Coming together and taking ownership of the future: Amman Design Week

Author ········· Kalimat Magazine
Published ······ Online, Sep 2016

Section ·······  Art & Design

Kalimat asked the organisers of Amman Design Week to tell our readers what to except at the first ever edition of the event, taking place from the 1st to the 9th of September 2016. testing

For nine days in September, Amman’s designers are coming together to take ownership of their city and their careers by taking part in creating the city’s first Amman Design Week (ADW).

Over this period, ADW will bring together designers in three large-scale curated exhibitions that will introduce local and regional design to the world, and invite international designers to the city to exchange knowledge and skills through workshops, discussions, talks, and more. With over 40 participating spaces around the city, and over 100 events that engage over hundreds of designers, ADW promises to be a truly immersive experience in design.

The co-directors of Amman Design Week, Rana Beiruti and Abeer Seikaly, have been working on designing a week that responds to the local needs of designers, and celebrates the city’s design culture and aesthetic. Following intensive research that engaged universities, schools, educators, designers, businesses, and cultural institutions across Amman and Jordan, ADW was designed as a holistic and integrated learning programme that runs all year and culminates in a week of exchange of ideas and inspirations.

The selection of venues for Amman Design Week comes from a careful study of the demographics and geography of the city. The event, held in downtown Amman, takes over three public locations along what was once envisioned to be the “cultural corridor” of the city. Working closely with the Amman municipality, the ADW team embarked on a community-engaged research project in urban design to test the plausibility of this vision in this area. Through on-the ground experiments, and major renovation of neglected, under-maintained and abandoned venues, design week hopes to support the existing cultural institutions and revive the infrastructures of the area in order to pave the way for further cultural engagement in the future.

The Hangar Exhibition

Ras El Ain Hangar. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week

The Hangar Exhibition displays work done by local and regional designers. Designed and curated by architect Sahel Al Hiyari, the exhibition displays design concepts as well as products, furniture, graphics, and architectural installations. The exhibition, held at the old electricity Hangar in downtown Amman, introduces the public to the various ideas and concepts that define design in Jordan and in the Arab region – with applications ranging from home interiors, textiles, and ceramics, to industrial design for the fields of architecture, medicine, and even music. The exhibition seeks to show design as an instrument of cultural and social expression, as well as a means for problem solving and instigating positive change.

Sahel Al Hiyari. Photo courtesy of Hussam Da'na

While the Hangar Exhibition displays current work done by designers, the MakerSpace, held at the Jordan Museum, presents works-in-progress and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the process of designing and making. In this interactive environment, visitors can see work as it is being completed using digital fabrication technology, 3D printers, and other high-tech tools. The juxtaposition of the MakerSpace with the iconic artefacts on show at the Jordan Museum helps to narrate the evolution of innovation, from the very beginnings of manipulation of materials and tools to the latest inventions and modern resources for prototyping, manufacturing and making.

The Crafts District

The Crafts District by Dina Haddadin. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week.

Another exhibition held during ADW is the Crafts District – a celebration of crafts and ‘craftivism’. One cannot speak about design in Jordan without speaking of craft, which represents the vernacular of design in the region, and is a means of carrying forward heritage and culture with its storytelling power. Threatened by mass production and the souvenir culture, traditional crafts have been misunderstood and stripped of their importance in the modern world. Crafts are used as a means for self-expression, and continue to empower communities around Jordan, particularly offering women a chance at economic independence and creative freedom. At the Crafts District exhibition, one can see work done by such communities in collaboration with designers, and experience traditional crafts and contemporary crafts. Through a series of pop-up shops, demonstration booths, design installations and a traditional food component, visitors can experience a holistic view of the link between cultural heritage and design. The exhibition will feature craftspeople from across the country, as well as the collaborations of disciplined designers and craftspeople, where an exchange of knowledge, technique, materials and skills is encouraged and nurtured.

The Crafts District by Dina Haddadin. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week.

