s relationship with a once-vital waterway.

Inara Initiative The Inara Initiative designed and launched pitched BDW2015 attendees on its specially engineered lids—one a lamp, and the other a water filter—for the household jars commonly used in underprivileged communities. While the team was appealing for public crowdfunding, its designers were keen to point out that anyone can fund the project by simply buying an upmarket version of the lids, which subsidize the donation models.

Look Me in the Leg The final crowdfunding project to launch at BDW2015 was a team touting its plan for customized prosthetics that provided enhanced functions such as Bluetooth speakers or cellphone chargers. The team hopes it can alter the perception of both prosthetics and disabilities among the public as well as its users.

Showcased alongside the Based in Beirut exhibition in Beirut Souks, the Disrupt! Design! projects were nested near the heart of Beirut Design Week, and the Ensa Project’s first promotional installment played on the silver screen during the BDW2015 international conference, but all the designers had the chance to meet potential funders: from interested individuals to aid organizations.

As the crowdfunding campaigns continue and the design teams push harder to make their interventions, one thing is clear: they can’t do it without a little help from the public pulling them along.

This project has been developed in partnership with Hivos and Mideast Creatives.


Design is here to Disrupt!

disrupt6 Promoting big ideas to disrupt the status quo, the Disrupt!/Design!/ campaign kicked off Friday with its first training session for ten Lebanese design teams looking to take their projects from the drawing board to the board room and beyond in search of funding.

The teams—which include veterans as well as plucky newcomers in fields as diverse as architecture, engineering and traditional handicraft—are all vying to be among the three teams selected for a crowdfunding campaign that will launch in June during Beirut Design Week.

A collaboration between Beirut Design Week and the Dutch development organization Hivos, in partnership with Mideast Creatives and the crowdfunding organization Zoomaal, Disrupt!/Design!/ will provide the teams mentorship from a panel of international experts. These mentors will push the teams to refine their proposals while addressing the specific needs each faces.

As they hone their pitches, the teams will also benefit from crowdfunding training by Zoomaal, which will include storyboarding, writing, video production and presentation.disrupt1

The teams are:

Ray Chawki Ghafary and Charbel Afif

Recognizing that traditional below-the-knee prosthetics have left many amputees ashamed, the team aims to make a prosthetic that users could wear proudly. With more attractive covers and an emphasis on aesthetics, the team wants to battle the stigma many amputees face. “We’re not reinventing the prosthetic,” Ghafary said, “we’re enhancing its usage.”


Adib Dada, Yasmina Choueir, May Khalifeh, Raya Tueny, and Alia Fattouh

Though its project is still in the development phase, this team has a series of major interventions planned around the Beirut River. Among them, the team hopes to crowd-fund a project to build a footbridge linking Badawi and Bourj Hammoud, and to build parks on either side of the river.

* * *

Dima Boulad, Pamela Haydamouth, and Celine Khairallah

Looking for a way to convert unused corners of urban sprawl into gardens and green space, the team hopes to partner with the municipality to identify city-owned plots that are currently lying fallow. Boulad said the key to success would be fostering a sense of stewardship among neighbors and allaying any mistrust within the community. “If you give people trust, they give it back,” Boulad said.


Tamara Qiblawi and Mireille Raad

The KnoozRoom team hopes oral history and creative storytelling can prompt recognition of new memories of the Lebanese civil war. The team plans to screen its 27-minute documentary film in a Spears Street bomb shelter-turned-interactive space in order collect untold stories that upset existing narratives of the war. “The aim of the project is to solicit stories of human survival,” Qiblawi said.

* * *

Fadi Mansour, Karl Hitti and Candice Naim

Inspired by regional refugee crises and frequent power outages, this team is producing portable solar lamps. While tapping into a disappearing heritage of glassblowing within Lebanon, the team hopes to serve underprivileged communities with a safe and sustainable solution to the basic need for light.


Angelique Sabounjian, Missak Hajiavedikian and Cynthia Raffoul

Perhaps more than any other corner of Beirut, Bourj Hammoud retains a bevy of local craftsmen and ateliers. This team is seeking to build bridges between generations of Bourj Hammoud’s craftsmen and artisans by creating links among the future makers, the established craftsmen, and the suppliers. “It’s creating this full circle in the production cycle,” Sabounjian said.

* * *

Hassan Kanj and Rawad Hajj

Between coders and designers, there isn’t much common ground, which is why this team believes if coders knew the basics of design and designers knew the basics of coding, collaborations would be a breeze. “If they can understand, they can appreciate,” said Hassan Kanj. With a platform for collaboration between the two communities, the team hopes to make it easier for designers and coders to find each other.


Dina Alwani, Ayman Moadad and Ali Ahmad

With its 2D animated web series drawn from the experiences of daily life in Lebanon, this team of animators hopes to entertain and educate Lebanese young and old about the issues affecting their nation. “It shows what everyone is suffering from,” said Alwani. The key to the series, Ahmad stressed, is that it will draw attention to the issues as well as the inaction that allows them to persist.

