The Spotlight is on Beirut

We Design Beirut is a four-day design experience from October 27 to 30, 2023, taking place in Beirut, Lebanon that aims to celebrate as well as promote design and rich craftsmanship of Lebanon in locations that will stun design-enthusiasts. SCALE engages with Mariana Wehbe, the founder/ideator of We Design Beirut to know more about the ambitious plans to turn the city of Beirut into a design extravaganza.

“Based on the WE, in We Design Beirut, the events aim to bring together collectives of design talents, showcasing the city’s powerful creative spirit,” says Mariana Wehbe, A PR professional who dreams big for herself and for her country.

For someone who knows Mariana Wehbe, this new passion project that she has embarked on is inevitable. A public relations and creative events professional, Wehbe has been credited with many ambitious contracts in the region. Her ability to identify and harness talent; envision and produce world-class projects has earned her a glowing reputation as an authority on brand development, event management and production . But what made her ideate such an ambitious project like We Design Beirut, along with industrial designer Samer Alameen, is her love for design, and more importantly, her love for her country and what it has to offer in the field of design.

The design event is a recognition of the resilient nature of the Lebanese design community around the world. It is finally time to put the focus on the interminable creative streak of a country and its population that is stifled by economic turmoil and social unrest and yet never gives up. It is time to put the focus on Beirut, Lebanon.

Under the theme of We Preserve, Villa Mokbel will be the hub for A Curated Product Design Exhibition by Babylon – The Agency, founded by Joy Mardini and William Wehbe, Design Shops Pop-Up and Panel Talk

“I think it is safe to say that the world has born witness to the challenges facing the Lebanese people since 2019, from revolution to financial collapse, COVID and the August 2020 explosion. What is less known is the resilience of the Lebanese design scene in the face of all these obstacles,” says Mariana Wehbe, a born changemaker, “Lebanon has been a major hub for design since the early 1940s, and we felt it was crucial to expose these talents and the unique creativity of Lebanon to the world. This in turn will create networks and opportunities for the creatives, artisans and designers that will provide them with greater chances of continued growth and business sustainability. Throughout history, economic and political strife’s effect on the design scene is twofold; designers and artisans are the first to be adversely affected, yet the circumstances tend to bring out even more beauty and talent.”

Industrial Designer and Partner of We Design Beirut, Samer Alameen’s work is anchored in a world of story-telling that
stems from his extensive background in advertising and which has lead him to become a creator himself. he says, “I am often asked how a city as small as Beirut; with all its conflict and chaos, could be home to so much talent and creativity…
Beirut exists in contradictions and excesses; a plethora of history, cultures, conflict, enjoyment, chaos and beauty.  The design scene flourishes in and is a reflection of this unique intensity.”

Samer Alameen reinvents the objects he creates: his process is witty, concise and refined, adding a new layer of purpose and context where appropriate to traverse both exclusive handmade and one-off pieces alongside those that are industrially produced.

“We Design Beirut aims to shed a much-needed spotlight on the creativity and talent of the Lebanese design community,” says Wehbe.

The four-day immersive design celebration aims to enrich the global design scene synergistically, by engaging the creative talent of both established and emerging designers, artisans, specialists, and educators in the event’s themes of empowerment, preservation, and sustainability.

“The aim is to invite the world to our showcase, allowing international guests, media personalities and journalists the opportunity to sample our diverse offerings and share them with their communities. Our three pillars of preservation, sustainability and empowerment introduce our visitors to iconic monuments from our Lebanese culture that serve as major hubs of the event and that represent our past, present, and future,” says Wehbe.

PSLabs is a beautiful open space destroyed by the blast, yet still stands tall and monumental. It will serve as the official headquarters of We Design Beirut, dedicated to the theme: We Empower A designated crafts hub. PSLab will exhibit the various possibilities of our materials, promote and provide a retail outlet for our local artisans, and spotlight the importance of protecting our crafts.

Location takes it All

The success of any design festival is its location. And for We Design Beirut, the organisers have aced this component with stunning architectural locales that will leave the travelling design enthusiastic stunned.

“PSLab, The Egg, Villa Mokbel and The Royal Cinema are locations that have been identified as playing a significant role in terms of events, panel talks, workshops, and central point,” says Wehbe, introducing us to the locations that are both historical as well as architectural landmarks.

“Staged against the backdrop of some of Lebanon’s most iconic sites, We Design Beirut pays homage to Beirut’s exuberant design history and powerful creative spirit centred around our three pillars: empower, preserve, and sustain,” adds Alameen, who along with branding agency Bananamonkey, are in partnership with Wehbe to bring the show alive.

We must start with the Egg, because it deserves to be recognised for its architecture and structural magnificence.

