Beirut Design Week 2016: The Temerity of Calling it Sustainable Design

Nélida Nassar   06.29.2016

Beirut Design Week… Insane how the city of Beirut transforms in a week. Here and there you encounter decorative interpositions, timid design gestures, design appropriation without impunity. Lemon, orange peels transformed into vessels, loofahs’ into lighting. Suddenly you come across a surprisingly well curated exhibition at Geek Express about Beirut by different local artists and photographers, a group of freshly graduate designers at Starch foundation or a rational visit to Nabil Gholam Architecture Studio. Then you have the well-established designers who recycle elements of nature but they cannot be called sustainability. Nada Debs reuses wood disks enframed with industrial steel for her Unanchored Collection of tables and consoles; Iwan Maktabi creates beautiful One Carpet For Love originally spearheaded by  German designer Jan Kath, with a group of eight design teams, but carpets are manufactured in Nepal; Bokja cleverly recycles soft drink cans into tables and revamps reams of paper into settees; Milia M converts its mannequins’ displays into planetariums, Vanina transforms canned goods into unique one of a kind memorable jewelry.

Why none of this is considered sustainable? The answer is simple for recycling to be unquestionably sustainable, it is necessary to review the way the material is transformed and re-processed. Also, recycling is an unsustainable activity if it engenders the excessive use of other resources (oil for transportation, or energy for transformation). This occur for materials that are shipped overseas to be managed in developing countries – Lebanon being one – at a lower (financial, not environmental) cost.

During Design Week the so-called It-crowd is also here. The design shakers and movers. And of course the rest of the entourage. The aspiring designers. The retired designers turned yoga teacher. The artists, the collectors, the dealers, the marketing as well as the public relations agents. The plethora of active – interior, fashion, jewelry, and industrial – designers. The sponsors, the few foreign design reps hoarding our shores to share in the manna already so scarce for its locals. The directory phone book which guarantees each designer’s name will appear in it after a $500 payment, netting its organizers their yearly salaries. If they would just understand for a second what a farce this all is. What a circus. Bonfire of Vanities, if you will… Or a predictable Matrix.

When they go in hordes from neighborhood to neighborhood for an entire week, night after night to buy the insignificant piece of jewelry, the latest gimmick object, the food gorging, the wine tastings, to see and to be seen. When they line up for late-night party after party for so-called fancy atmosphere, music, more food and drink creations with its resulting tons of trash. This is when sustainable design becomes untenable and plain wasteful. And they still have the temerity to call this design.

This is when one prefers to be in nature or a remote village considering that the theme for this 5th edition. Slow motion, pace away from the fast lane. With the left behinds who have the mountains, the fresh air, the real artisans and who have never attended Beirut Design Week and for whom it should be planned for, while they are just few kilometers away. Isn’t time to start calling this week an open house sales party?

Beirut being my birth city, it saddens me to see it transformed into for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for design and political advantage in the pursuit of power – the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is and has become an expert and design is no different.

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