* * *

Collette Hogg and Mazin Sidahmed

Seeking to draw a positive collaboration out of the conflict in Syria and influx of refugees within Lebanon, this team hopes to forge bonds around Syria and Lebanon’s shared history of crafting tile mosaics and glassblowing. While traditional methods of producing these tiles and glass have all but disappeared in Lebanon, the team hopes displaced Syrian craftsmen could work with artisans in Lebanon to reintroduce these time-honored techniques while fostering dialogue.

* * *

Cyril Kallab, Iva Kovic, Rana Taha and Laeticia Honeine

Feeling that designers and makers have been left out of the supply chain that leads from craftsmen to consumers, this team hopes to work with established craftsmen to fill in the missing links. By bringing designers into the fold, the team is seeking to influence the market for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Check back for more updates as the collaboration continues!

Special Thanks to our new team member Ian Larson, for interviewing the participants and writing this post.

conference, EVENT

Eliminating the Capital D at Nuqat 2014

Screen shot 2015-04-12 at 8.27.36 PMWe were invited to speak at the annual Nuqat Conference taking place in Kuwait as a non-profit organization that focuses on the value of collaboration. The speech was entitled ‘Eliminating the Capital D: The Value of Multidisciplinary Collaboration in the Design Process’. The synopsis is as follows:
‘Design has come a long way since the days of the ‘Designer’ who only defines the profession as a means to produce luxury goods or advocate for capitalist consumerism. Nowadays design aims to use its methods and tools at large scales for strategic planning, organizational transformation, public policy, and economic development. It motivates bottom-up approaches to think creatively about solving social, cultural and environmental challenges. In such projects, where design can really affect the lives of people, the designer is merely a facilitator, learning from others and combining skills and expertise to co-create better solutions and outcomes. This multidisciplinary, collaborative and human-centered process has finally brought the real value of design into perspective, serving the 99% and obliterating its egoistic past.’

nuqat2The speech is about 20 minutes and focuses on the challenges we face in the MENA region when it comes to collaboration.



From Hong Kong to Eindhoven to Casablanca

Every year, the months after Beirut Design Week give us a chance to travel and meet like-minded people in order to develop international partnerships and collaborations.

Our journey starts in Honk Kong in collaboration with the International Gender Design Network, the Design Faculty of the Honk Kong Polytechnic University and Design Research Company from Cologne, Germany. Between October 10th and 12th, during the Social Innovation 10 Day Festival at the Jokey Club Innovation Tower, we participated in a conference and exhibition entitled: The Great Small, and gave a workshop on Cultural Perspectives on Gender Stereotypes, creating a comparison of gender inequality in mass media between Central Europe, Eastern Asia, and the Middle East.

Exhibition HK  HK1doreen HK Participants of the workshop were asked to observe examples of Gender stereotypes in German, Lebanese and Chinese media, and to discuss their impressions and share stories about the cultural values the imagery represents. This brought forth many critical reflections and also surprising results with regards to what some cultures define as ‘normal’ gender behavior, while others perceive it quite shocking.

A week later we were invited to the Dutch Design Week, which takes place annually in Eindhoven, home to the famous Design Academy and the Philips factories now converted to design spaces. On October 20th, we took part in a co-design workshop entitled: When Co-Design Works in collaboration with PROUD Europe, which was later followed by a conference on social innovation as a main event of Dutch Design Week. In the workshop, participants were asked to share their experiences in their respective countries, focusing on challenges with co-design projects.


The high profile conference included keynote speakers from the Design Council in the UK, including governmental representatives as well as speakers from and a handful of other multinational organizations known for their social impact work.

The trip ended with a visit to the Design Academy final year exhibition where previous Desmeem participant Tamara Barrage had just graduated with a Master degree and was setting sail back to Lebanon.


From The Netherlands we ventured south to North Africa to take part in a workshop developed by EUNIC in Casablanca, Morocco from the 5th – 12th November. This workshop was focused on training cultural entrepreneurs and operators to learn more about developing strategies for organizational growth as well as meeting other cultural managers from the MENA region in order to establish partnerships.

EUNIC1EUNIC4 EUNIC3 EUNIC2  Guest speakers from different cultural organizations from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Serbia, Belgium, France, Spain and the UK, provided valuable insight in order for all participants to develop a global perspectives on the challenges faced by Cultural managers in different fields.

BEIRUT DESIGN WEEK 2014, conference, EVENT

Creativity and Regeneration in Mar Mikhael


On July 17th, GAIA Heritage organized a SWOT conference entitled  “Creativity and Regeneration in Mar Mikhael” at the abandoned Brasserie du Levant, an old beer factory in the area. Mar Mikhael is currently one of the trendiest areas of Beirut where the hippest bars and restaurants are situated, as well as  designer/ architect/ artist communities mixed with metal workers and  greasy garage shops. Like all upcoming neighborhoods in metropolitan cities, this area has also been under the real estate microscope causing construction of high rises at every corner and destruction of heritage architecture, which inevitably result in tripling rents, inviting large crowds to the overflowing bars, and eventually forcing the small designer boutiques and ateliers out. Seeing that this has been quite a recurrence in Beirut with the previously trendy neighborhoods, this conference aimed to bring together major stakeholders in the region along with government officials to discuss the issue at hand and collectively suggest solutions through dialogue.

