Interview by Heba Najada
We got to speak with Abeer Seikaly and Rana Beiruti, directors of the first Amman Design Week. For the inaugural year, the design event is curated for the ambitious dreamers, avid learners, and proactive makers in Jordan. Held with the dedicated support of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah. Amman Design Week gets its breadth from a global community of designers who have come together to participate in a multidisciplinary exchange of ideas, and gets its depth from a tightly knit engagement in research and learning. The nine-day celebration will take place from 1 to 9 September in downtown Amman, with a comprehensive program encompassing exhibitions, events, talks, interactive workshops for both adults and children, as well as guided tours, performances and food design. Additionally, independent creative venues around the city are participating and presenting ideas emerging from various fields including furniture and product design, architecture, graphic design and innovative digital technologies.
What is the theme of Amman Design Week? What are the messages you send with it to your audience?
Our aim for the first year of Amman Design Week is to start a public conversation about design in Jordan, and create opportunities for connecting designers with one another and with other designers in the region and around the world. This idea of coming together, exchanging, and learning will be the ground from which we will build future programs that we hope to introduce.
During our research, we found that building a learning platform through a multidisciplinary approach was essential in fulfilling local needs and responding to individual and collective challenges. Our engagement with schools and universities is of utmost importance in our first year. Being a learning platform, Amman Design Week provides opportunities for craftspeople, designers and non-designers, children and adults, local designers and regional designers alike.
What role do designers have to play in securing this message?
Designers have been very engaged since the conception of this idea last year, and have been essential in the formation of the vision of Amman Design Week. The program and its underlying spirit was defined by them. Amman Design Week aims to be this platform that brings people together to collaborate, participate and interact with one another. These are key components to building a design community and creating awareness about the importance of design in our daily lives. As the week progresses, designers will play their part by participating in discussions, workshops, and the collaborations which they have embarked on to produce work for the exhibition.
What challenges did you face in achieving your ambition to tap into the city’s design scene?
Jordan is a young country and Amman is a young city. To begin with, one of the main challenges for us was to understand what design in Jordan is. This was a question that guided us throughout the process of developing the vision for Amman Design Week and allowed us to dig deep and orient ourselves with designers, craftspeople, manufacturers and the creative sector. Being a melting-pot that is going through rapid growth and development, Amman has still not developed the required infrastructure to help build a thriving design community or an event at this scale; one that is tightly woven within the city’s fabric. Engaging designers and citizens to be part of this process has been challenging and we are excited to be part of this journey and discover more talents that lie under the radar around the country. We are very lucky to be working with various partners and collaborators who believe in our vision and have made this process and event possible.
You are curating a rich program. What can we expect? What are the must-sees? Who would you recommend it to?
The program consists of a series of exhibitions and is coupled with many learning opportunities, from workshops, talks, discussions, and a children’s program. These programs are happening alongside cultural activities that aim to revive public space. There are around 100 events taking place in 9 days in over 40 venues around the city. We strongly encourage designers to take part in workshops held in our venues and around the city. Spaces like Design Institute Amman, TIRAZ, and several universities are offering opportunities to learn about design in a multifaceted way. We also hope that visitors can come downtown, park their cars, and walk in the downtown area to engage and experience the different programs and visit the exhibitions held at the Hangar, the Crafts District, and the Jordan Museum.
The Hangar Exhibition at Gallery Ras el Ain will host large scale installations and design works from furniture, graphic, and product designers in the region. This exhibition is designed and curated by architect Sahel Al Hiyari, who worked very closely with designers to produce a comprehensive show that presents new thoughts, experiments, and ideas in design. Across the street from the Hangar is ‘Madafa’ Pavilion, curated by Arini and designed by Amman based architect Saja Nashashibi and Basil based architect Rasem Kamal. The pavilion is a modern reinterpretation of the Madafa, a traditional space for the reception of visitors. In all its parts, it will convey meaning and encompass a multi layered sensorial experience.
At the Jordan Museum we will set up the MakerSpace, which will host our workshops and display works-in-progress and experiments done by designers that use or celebrate modern digital fabrication technology and new methods of making, such as 3d printing. The Crafts District at the Raghadan Tourist Terminal, curated and designed by architect Dina Haddadin, is comprised of a series of pop-up shops and design installations by designers and craftspeople who celebrate the idea of craft as a tool for storytelling and empowerment. It will be combined with an engaging cultural program, as well as local cuisine curated by Namliyeh. Dina has truly transformed the space and we hope that it will inspire a lasting solution for the Raghadan Tourist Terminal.
How did Amman influence Amman Design Week?
The vision and program of every design week are especially tailored to suit the local culture of a city or country. Amman is the defining element that makes this design week unique. When we first started thinking about where to host Amman Design Week’s exhibitions, we were very passionate about finding an area that engages citizens on the urban scale. We wanted to be at the heart of Amman and therefore we decided to focus on the downtown strip, which starts from the Ras El Ain Gallery to the Raghadan Tourist Terminal. This area is where Amman sprung from, and is filled with a rich history that has been evolving over many years. There are many layers and landmarks that define the corridor including the Jordan Museum, the Hashemite square and the local markets.
Last November, we launched a research project with volunteer architects to study and map the area of Ras El Ain and downtown Amman. They have been working closely with our strategic partner, the Greater Amman Municipality, to brainstorm ideas for better peacemaking in the area. We are also working with them to revive the Raghadan Tourist Terminal, an abandoned tourist terminal next to the Hashemite Square, as well as to renovate and maintain important spaces that will host Amman Design Week’s exhibitions.
With an event that is engaged with the city, very often people are criticized about not making enough impact. How does the notion of impact play into your conception of the Amman Design Week?
Impact comes with continuity, and ADW aspires to be an annual event. We don’t think of this as a one-week event, but have been introducing year-round programming that engages designers and the city throughout the year with events, programs, and connections. We have already felt the impact, and so have local designers, who have opened their doors to collaborations in the region and are already accepting partnerships and clients from abroad. It is really about building a community of designers, and the collaborations that result organically after the initial spark created at Amman Design Week.
What excites you about the future of design in Amman? And what do you think is the most interesting design trend of the future?
Amman is a relatively young city but holds a very unique opportunity in its diversity. It is the breeding ground for many local talents, and the level of interest and engagement is slowly growing towards understanding the value and importance of design. We see many interesting collaborations and projects happening in several domains; textiles and fashion, graphic design, installations and architectural projects, and crafts. At Amman Design Week, we don’t particularly talk about “trends”, but about design’s relevance to contemporary culture and how it responds to local and current needs. There is an exciting pattern of works that use traditional crafts in a contemporary way and experiment with materials through new practices and methods of making.
For more information about the event, exhibitions, participants and partners, visit this link
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