The Egg-shaped theatre was designed by renowned architect Joseph Philippe Karam and built in 1965. It was originally part of a multicultural complex and is known as the world’s most unusually designed theatre. The Egg, although never completed, has hosted performances and gatherings, and has contributing to Beirut’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. The Egg has been left abandoned for years now, and now it will finally get a revival that it deserves, says Wehbe.

The Iconic Egg will serve as a hub for the theme of sustainability, showcasing a collective of emerging young designers, the future that will shape Lebanese design, shares Wehbe. “The Egg, an unfinished masterpiece will serve as the backdrop to the collective of emerging young designers under the theme of We Sustain, the future that will shape Lebanese design. Curated by three internationally renowned experts Francois Le Blanc, Anne France Berthelon, and Frederica Sala. The Egg is both the past and the future of Beirut, providing a platform for the upcoming promising talents of the country.”

The Egg, although never completed has hosted performances and gatherings, contributing to Beirut’s rich artistic and cultural heritage but has been left abandoned for years now.

“The Egg is both the past and the future of Beirut, providing a platform for the upcoming promising talents of our country. This collective of emerging young designers will be the future that will shape Lebanese design. A huge installation by a renowned photographer is planned and the location will be an active hug for emerging designers with talks planned on the last day of the festival,” she says.

PS Lab in its destroyed architectural landscape.

Another iconic yet heart-breaking location, standing right across the blast site is the tall and monumental, earlier lighting company HQ that was destroyed in the blast, PSLab will serve as the official headquarters of We Design Beirut, dedicated to the theme: We Empower.

Outdoor Partition at PSLab © Karim Sakr _ @beirut_streets

“A designated crafts hub, our vision for PSLab is to exhibit the various possibilities of our materials, promote and provide a retail outlet for our local artisans, and spotlight the importance of protecting our crafts. We have glass blowers, wood makers, rattan makers, ceramists, all of which will be activated in this space. We have seven architects who are working with rattan makers in Lebanon to finish a housing project which will be showcased here and then taken to the Mediterranean and later travel to the Salone de Mobile,” says Wehbe as she takes us through the schedule and the venues, adding, “ You can shop the local crafts, learn about the crafts, have a coffee and you can attend talk show moderated by Design Miami Curator on the topic of local craftsmanship, all of which will be held in this iconic location.”

Quantum House, also known as Villa Mokbel, is a treasured heritage site in upscale Achrafieh. It has witnessed over a century of history, including the French mandate, two World Wars and the Lebanese Civil War. Its unique blend of Ottoman and Italian influences gives it an exceptional architectural edge.

The next iconic location is Villa Mokbel, an Italian design-inspired mansion built during the Golden Age of Beirut, in the heart of Achrafieh, that has born witness to numerous historic events from World War 2, the Lebanese Civil War and the Beirut Explosion of August 2020, and will house a curated exhibition of product design talent curated by Babylon – The Agency, founded by Joy Mardini and William Wehbe. Additionally, the location will house a pop-up of international design collections. The juxtaposition of old-world elegance and contemporary design is expected to garner the attention and fuel the creative process of visitors and participants alike.

Dating back to 1962, this previously abandoned cinema has been transformed to a vibrant cultural center and will hold the closing ceremony of We Design Beirut.

The Royal Cinema is another location of the festival that dates to 1962. This previously abandoned cinema has been transformed to a vibrant cultural centre. Reflecting the glory days of the 60s in Lebanon, the cinema reached its peak then, and now serves as a hub for artistic expression and community engagement. The design festival, We Design Beirut will hold the closing ceremony at the Royal Cinema.

The Oscar Niemeyer International Fair in Tripoli, renowned for its modernist architecture, will host a private tour by Aga Khan award-winning East Architecture Studio.

Further afield in Tripoli, a visit and walk-through the Oscar Neimeyer Fairgrounds, the largest project for the revered architect outside of his native Brazil, and recently partially renovated by the Aga Khan award recipients for 2022, EAST Architecture Studio.

“It will be an exclusive opportunity to explore the fair’s rich history and stunning design with the experts, as well as their renovation of the guesthouse,” explains Wehbe.

The interiors of the Egg.

While the four-day design event promises to be a festival that celebrates design from Beirut by putting the focus on craftsmanship and talent heads found in the region, the festival gives the country a much-needed reason to be proud of its achievement, putting the spotlight on the various facets that make Lebanon known for what it is.

The beauty of Beirut is in its architecture reminicent of its past and its struggles and yet the country and its people are hopeful of its future.

“On a personal level, some of Beirut’s most beautiful traditional homes will be opened to the guests of the event. Showcasing not only unique architecture, interior and spatial design, but also Lebanon’s famed hospitality and generosity. Our unique selling point is in fact a revisiting of our world-class Lebanese design community, the potential it possesses and the unique workmanship it has prided itself on for decades,” says Wehbe.

With passion, love for design and nation-building at its core, We Design Beirut is set to conquer hearts. It is indeed the time for Beirut! Book your tickets now…