Designers in the Middle Panel at London Design Festival 2017

28 September 2017

Annie Wu and Dieneke Ferguson

The third Designers in the Middle panel discussion took place at the Global Design Forum during the London Design Festival, September 2017 at the V&A, Friday 22 September.

Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017

Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017

Designers in the Middle is an exciting new initiative that was founded in 2008 by Rona Meyuchas, the founder and creative director of Kukka, who works internationally and is inspired by local craft and manufacturing techniques. Kukka makes products from sustainable materials and cultural behaviours.

Rona initiated Designers in the Middle as a concept back in 2008 when she moved from London to the Middle East.
The first Designers in the Middle Panel Discussion took place in London in 2016 during the London Design Festival and was curated by the Design Museum. The second Designers in the Middle Panel Discussion was held In May 2017 during ICFF in New York. You can see further details in Designers in the Middle – Interview with Kukka

Rona was joined by an expert panel, including designer Nada Debs and Rami Tareef to explore how the region’s craft, heritage, daily life and industrial reality affect the work and lives of its designers.

The panel was chaired by Suzanne Trocmé, Editor at Large for Wallpaper*, Suzanne Trocmé is a British designer, curator, and author who is currently researching into Middle Eastern design and the future of it.

Main Highlights in these 3 panels of Designers in the Middle:
• Designers operating in and from the Middle East
• Designers find themselves in the middle between the manufacturing and the political constraints.

Rona Meyuchas (Kukka)

Rona Meyuchas says:
“The content of Designers in the Middle is not political at all and that is also one of the reasons the “East” word after the “Middle” is not mentioned. What interest me is to bring out the person/designer behind its work. I am hoping you will find the beauty behind it.”

Rona Meyuchas, Kukka. Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017

Rona Meyuchas, Kukka. Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017



As a citizen of the world, Rona works internationally but at the same time she is stimulated by local craft, heritage and manufacturing techniques. In the Middle East, there is a rich culture of arts and crafts however, unlike other regions, these are not easily accessible among neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Iran.

For instance The Felucca light from Kukka is one of the products that symbolised Rona’s move to the Middle East, to Israel. Felucca is a typical sailing boat found in the Middle East protected water such as Suez Canal.

Felucca by Kukka, Designers in the Middle presentation

Felucca by Kukka, Designers in the Middle presentation

She had this fire retardant interesting fabric; developed and made by a British company on her desk for many years back in her London studio. The material properties stimulated her to create a lamp shade from only a piece of fabric, it has no structure only two fasteners to hold it directly on a light bulb and that’s how the lamp shade volume is created.

Nada Debs (interior architect and designer)

Nada Debs, Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017

Nada Debs, Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017

Nada of Lebanese origin, was raised in Japan. She studied interior architecture at Rhode Island School of Design in the United States and started her first company in the UK, designing and producing furniture. Currently, Nada lives in Beirut, Lebanon where she discovered that modern Middle Eastern furniture design are non-existent. She established her company East & East, where the brand fuses new translations of Arab identity, tradition, design disciplines, international trends and experiments of materials. Her work that is inspired by cultures around the world and touches of Japanese culture attracted the attention of the design world.

Her design is characterized by geometric shapes, motifs and fantasy elements that can be found in Japanese modern culture and trends. She believes the common element that unites human beings are shapes. Almost everyone can draw or recognize a triangle, square, and circle. She implements mathematics and geometric shapes on the walls, panels, chairs, and other products in her interior design.

Nada Debs, Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017

Nada Debs, Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017. Photo: Annie Wu

Her mission is to celebrate Eastern craftsmanship through contemporary design, reintroducing and reinterpreting local design in the East and using Arab heritage and tradition as a foundation towards modernity. The development of new material and traditional techniques resulted in innovative local craftsmanship. Often the designers who feel most confident are those who made a name for themselves in the Western world and come back to the East she states. Therefore, she strives to revive the spirit of the local and bring it to the global stage; at the same time increase the confidence of local designers like those living in Beirut.

There is an emphasis in the handmade, where the hand is the storyteller and preserves narratives.

Rami Tareef (Designer, Rami Tareef Studio)

One of Rami’s early projects include chairs with geometric patterns, created by wrapping and weaving cords around steel frames.

He aims to update and preserve traditional weaving techniques and applies skills learned from local craftsman in the Old City of Jerusalem to contemporary forms and material design.

The hybridization of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design where the hands are the thinker. He believes that we should preserve traditional crafts by upgrading them through contemporary context.

Rami Tareef, Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017

Rami Tareef, Designers in the Middle, London Design Festival 2017

 

His products are created through thorough research, some on human behaviour and traditional use of products. Some of the patterns on his products include modern icons (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp icons for example arranged and implemented on existing or traditional home living products.) It is where tradition meets the contemporary.

The panel was an important step to start looking at what the designers in the Middle East have in common and where their work references local traditions.

We are looking forward to a continuation of the debate

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