Trendesign presents a preview of the upcoming inaugural edition of Amman Design Week, which will run from September 1 to 9 of this year.
The idea of having a platform for designers in Jordan was inspired and driven by HM Queen Rania Al Abdullah’s invested interest in showcasing local talent. The pair who would go on to become Amman Design Week co-directors, Abeer Seikaly, an architect and cultural designer, and Rana Beiruti, an architect and curator, immediately recognised the immense potential of such a project. With the Queen’s full support, the pair transformed the event into an educational and multifaceted annual experience.
Months of research followed, wherein Beiruti, Seikaly and their team studied Jordan’s design landscape in order to ascertain exactly what type of event was needed. They spoke to all kinds of designers, practitioners, educators and audiences in an effort to find out what was needed in the sector in Jordan – both in terms of design itself and from an infrastructure standpoint. “We want to help designers and to empower them to be able to make a difference or feel like they’re working in an honourable profession,” explains Seikaly.
The results of the study clearly showed the need for an accessible event with an educational focus, which was also plugged into a global network and audience. Seikaly and Beiruti, having both visited numerous design and art fairs across the globe, came to the realisation that a design week would be the best way to achieve this goal. Thus the idea for Amman Design Week emerged: “An immersive nine-day event where people from across borders can come together, exchange ideas and learn from one another,” Beiruti outlines.
One of the most important aspects of establishing the concept of Amman Design Week for Beiruti and Seikaly was how to ensure that the whole event would be as accessible as possible. As opposed to more established international design weeks, they were adamant that this one must maintain a local, grassroots approach: “Responding to local problems, relevant to local audiences, helping to provide a platform for local designers,” in Seikaly’s words. While regional designers will be included in the programming, the main focus will remain on giving exposure to these talented local designers.
In a similar vein, Seikaly and Beiruti are eager that Amman Design Week will not only be for the elite of Amman’s society. “It’s about breaking down this conception that design is only a luxury,” Beiruti comments. “It’s more about conscious design, design that makes a difference, creating a cultural shift towards being proactive and problem-solving through design. Designers can really make a difference and challenge the status quo to find solutions for problems like limited water resources or the refugee crisis.”
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The event will be located in the so-called “cultural corridor” that runs through the heart of historic Amman, through Ras Al Ain, taking in the Hangar and the Jordan Museum, through Downtown and all the way to the Raghadan Bus Terminal. Despite large amounts of investment into each of these spaces, they often feel empty and lifeless – something which the Amman Design Week team has been taking strides to overcome, not least through their partnership with the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM). “We want to reflect the unique character of this thoroughfare and work on enhancing mobility through the corridor,” Seikaly explains. “Our overarching goal is to provide a liveable and lively context that meets local needs and creates a cultural corridor, from which residents, business owners, the municipally and other stakeholders can once again derive value.”
The Hangar will play host to the more formal design exhibition, which will be designed and curated by the celebrated architect Sahel Al Hiyari. The exhibition, which will focus on ideas of locality and challenging understandings of design, will be the only area to feature the work of other designers from the region.
Moving down the street, the Jordan Museum will contain the MakerSpace, an innovative concept that places cutting-edge digital fabrication technologies from Amman’s tech start-ups alongside the museum’s impressive collection of humankind’s earliest forays into tool-making. Visitors will have the opportunity to experiment with these groundbreaking machines in a self-guided learning environment, as well as to participate in creating collaborative installations.
The Crafts District will be located in the Raghadan Tourist Terminal, which is located just a few minutes walk from the Roman Amphitheatre in Downtown. It was originally envisaged as a tourist transportation hub, but has been little used since its completion. This location will be transformed into a holistic social space for Amman Design Week, incorporating culture, heritage and contemporary craft through a series of pop-up shops, demonstration booths, design installations and food stalls. Curated by architect Dina Haddadin, the aim of The Crafts District will be to create a link between local communities and traders, traditional craftspeople, modern designers and new audiences. “It’s not about the object itself; craft has become a means for self-expression and storytelling, and is therefore a tool of empowerment,” Beiruti comments. “By encouraging collaboration between traditional craftspeople and designers we are providing further opportunities to explore their skills and identities.”
A WIDER EXPERIENCE
While these three locations will form the main hub of Amman Design Week activities, the aim is that it will be a city-wide – and even a country-wide – event. “Amman is just the venue; we’re reaching out to all of Jordan. We’re hoping to engage with designers of all kinds across the Kingdom, as well as those living abroad,” Seikaly says. A whole programme of events are being planned to take place around the capital during Amman Design Week, including workshops, a speaker series and, the organisers hope, an open studios series from galleries, art spaces and other platforms that will grant a unique insight into the different creative spaces around the capital.
Seikaly and Beiruti also plan to broaden the scope of Amman Design Week outside of the actual nine days in which it will take place. “You can’t do everything in one week; we believe that design is a process and not only an event,” Seikaly explains. This programming has already begun – so far it has already included a study into urban revitalisation involving a group of young architects and an advocacy campaign to push for clearer legislation on the use of 3D printers within Jordan.
Amman Design Week looks set to electrify Jordan’s creative scene. Taking advantage of the capital’s advantageous geographical location, stable political situation, temperate climate and undeniably rich pool of untapped talent, the event will move beyond the archetype of elitist fairs exhibiting unattainable designer furniture. Rather, it will act as a platform for enhancing Jordanian design capacity, bringing together disparate groups of creatives to catalyse conscious design as a force for change. Take our advice, and watch this space.
Photography: Courtesy of Sami Haven, Hussam Da’na
and Amman Design Week.
Illustrations: Dina Haddadin