While international news stations report Lebanon's descent into the Syrian crisis, its capital is awash with exhibition openings during Beirut Design Week (BDW). Such sensational contrasts are part of the daily drudgery here however, and pressing on with the business of creative production is a vote of confidence for the future of Beirut.
Here, the disparity between what design means to the consumer and what it means to the producer remains agape. Experiencing both sides in close proximity is one of the pleasures of BDW. You can see Rima Khatib's design art by the pool at Le Gray hotel, drive into the mountains for a demo of Architettura Sonora's site-specific speakers, attend a panel discussion with Michael Anastassiades, and catch the Newcomers show with its unusual prints and outlandish prototypes.
Despite its hyped-up status among the lifestyle set, the 'design capital of the Middle East' is a fledgling scene. Doreen Toutikian and Maya Karanouh co-founded the MENA Design Research Center in 2010, with incubation from Tagbrands. The pair set up BDW, which Toutikian sees foremost as a tribute to local Lebanese talent. 'Design exhibitions in Qatar, Dohar and Dubai always include Lebanese creators but they don't usually have a platform at home.'
Now in its second year, BDW is a bid to stimulate a more coherent design community connected with the realities of its location. The week is heavy on discussions and demonstrations, culminating in a two-day conference at the American University of Beirut.
At Karim Bekdache architects, traditional spaghetti-chair making demos accompany an installation 'Who Shot Arne Jacobsen' bemoaning the rise of fakes, while at Atelier S/Z passers by can make mini-lamps on shelves alongside conceptual shisha pipes (AKA redesigned hookahs) and a bricolaged take on local chair shapes.
Rapid Manufactory is our favourite example of creative Beirut's capacity to combine the incongruous. Located in a former bakery, it is the first 3D print shop in the Middle East and crams three giant printing machines into its little studio. This week Rapid Manufactory is exhibiting the resulting products made by Guillaume Credoz, cast in ceramics from 3D printed plastic moulds, alongside hand-cast pots by Souraya Haddad, in a lively example of what BDW is about - celebrating the process of live creative production against the odds.