Beirut Design Week brings much needed renovation to the city

BDW’s selected theme, “Design & the City,” focused on the advantages of design, where it was portrayed as far more than just a physical attribute, and was characterized as a tool that could be used to shape the city and the community at large.

Red Reading Hood booth on Jean D'arc Street, Hamra; photo from: Mona El Hallak

This year’s edition of Beirut Design Week (BDW) was held on June 22 till June 29 and presented a selection of events and initiatives that included an array of designers, artists, and advertising agencies. It also incorporated local organization that work on community development and promoting alternative modes of transportation like The Chain Effect, Zawarib, and Bus Map Project.

BDW’s selected theme, “Design & the City,” focused on the advantages of design, where it was portrayed as far more than just a physical attribute, and was characterized as a tool that could be used to shape the city and the community at large. It also showed how design pervades various aspects of the city, and is a core pillar that guarantees its functionality. One of the participants, Twig Collaborative, even had it in their description that “[design] is inherently political and social.”

In contrast with the norm of having open studios where designers displayed their products and art, but the majority of the themes were spread across the city and addressed the environmentalism and the community service. This year focused on the use of design as a means to solve problems that Beirut is facing, be it pollution, lack of proper public transportation and road congestion, lack of public spaces, or general lack of awareness which has left the city’s inhabitants complacency to its problems.

A striking example of eco-conscious design is the brand NK by Nour Kays, which fuses single-use plastic bags together to make tote bags, clutches and other practical accessories. Kays had her first open studio on the first day of Beirut Design Week.

The AUB Neighborhood Initiative, housed in Jeanne D’arc Street, held a large number of small events that week. The initiative had set up several stations that stood out, such as a large coloring installation with Color Me Beirut, a sidewalk map with Zawarib, and the first mobile garden in the Arab World. 

The truck contained species of plants native to Lebanon and specified the region in which each of them grows best. It also has solar panels on the its roof and is economizes energy.

The Neighborhood Initiative, in collaboration with Architecture students, installed an upcycled bench made out of several cardboard tubes, on Jeanne D’arc.

Among the other small events and collaborations in the area, The Chain Effect installed a car-shaped bicycle parking rack on Abdelaziz street, in Hamra. The installation’s aim was to show that one parked car takes up the same space as 12 bicycles, all the while provides bikers with a secure place to leave their bike.

The AUB Neighborhood Initiative also presented a free library permanent installation in collaboration with District D under the name “Red Reading Hood.” Passersby are encouraged to take a book and leave a book to build ties between the community through reading. 

“I really liked how much more buzz Beirut Design Week got this year compared to previous editions,” said Severine Haykal, Graphic Design Ph.D. candidate who attended some of the events. Many attendees were also enjoying the expansion of BDW this year but were disheartened by having to miss some of the overlapping events.

Beirut Design Week gave the city a fresh breath, a much needed renovation, even if many of the installations had to be removed the week after.