What is it?  

Beirut Design Week is a yearly event gathering hundreds of Lebanese and international designers, creatives, and entrepreneurs for a host of unique exhibitions across various locations in Beirut. The design festival, initiated in 2012 by the MENA Design Research Center, aims to foster thriving creative economies based on intercultural exchange and community building, acting as the platform to do so. Each year, a theme is chosen to frame the event’s diverse programs and this year’s selection was “Growing Sustainability”. Participants were presented with many questions regarding what sustainability is, how it can be fostered within the community, and its potential impact, in an effort to raise awareness on its importance and the role designers and creatives can play in achieving it.

This year’s event

It is no surprise that Beirut happily welcomed this year’s theme. “After the garbage crisis that we have been through, after seeing this social and political involvement, we thought that we, as designers, have also a role to play”, Doreen Toutikian, co-founder and director of the Beirut Design Week explained. “We think that designers and architects can spread awareness and act from social, environmental, cultural and economic perspectives. They can also explain which materials come from where, are made with what and explain their use.” Numerous exhibitions focused on protecting the environment, as well as individual contributions towards change.

A few favorites

— Mdawar is all about upcycling; the process of transforming waste materials into new products that have greater value. In order to do so, Mdawar’s team developed a “zero fuel, eco-friendly, upcycling technique” allowing them to design and fabricate beautiful glass cups decorated with Arabic calligraphy, suitable for hot drinks. Around 70 million glass bottles are imported yearly into Lebanon; however, the country does not have the ability nor the capacity to recycle coloured glass since its only specialized facility was destroyed in 2006. Mdawar is a win-win initiative that makes use of glass containers that would otherwise end up in landfills across the country, and allows people to enjoy quality cups. The creations were sold at the Ked Pop-Up store, Karantina.

Beirut River 2.0 is a project that the architecture lab theOtherDada, the United Nations’ programme UN Habitat, and the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC) started around two years ago, looking at how urbanization in Beirut and human activity transformed the River of Beirut, from 50 B.C. until today. “We realized that people are very disconnected from the river, and if anything happens, it becomes a dump-fill that goes to the Mediterranean”, explained Adib Dada, founder of theOtherDada. “Our project aims to bring the river back to life through storm water management and flow restoration, community management, and collaborative partnerships.” The Beirut River 2.0 team set up a demonstration near the Ked Pop-Up store (see above) to showcase different projects, from natural filtration of the river to irrigating a garden.

Planted was a collaboration between Liza Beirut and Gray Gardens Plant Studio. The exhibition took place at Liza on the 25th of May, with the concept of “transforming a product of consumption to enable re-use in a revised context”, according to Danya Ahmed, from Gray Gardens. “The idea began with the excessive amount of consumed glassware that is produced from the restaurant on a daily basis. Water alone produces 3-4 boxes each day. With no creative outlet to reuse the products, we were given the task to use them as planters.” The result? Beautifully designed objects that promote re-use of glass waste and have a social impact. Partial benefits from the project will be donated to the Lebanese Organization For Green Schools, which promotes “a greater Lebanon [that] begins at school, planting ideas of environmental responsibilities and citizen values”.

Waste is a design company that uses plastic advertising banners to fashion original pouffes, bags, clutches, and also transforms old chairs into art pieces. “We started doing that project in order to reduce plastic pollution in Lebanon, and what’s better than making fashion out of waste”, pointed out Marc Metni, co-founder of Waste. “Today, we’ve started working on new collections, are also implementing Corporate Social Responsibility projects for companies willing to reduce their environmental impact, and are continuing to spread awareness.”

A final note

We live in a time where a conversation about sustainability and sustainable practices is becoming increasingly more important to have. This year’s Beirut Design Week gave room for meaningful reflection and reevaluation on what sustainability means, underscoring the crucial role that designers and creatives can play in fostering a real change in attitudes and outcomes.