Beirut. The Eras of Design

Beirut. The Eras of Design

A pioneer of its kind, Beirut. The Eras of Design seeks to capture the dynamics that have enabled design to develop in Lebanon. In co-production with CID – Grand Hornu (Innovation and Design Centre), the exhibition will be held from 7 April to 6 August 2023 at mudac.

At the crossroads of the East and the West, Lebanon has been in artistic turmoil since the beginning of the 2000s. Design too has enjoyed this dynamic and is even one of its most significant indicators. The exhibition Beirut. The Eras of Design seeks to analyse this specific situation which simultaneously combines economic and architectural reconstruction with social awareness and international development. Design alone crystallizes this desire to take hold of one’s destiny and image by offering objects and forms that are not only steeped in a multifaceted cultural heritage but also deeply rooted in a complex reality.

Until the elaboration of this exhibition project, no study has been conducted on the history of design in Lebanon, from the country’s independence in 1943 to the present day. This colossal project aims to fill this gap by presenting an overview based on rich documentation, while accepting some shortcomings due in particular to the disappearance of whole sections of archives during and after the civil war.

In order to grasp the dynamic lines that have enabled design to develop in the country, the exhibition is structured in three parts: the first on the beginnings of the discipline in Lebanon between the 1950s and 1970s, the second on the period between the 1990s to the present day and the third on the Minjara project and its philosophy.

1950s to 1970s

Sami El Kazen, The Torch of Cultur, ap. 1965 (3257 x 4071px), Sami El Kazen, The Torch of Cultur, ap. 1965 Collection privée © Courtoisie Bonhams 2022

The exhibition starts by putting contemporary design in a historical perspective, from the 1940s to the 1990s. How was design born in Lebanon ? Who were the main actors and what were the most emblematic works ?

Under French rule (1918-1943), Beirut – proclaimed capital of Greater Lebanon in 1920 – restructured itself according to the Western model and thus distinguished itself from most of the cities of the Levant. Despite the significant development of its outskirts – due to major demographic growth – only the city centre benefited from these major works.

None of the proposed urban development plans (Danger and Michel Écochard) took into account the pre-existing urban fabric and a general tabula rasa was decided upon, a sign of complete denial of identity and of the prevalence of colonial urbanism. But it was from 1945 to 1975 – the duration of the First Lebanese Republic – that design was to emerge in Lebanon.

Fontana Archive, on deposit at Office Dada © Jack Matossian Private

1990s To The Present Day 

Karen Chekerdjian, Iqar, 2003
(4368 x 2912px), © Nadim Asfar
Dans le cadre de : Beyrouth. Les temps du design

When the civil war (1975-1990) came to an end, the reconstruction of Beirut and a new start for Lebanon appeared to be an absolute priority in order to strengthen its appeal and attract investors. Many Lebanese citizens returned to the country. In this particular context, design began reclaiming geographical, economic and creative spaces. Beirut became a creative hub where workshops, galleries, schools, architecture firms, bars and restaurants set up shop.

In the 1990’s, the “Hariri-Solidere” plan, the result of private initiatives, involved the destruction of old districts in order to open up the view on the sea. The lack of respect for heritage (neither conservation nor restoration) was pointed out and, in this post-war context, the large building sites only accelerated the debt that impacted both citizens and companies.

Karen Chekerdjian, Living Space III, 2010
(4800 x 3200px), Studio Karen Chekerdjian © Nadim Asfar

The specific development of urban areas had consequences for creators, as wastelands and peripheral spaces gained value when artists, designers, and cultural institutions settled there. This urban gentrification spread rapidly due to a lack of urban planning, and in Beirut, politicians had no vision for urban, economic, or cultural development. However, in the early 2000s, projects such as Corniche al-Nahr, Quarantine, Gemmayze, Mar Mikhael, and Badaro emerged, leading to the development of creative centers and a renewed interest in design. Several organizations, such as the XXe Siècle and Carwan galleries, emerged to promote Lebanese design. This period marked the positive dynamics of design in Lebanon, with the emergence of new art markets and institutions. In 2012, the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts established the first Design department in the Middle East, aimed at creating opportunities and resources for innovative companies.

The Minjara Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer, Foire internationale Rachid Karameh, Tripoli
(3600 x 4800px), Conçue en 1992 et bâtie entre 1967 et 1975 (inachevée) © Elie Bekhazi

The Minjara initiative, which means “carpentry” in Arabic, was established to preserve Lebanon’s woodwork heritage and facilitate collaboration between traditional craftspeople and modern designers to promote innovation. With support from the European Union, the project seeks to revitalize the wood industry in Tripoli, which was at risk of disappearing due to sectarian conflicts in the region until 2014. Housed in a spacious building designed by Lebanese architect Oscar Niemeyer, Minjara provides a space for creators to collaborate, train and create synergy, and aims to unite them under a label that guarantees quality, recognition and success both locally and globally. In response to the Beirut explosion in August 2020, Minjara gathered local craftsmen and volunteers to create temporary doors and improve the safety of private work sites. Minjara serves as a platform for Lebanese craftsmanship, as well as a space for creators to meet, discuss and innovate, blending heritage with modernity to create new possibilities.

Beirut. The Eras of Design

Location: Mudac

Duration: April 7 – August 6, 2023




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