We Design 2024 Highlights

Despite its postponement due to the war in Gaza, this first edition of We Design Beirut proved to be a refreshing and shining triumph for Lebanon and the region. Alongside showcases, including exhibitions, installations, and pop-ups, We Design Beirut featured open studios, panel talks, and a vibrant atmosphere of creativity.

Khansa performing at Cinema Royale, We Design opening night.
Khansa performing at Cinema Royale, We Design opening night.

From the opening night at Cinema Royale to the transformative exhibitions at historic venues like Villa Audi and the Interdesign building, each aspect of the fair celebrated the intersection of heritage, innovation, and artistic expression. Furthermore, the participation of artisans, designers, and creatives underscored the rich tapestry of talent in Lebanon’s design scene. We explore the fusion of tradition and modernity, sustainability, and innovation that defined this first edition of We Design Beirut, setting the stage for future artistic endeavours.

The opening night of We Design at Cinema Royale began with a heartwarming speech by the founder Mariana Wehbe. The speech was followed by a performance by Khansa which captivated the audience with his artistry. Set against the backdrop of Cinema Royale’s storied history, the event highlighted the venue’s transformation from an X-Cinema to a cultural centre. Complementing the performance was a unique food installation by Toutia, which added a multisensory dimension to the evening. This fusion of performance art and culinary creativity marked a new chapter for Cinema Royale, blending its rich heritage with contemporary cultural experiences.

‘Past Echoes: A Journey through Middle Eastern Product Design’, at Villa Audi.
‘Past Echoes: A Journey through Middle Eastern Product Design’, at Villa Audi.

‘Past Echoes: A Journey through Middle Eastern Product Design’ transitioned its celebration of Middle Eastern design to the historic Villa Audi. Originally conceived for another location the exhibition ended up residing in Villa Audi, an iconic architectural site built between 1918 and 1921 by two Italian architects. This villa, commissioned by Jacques Karam after marrying Lyda Sursock, was a family haven until its acquisition by Bank Audi in 1973. Since then, it has preserved Bank Audi’s private mosaics and antiquities collection. As part of We Design Beirut, “Past Echoes” emphasised preservation and heritage, with historical mosaics highlighting the region’s craftsmanship. Curated by Babylon – The Agency, the exhibition featured works from over 33 regional product designers, showcasing furniture and utilitarian objects that echo Middle Eastern cultural heritage. “Past Echoes” underscores the transformative power of design, preserving memories and anchoring historical significance within Villa Audi.

‘Past Echoes: A Journey through Middle Eastern Product Design’, Karim Choueiri, Anastasia Nysten and Iwan Maktabi at Villa Audi. Credits to Walid Rashid.
‘Past Echoes: A Journey through Middle Eastern Product Design’, Karim Choueiri, Anastasia Nysten produced by Stones by Rania Malli and Iwan Maktabi at Villa Audi. Credits to Walid Rashid.
Thomas Trad, “Through the Lens of Amalia: A Glimpse of Lebanon’s Golden Era”

Thomas Trad’s exhibition at Villa Audi during We Design Beirut aimed to create awareness around AI-generated images. In his exhibition text he does not mention AI allowing the viewers to explore and experience by themselves. “Through the Lens of Amalia: A Glimpse of Lebanon’s Golden Era” was stated to be photography exhibition takes viewers on a journey through Lebanon as seen through the eyes of Amalia, an Italian émigré who settled in Beirut after World War II. Arriving in 1950, she captured the essence of Beirut’s golden years and the onset of the civil war, documenting the city’s contrasts and beauty.
It is only on his Instagram that he revealed the truth. While the story of Amalia’s life in Beirut is true, the photographs are AI-generated. The exhibition highlights AI’s ability to create lifelike images, provoking thought about the lines between reality and imagination. It encourages viewers to explore the intersection of history, technology, and art.