The day was divided into an introduction and research panel, introducing the MEDNETA and the cooperation of this project with other historical cities, as well as a summary of the socio economic research results that were accumulated by GAIA as well as other sources. Then came two discussion panels; the first which dealt with the subject of ‘The Creative Economy: Issues of Sustainability in the Context of a Rapidly Changing Neighborhood”, and the second entitled: “The Mar Mikhael Neighborhood: Arts, Crafts, and Design’s Engagement with the Public Space”.

The speakers of the first panel were:

  • • Dr. Khater Abou Habib (Chairman of KAFALAT)
  • • Mr. Emile Nasr (CEO l’Agenda Culturel)
  • • Prof. Stephen Hill (Economist, Sohar University)
  • • Ms. Sarah Hermez (Principal Creative Space Beirut)
  • • Mrs. Rosy Abourousse (Principal Rosa Maria Jewellery)
  • • Ms. Doreen Toutikian (Director, MENA Design Research Center)

Moderated by Ibrahim Nehme, editor of The Outpost magazine, the panel was a discussion between designers in the area, cultural entrepreneurs, and investors. We presented Beirut Design Week, its causes and goals, within the framework of Mar Mikhael, as it is one of BDW’s main focus areas. Two of BDW’s participating designers spoke about their work their challenges. And eventually a discussion with the audience was developed about the needs of designers to grow in such a milieu given the current context of Beirut.

The second panel speakers were:

  • • Dr. Mona Harb (Associate Professor Urban Planning, AUB)
  • • M. Serge Yazigi (Urban Planner, head of MAJAL)
  • • M. Nabil Itani (Head, CDR CHUD WB project)
  • • M. Mario Khoury (Central Bank, Investment Department)
  • • Mrs. Maria Halios (Owner, Maria Halios Design)
  • • Mrs. Christine Codsi (Partner, Tawlet/Souk el Tayeb)
  • • M. Karim Bekdache (Owner, Karim Bekdache Architecture Studio)

Moderated by Dr. Elie Haddad, Dean of the Art and Design Faculty at the Lebanese American University, this panel was fervently defending rights of citizens in the city and insisting that the government must enforce the laws to protect the rights of citizens -especially when it comes to protecting small industries like that of crafts and design against the pressures of rising rent costs, real estate ventures, and the increasing number of bars without enforced regulations.

The Conclusion panel members, headed by the discussion leader Dr. Georges Zouain, head of GAIA Heritage, included:

  • • H.E. M. Raymond Arayji (Lebanese Minister of Culture)
  • • M. Alexis Loeber (EU, Head of Cooperation Division)
  • • M. Ibrahim Nehme (Editor The Outpost)
  • • Dr. Elie Haddad (Dean LAU School for Design & Architecture)
  • • Professor Sofia Avgerinou‐Kolonia (Director of Urban and Regional Planning Department, NTUA)

All speakers expressed support for future initiatives related to Mar Mikhael’s Arts, Crafts and Design. Moreover, the final panel concluded in hopes of strengthening the rule of law in the neighborhood and innovation in the realm of the creative economy. This project has been funded by the European Union.


Pictures of BDW14

Here are but a few pictures from the events of Beirut Design Week 2014, including workshops, talks, exhibitions and more. Each event offered something new, something different and we look forward to sharing more pictures with you shortly.

Jan Kath, "What inspires us to design"

Jan Kath, “What inspires us to design”

"Fostering Creativity and Design Thinking"

“Fostering Creativity and Design Thinking”

The Storytelling Playground by Made for Brands

The Storytelling Playground by Made for Brands

Habatiq "Chasing Craftsmen"

Habatiq “Chasing Craftsmen”

Metamorphosis Exhibition

Metamorphosis Exhibition


The end of a fantastic week

Beirut Design Week 2014 has now ended, and we would like to thank everybody who attended. Thank you to the participants for sharing your work, thank you to the international guests who travelled from far and wide to be a part of our events, and thank you to the public who came along to discover BDW in its third edition. We hope you all had as much fun as we did, and see you all next year!


Fostering Creativity and design thinking

On Thursday, we were lucky enough to be joined at the Lebanese American University by Mona Hatoum, Caroline Simonelli, Hilary Alexander and Esen Karol, who all came together to talk about their respective experiences in their fields.

Esen Karol walked us through her work in communications and graphic design, mentioning her collaboration with Mona Hatoum and her latest project “Don’t Forget To Remember”.


Mona Hatoum, video and installation artist then talked about her experience as a designer, from the day she graduated from LAU to last week. She spoke about her many exhibitions on the conflicts around Palestine and others featuring human hair.

Hilary Alexander, fashion journalist for the Daily Telegraph then took the stage and regaled us with stories from photo shoots around the world, and her own journey, “from typewriters to Twitter”.

Caroline Simonelli rounded off the talk with the story of her rise to fame through fashion design, and her success as a professor at Parsons.

All four of these inspirational women gave insightful talks as to the changes in the design world in the past few decades and the changes to come in future years. It was a very successful conference.