The Crafts District, curated and designed by architect, artist, and designer Dina Haddadin, is held at an abandoned bus station in downtown Amman. Once envisioned to be the central bus station for Amman, the Raghadan Tourist Terminal has never been activated to fulfil its potential. Current plans aim to transform it into a terminal for local tourism where its avenues and shops create an experience of local traditions, culture, and heritage. The Crafts District hopes to be a demonstration of the unused potential of this space.

The learning programme

The ADW programme is filled with activities for that are free of charge and open to the public, appealing to designers – emerging and experienced professionals alike – non-designers, children and adults.

A series of workshops that range from introductory level sessions for the general public to intensive learning experiences targeted at designers wishing to expand their horizons and hone their skills are part of the learning programme. These specialised workshops focus on capacity building and production, with the aim to encourage dialogue and exchange between designers and facilitators. Topics will address issues of design practice, process, theory, management, and technique.

Children and young people can learn the basics of design thinking and making through workshops in crafts, as well as various hands-on activities focused on the exploration of different materials and tools. The Children’s Space at the Jordan Museum will host the Eurekers Little Space workshop that introduces children to circuits and robotics, and the basics of making with technology. It will also host workshops about sustainable design and environmental consciousness with Maiss Razem. The Car Makers workshop, also hosted by the Children’s Museum, invites children to tinker with daily objects to make cars and fuel them up with different energy sources such as solar, wind, and mechanical.

{Kees Chic} mug coasters

Hands-on workshops for children and adults include those held at the Crafts District, such as the papermaking workshop with the ladies from Iraq al Amir, and textile dying with the ladies from Safi Crafts. The Crafts District also presents workshops in jewellery making by Luma Qusus from Inamallumani, and a workshop on embroidery using recycled plastic bags held by Diana Al Rayyan, founder of {Kees Chic}.

Paper bowls by Iraq Al Amir. Photo courtesy of Gutedort

Amman Design Week’s MakerSpace at the Jordan Museum will host workshops introducing 3D printing. Joined by experts from Third Reality, Mixed Dimensions (MXD3D), and Omniplan Autodesk, the workshops introduce the possibilities offered by digital fabrication technologies to facilitate prototyping and design processes.

The workshop and talk series invite facilitators from the Netherlands who join Amman Design Week to introduce their experiences in social design and designing cultural heritage. Dutch designers from T+LOCAL, Studio Mieke Meijer, and Michiel Martens offer an opportunity for local designers to exchange with Dutch designers, and learn about cross-cultural differences in design process.

Designing Contemporary Heritage workshop and talk by Studio Mieke Meijer

The Amsterdam-based Irish designer Paul Hughes also joins Amman Design Week to introduce his concept of Ten Metres of Thinking, a unique visual-verbal performance where he explores leadership, innovation and communication to stimulate development. Targeted at creative industry start-ups, businesses, and individuals, Paul’s workshops, talk, and speed mentoring session offer designers a chance to hone their management skills.

Design talks

The Speaker Series is an introductory series that aims to connect with the general public, introducing local, regional and international designers’ work and ideas. Concepts of craftsmanship, design thinking, city-design solutions and conscious design are introduced, building awareness around the idea that design is all around us, and can inspire imagination for better living. This series will provide space for the general public to engage in new discourses about design.

Heart Aid device by Sahar Madanat

Talks by local designers will feature Sahar Madanat, a product designer who created Heart Aid, a patented technology with intuitive features allow anybody to help the victim within minutes of the attack and thus increase chances of survival from 5 per cent up to 70 per cent;  the graphic design duo from Wajha (Ali Almasri and Hussein Alazaat) who have created a social initiative that renovates the facades of small shops around Amman, allowing them a chance to attract more customers and improve their businesses; and the graphic design duo from Eyen (Yousef Abedrabbo and Omar Al-Zo’bi) will also host a discussion with Beirut-based designer Liliane Abou Zeki about design built around creative problem solving and the relationship between graphic design and business practices.