Thomas Trad, “Through the Lens of Amalia: A Glimpse of Lebanon’s Golden Era”

PSLab hosted an array of installations, pop-ups, and artisans. The installations included Capsule, Rania Malli, and Georges Mohasseb in collaboration with Minjara. The pop-ups featured Blatt Chaya, PIK’D, The Ready Hand, and The Silly Spoon. Additionally, “Vision from Beirut,” an exhibition by Karim Nader with Julien Lanoo showcased photographs in conversation with a sculptural installation.

PSLab. Credits to Karim Sakr.

Among the artisans present was Dima Stephan, an Interior Architect and rattan artisan, who is known for merging traditional craftsmanship with modern design through her work at RATTAN HUN. Wood sculptor Hussam Hamami brought two decades of expertise, blending traditional and contemporary trends. Elie Ayruth, with a family heritage in wood sculpture spanning over 400 years, showcased his mastery in Arabic woodwork and carpentry. Finally, Fatima Mohammed Saad Allah Al-Tartousi, a skilled copper engraver, highlighted her family’s legacy and her position as Lebanon’s sole woman in this craft.

Collective by Rhea Younes at PSLab. Credits Karim Sakr.
Collective Y by Rhea Younes at PSLab. Credits Karim Sakr.
All Things Must (n't) Pass.
All Things Must (n’t) Pass at Interdesign building.

“All Things Must(n’t) Pass” at the Interdesign building recounted the life and career of architect and designer Khalil Khouri. The Interdesign building, designed by Khouri in 1973 and completed in 1996, the installation told the story of his ambitious project to showcase furniture for international markets. The concrete structure remained unfinished for 23 years, and by its completion, the post-war economy had already undermined Khouri’s industrial dreams, leading to the project’s decline. Curated by his son and grandson, Bernard and Teymour Khoury, the exhibition featured historical documents, photographs, architectural drawings, artworks, furniture, and prototypes, reflecting the aspirations struggles and multidisciplinary aspects of Khouri’s extraordinary career.

All Things Must (n't) Pass.
All Things Must (n’t) Pass at Interdesign building.
‘Forgotten Spaces’ designed by Thomas Modeen at Iwan Maktabi Lab.

The Iwan Maktabi Lab is a research hub for design projects that blend culture, creativity, and craftsmanship. The Lab aims to create sustainable, inventive designs by merging technology and innovative materials with traditional weaving techniques. It invites creatives from diverse fields to contribute to handcrafted designs, providing them with the necessary tools and expertise.
For this edition of We Design, The Lab’s retrospective showcased five years of creations, revealing the design process, successes, and challenges. This exhibition features collaborations with artists like Edouard Cabay, Nadine Kanso, and Gregory Gatserelia as well as a solo exhibition titled ‘Forgotten Spaces’ designed by Thomas Modeen emphasising Iwan Maktabi’s commitment to innovation and craftsmanship in handmade carpets.

Showroom Exhibition, Iwan Maktabi.
Showroom Exhibition, Iwan Maktabi.
Materials Exhibition at Abroyan Factory. Credits to Karim Sakr.
Materials Exhibition at Abroyan Factory. Credits to Karim Sakr.

At Abroyan Factory two distinct shows highlighted the event. The Main Exhibition featured a collective display open to current students, graduates, and emerging talents under the age of 30. This exhibition emphasised sustainable and recycled materials, with an environmentally friendly production process. Curated by international design experts Federica Sala, Anne-France Berthelon, and François LeBlanc De Cecilia, it provided a platform for young creatives to present their innovative designs.
The second showcase, the Materials Exhibition, displayed the works of renowned designers and studios, including Hadi Abou Hamdan, Juzur, Michel Braidy, Oyaway, Plastc Lab, Post Industrial Crafts, Ziad Abi Chaker, Hearth – Alyaf – Annine Fadye, Fady Saleme & Blatt El Atiq and Joanne Issa. This exhibition focused on innovative material usage and sustainability, demonstrating the potential of eco-friendly design practices. Together, these showcases underscored the importance of sustainable creativity and the future of design.

WeSearch exhibition at Abroyan Factory.
WeSearch exhibition at Abroyan Factory.

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