AMMAN—At Amman Design Week, which concluded last week, visitors could admire chairs made of earth or compressed sponge, jewelry made of asphalt, toys made of cardboard and walls made of fabric. The event, held across half a dozen venues and many neighborhoods, showcased local designers.
But Amman Design Week seeks to be more than just an exhibition, said director Rana Beiruti. It hopes to act as “a connecting point” for designers in Jordan and the region and to encourage innovation and yield insights into what forms of support designers need.
The event featured talks, concerts and guided tours of several Amman neighborhoods; “sketch safaris” in which participants drew while on the move through the city; and workshops in jewelry-making, weaving, knitting, print-making and using design software.
The main exhibition—whose theme was “possibilities”—took place in the Hangar, a former power station that has been remodeled into a cultural space.
Many of the artists there expressed themselves in maps. The artist Farida Khaled mapped the prices of bananas across Cairo, illustrating the Egyptian capital’s many parallel economies. The Jordanian Cluster Labs presented a series of maps that showed the dramatic impact of urban sprawl and mining on the Jordanian landscape.
Other forms of mapping were more personal. The Foundland Collective displayed drawings and models of homes as remembered by Syrian emigrants. In their project Amman ya Amman, Nadine Zaza and Sama El Saket produced illustrated panels based on interviews with residents of the city, and combined them to present an image of a shared vision of the Jordanian capital.
Some works focused on possibilities that have been foreclosed, although perhaps not forever.
Dima Srouji’s work Hollow Forms juxtaposed photographs of ancient glass vases from the Levant that are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and clear glass replicas produced by a family of artisans in Palestine. Although Srouji’s subject—Western archaeology’s complicity in the theft of local heritage—is not new, the photographs presented it in an evocative way.
Another project, by a Jordanian architecture student, Jude Abu El Ghanam, documented the site of Al-Baqourah, on the Jordanian-Israeli border. It is the site of a train station and hydroelectric power station created in the 1930s by the Palestinian Electric Company.
These structures are abandoned ruins today, part of an area that was leased to Israel by Jordan as part of their 1994 Peace Treaty. The 25-year lease expires this month, and El Ghanam asks the question: What should the future of the area be?
Some designers focused on innovations with practical applications, proposing improved hospital gowns or food carts.
Bassam Huneidi’s The Argeleih Project tackled the problem of disposable, single-use plastic argileh pipes, of which 11.5 million are used in Jordan alone ever year, at the ubiquitous shisha cafes. Huneidi proposes using the plastic tubing and mouth pieces to make stools, light fixtures and lampshades. He has also devised a way to turn a traditional pipe into five vaping pipes and a charging dock, which he said would be less expensive for cafés.
Environmental impact was a frequent theme of Amman Design Week, unsurprisingly, given that Jordan is one of the most water-poor countries in the world. An exhibition titled Future Food/Future City featured examples of aquaponics and hydroponics from Green Hub, a rooftop garden and a farm-to-table initiative at the Landmark Hotel in Amman. The Hub, said managing director Kevin Shiltz, welcomes visits by schools and other groups that are interested in learning about applying these cultivation methods, and in pursuing urban or desert agriculture. Amman Design Week was an opportunity, said Shiltz, for “finding people who would want to embrace this concept of community-based farming.”
Design Week also featured the project Greening the Camps, which plans to help build urban gardens in the Palestinian refugee camps of Jerash, and Sharek Bitbarek, which hopes to reduce food waste.
A lot of the ideas highlighted by Design Week were at the very initial stage—more “possibilities,” in keeping with the event’s theme, than projects. This fit with the organizers’ goal to foster “a high level of idea generation,” as Beiruti put it.
To that end, the team that runs Amman Design Week has created a curatorial collective and an educational effort called “platform,” through which they run a program in collaboration with the Goethe Institute, called Takween.
These overlapping initiatives offer a work space in central Amman open to designers; residencies and grants; and mentorship and training modules that cover every stage in the designing process, such as idea conception, prototyping, marketing and storytelling. The initiatives will also offer workshops: One this year will focus on developing new forms of textiles from local materials, since Jordan now imports almost all its textiles.
The idea behind the initiatives is to focus on supporting more “slower-paced, research-faced work” and to figure out “how to create the biggest impact in a designer’s career and process,” says Beiruti.
Takween also sponsored grants for students to work with professionals and exhibit their prototypes at Amman Design Week. This mentorship opportunity was very important, says Beiruti, because “what is lacking at the universities and high schools is hands-on engagement with creative professionals.”
The classes aimed at creative professionals, on the other hand, have a different goal: “Maybe now that you have some experience we can show what’s been missing, give you additional inspiration, additional connections, help you think about doing things differently,” says Beiruti.
Amman Design Week is a great chance to bring designers together and understand what their questions and struggles are, says Beiruti. “It makes my work really easy. I just have to listen in order to know what’s needed.”