This talk series also invites Ahmad Humeid from Syntax design studio, who will discuss Design and Activism in the city, in reference to the first city bus map created for the city of Amman, in collaboration with a not-for-profit named Ma’an Nasel (We arrive together). Through his talk, he will discuss the social responsibility of a designer, and the challenges faced by the Syntax team in creating a bus map that simplifies a complex system of information through graphic design.

Creative spaces all over Amman will be participating in the programme by hosting workshops in their own spaces. Design Institute Amman (DIA) will host several workshops by notable designers in their new space at Jabal Amman including the basics of furniture design and lighting design by Italian designer Filippo Protasoni, a workshop on illustration and graphic drawings by local designer Dina Fawakhiri, and the basics of jewellery design in a one-day intensive workshop by Carmella Pipicelli.  

International Collaborations

Memory Matrix by Dr. Azra Akšamija

Further to engagement with local educational institutions, Amman Design Week is also inviting collaborations with universities from the UK and USA.

Through a collaboration with the British Council, Education UK presents a university fair during Amman Design Week, offering a chance for local students to learn about undergraduate and graduate design programmes in the UK, and meet with the decision makers to present their work and portfolios.

Azra Azkamija, Associate Professor at the MIT Programme in Art, Culture and Technology, presents her work with the Memory Matrix, a project that investigates transcultural aesthetics, cultural mobility, and the way in which art and architecture can create a response to conflict and crisis. Her project has gathered participants from from Cairo, Boston, Ramallah and Amman, and will be presented at Amman Design Week’s MakerSpace.

The Hangar Exhibition also carries exchanges with international institutions, and presents work such as the large-scale installation named ‘Enterlac’ done by Jordanian fashion designer Raya Kassisieh in collaboration with Nader Tehrani, Principal of NADAAA, a Boston-based architecture and urban design firm, and Dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York.

In support of the livelihood of rural women in Iraq Al Amir, Lina Kanafani, founder of Mint design gallery in London, invited designers Jenny Hier and Eva Schlechte of Studio Gutedort to hold a papermaking workshop at the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Association in May 2015. Working with this community of women, the workshop resulted in locally made paper doughs using local materials and little water resources, as well as textiles and dyes from local herbs, spices, and flowers.

Cultural programme

MADAFA curated by Arini and designed by Rasem Kamal and Saja Nashashibi. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week

Woven throughout the events of Amman Design Week is a carefully curated cultural programme and culinary experience. The food options available at the main nodes – the Hangar, the MakerSpace, and the Crafts District – were selected and developed in partnership with Namliyeh to represent a comprehensive and interlinked food and design experience. Furthermore, the MADAFA pavilions provide a gathering space for an immersive experience in urban cuisine, hospitality, and culture. Set within the winding pathway between Al Hussein Cultural Centre and Greater Amman Municipality, MADAFA is a social space and pavilion curated by Arini and designed by Basel based architect Rasem Kamal of Oppenheim Architects and Amman based architect Saja Nashashibi of Paradigm DH.

City-wide programming

Urban works in progress, pedestrian crossing. Photo courtesy of Amman Design Week

Alongside the Amman Design Week programme are a group of 40 independent spaces around the city, including museums, galleries, educational institutions, shops, design studios, and more, are participating in their own space by hosting designers or design-related events, or simply inviting audiences to visit and tour their spaces.

Of considerable note are the exhibitions held alongside Amman Design Week at galleries such as Darat al Funun – The Khalid Shoman Foundation, Nabad Art Gallery, TIRAZ, Wadi Finan Art Gallery, and Jacaranda, as well as the exhibitions held at the Zara Gallery by Design Ideas Lab, and the live wall installation that will be produced at books@café (Jabal Amman). Universities across Jordan, such as Petra University and the University of Applied Sciences are also sharing their student exhibitions this September.