‘I am a firm believer that design in Jordan is a necessity and not a luxury,’ says Ahmad Humeid, founder and CEO of design and innovation firm Syntax and the curator of Amman Design Week’s main exhibition at a former energy hangar in the centre of Jordan’s capital. He’s referring to the need for transformative design in a country faced with immense social, economic, educational and environmental challenges – a place that’s no stranger to human tragedy, extremism and conflict. Despite the situation, the designers showcasing their work emit a sense of optimism and an urge for progression. As Humeid describes, the design community in Jordan aims to use its creative power to drive positive change and innovation in its continuously challenging and sometimes distressing context, thus embodying the design week’s slogan ‘Design Moves Life Moves Design’.

Back from our visit, we define the five main challenges tackled by Amman Design Week’s exhibitors.

 From left to right: Arid by Middle East Architecture Network, Salt Pond by Amal Ayoub and Water Table by Ahmad Sabbagh, Michael Schinköthe, Ala’a Ali, Eyas Tayyem and Basheer Anani

 1. Water scarcity 

To raise awareness of depleting water resources – an imminent problem in Jordan – several designers presenting at The Hangar are presenting installations that bring the topic of water scarcity to the forefront. The Middle East Architecture Network (MEAN) used a robotic CNC arm to mill pieces of natural Jordanian stone from the Al Hallabat area, which are then united to represent cracked earth as a result of drought. In a similar vein, the interactive Water Table – a design by Ahmad Sabbagh, Michael Schinköthe, Ala’a Ali, Eyas Tayyem and Basheer Anani – literally brings historical data and future projections of water shortages to the surface. But the work that most appeals to the imagination is from the hands of Amal Ayoub. Her Salt Pond explores the current condition of the Dead Sea, which is reported to be drying up. Over the course of the day, the water level of her installation – which includes sustainably sourced salt formations – slowly drops.

From left to Right: Eco Green pavilion by Sara Soudani and Mirkaz furniture by Lujaine Rezk

 2. Lack of public space

The appropriation of public (green) space is a rare concept in Amman and a trigger for local designers to search for creative solutions to occupy the city’s ‘in-between spaces’. Inspired by the tradition of placing worn-out indoor couches outside to create a place for community gatherings, Lujaine Rezk’s furniture series is suitable for the outdoors yet features materials typically found in the home. Sarah Abdul Majid and Sandra Hiari conceived Playscapes, a mobile and modular kit for pop-up children’s’ playgrounds in vacant open areas. Sara Soudani addresses the lack of urban agriculture with a low-tech installation of plastic crates, which can hold greenery and function as reusable street furniture.

 Disarming Design from Palestine exhibition featuring Unveiled Souls bag by Mariam S. Shukri and Qusai al Saify, Carrying home bag by Tessa Meeus and Mohammad Ishtay, Under the olive Tree hat by Sherida Kuffour and Zeit w Zatar bowls by Rand Abu Al-Sha’r and Asja Keeman

3. Mass migrations
As a result of years of turmoil, the Middle East has dealt (and is still dealing) with several refugee streams. The forced displacement of people has become a topic on the minds of both regional and international designers, as exemplified by those ADW exhibitors employing the power of creative practices in situations of conflict. At The Lab at Darat al Funun, one of the design week’s independent spaces, the outcomes of a workshop held in a Gaza refugee camp in Jerash and organized by design label and web shop Disarming Design from Palestine are on show. Jordanian, Palestinian and Dutch designers worked together with local craftswomen and men to collaboratively develop and produce a collection of products reflecting life in the camp and memories of ‘home’.

From left to right: Chair by Rula Yaghmour, Hollow Forms by Dima Srouji and Table 1 by Yasmeen Hamouda and Architecture + Other Things

4. Limitations in resources 

Due to its geographical location, resources in Jordan and the surrounding regions are limited. But not in the eyes of the local designers, who utilize available resources with a strong environmental approach. Rula Yaghmour carved a chair out of a block assembled from reclaimed tiles of stone, marble and granite slabs, while Yasmeen Hamouda and Architecture + Other Things recycled snippets of car tyres to form a table that resembles a natural formation. Thirdly, Dima Srouji asked two glassblowers in the small Palestinian village of Jaba’ to lend physical shape to her digital design and images. The goal: ‘To produce objects that will resonate a sense of place while maintaining the ability to act on a regional and global level’.

Mobile MakerSpace: introduction to Social Innovation workshop facilitated by DOT Jordan at the Ramlah Bint Abi Sufyan Elementary School for Girls, Zarqa. Photo Hareth Tabbalat

 5. Access to design education

Universities in Jordan offer training in architecture and graphic design, but the fields in between – such as product, technology and spatial design – are not yet part of their curriculums, forcing many young aspiring designers to travel overseas for education. One of the missions of ADW is to put these other design disciplines on the map, too. And to do so, people have to become familiar with them and learn about their potential. As part of ADW’s Community Outreach Program, a truck housing the Mobile MakerSpace hit the road to make design and learning opportunities more accessible, while showing the impact that innovative and entrepreneurial projects can make.

Amman Design Week runs until 14 October in Amman, Jordan.