03 March 2009

VCUQatar closes day 4 of Mousharaka with Design Debate Doha

Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar in partnership with Icograda concluded day four of the design week events with the first of its kind in the world – Design Debate Doha. Mousharaka will take place at VCUQatar from 28 February to 5 March, 2009.

Day Four of Mousharaka opened on 3 March, 2009, with Muneera Umedaly Spence’s, Chairperson of the Mousharaka Organizing Committee and the Chairperson of the Graphic Design Department at VCUQatar, remarks and a student introducing keynote speaker, Mario Gagliardi.


Mr. Gagliardi is CEO of the Design Zone Qatar, a new member of Qatar Foundation and a visionary development project for the first global creative hub in the Arabian Gulf. Mr. Gagliardi crafted the strategy for the Design Zone while leading ‘mg strategy’, a think-tank for design. His keynote address entitled Designing the Future covered how the geography of economics is changing rapidly and how people’s expectations are getting more demanding. He elaborated how one-sided approaches were unable to tackle these complex issues of the 21st century and the need for a fresh start.


This was being met by Design Zone, a member of Qatar Foundation, whose aim it is to be a place to inspire, a platform to learn from the best and a catalyst for design thinking and innovation. Design Zone will be built like a creative community, a livable community, involving everything from theater, to open air cinemas, beaches and vegetable gardens. It will be based on traditional architecture, which is very eco-friendly, as opposed to modern architecture, which produces 66 tons of carbon emissions per sq. km. per year. Design Zone will be a ‘life-work creative resort, a zero-carbon community with life-work balance. So designers can go fishing while they’re grappling with ideas, thereby living and working in an environment that enables creativity. Design Zone is the first major project in the Gulf dedicated entirely to creativity and design, and as such, a major impetus for the future.


Petra Blaisse, the first Professional Speaker to address Mousharaka, started with an introduction to Inside Outside and the team - how the studio developed from a one-woman unit into a small, professional studio, continuing with the method of collaborations with architecture and the architect. She talked about the domain in which Inside Outside works – interiors and exteriors. Starting with the emancipation of the curtain, followed by the philosophy, the garden, and the interior, and vice versa, the presentation showed examples of her work throughout, some of which included the restoration project for the Hackney Empire Theatre in London (all curtains) and acoustic walls and curtains for the Mercedes Benz museum in Stuttgart.


A former fellow of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, Dr. Sami Angawi has a Doctorate of Philosophy in Islamic Architecture from the University of London, and a Master of Arts in Architecture from the University of Texas in Austin. He is the Founder and General Director of the AMAR Center in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The AMAR Center restores and rehabilitates traditional buildings and houses in Jeddah, Makkah Almumukaramah and Almadinah Almunawarah. Dr. Angawi, in his presentation took us on a journey from his days as a student in Austin till the present. His presentation Al Mizan (the balance), discussed achieving a state of equilibrium taking into account all factors, the evolving versus the constant; change versus continuity and diversity versus unity. He showed examples of architecture projects from Mecca (his city) and his residence which epitomized the concept, methodology and visual expression of all these factors. Another example he elaborated on was the Boston Islamic Cultural Center. Dr. Angawi’s interactive presentation left the audience completely inspired.

The final professional presenter of the morning session, David Gibson, is an internationally recognized and published pioneer in the field of public information design. As the co-founder and managing principal of Two Twelve Associates, Inc. in New York City, Mr. Gibson has always believed in the power of design to transform public space and people’s awareness. His presentation talked about how Wayfinding design is an inherently collaborative practice that is about people and places and helping people understand places that may not be familiar to them. He talked about the four ways that could be used – connectors, districts, landmarks, streets – to help people navigate any place and also presented case studies of public places describing different models for successful inter-disciplinary collaboration. 

The afternoon session began with the first professional speaker Kittiratana Pitipanich, an architect, educator and entrepreneur who is currently the Design Advisory Director for the Thailand Creative & Design Center, a nationally funded public organization created to serve as an education and resource center for the study and advancement of design. His presentation focused on how TCDC, in cooperation with private sectors, SME entrepreneurs and designers, aims to raise public awareness in using design to add value to their products, along with helping Thai designers’ work gain visibility in the local and global marketplace. He elaborated on TCDC’s mission, vision, their creative economy giving an overview of Thailand’s creative industries and concluding with the road map of Thailand’s creative economy.

The second professional speaker, Nada Debs has been lauded at design shows in Paris and London and has built up a faithful clientele spanning the continents. Her iconic floating stools can be found in almost every chic Beiruti home, and have even been the subject of contemporary artists’ work. Through her personal experience, designing furniture has taken on many forms of collaboration: a collaboration between cultural identities - mainly between the minimalism of the Japanese aesthetic and the elaborate aspect of Middle Eastern design; a collaboration between different times - between the past and the present -the traditional and the modern; a collaboration between two different worlds – that of the craftsmen and that of the industrialist; a collaboration between the heart and the mind - reclaiming the role of emotion alongside logic. Her presentation emphasized on her belief that design is the perfect medium through which one can study the essence of these conflicts and contradictions and resolve them harmoniously. Her East & East’ furniture line has emanated from the conflicting nature of these elements.

The last speaker of the evening Chris Abani has been described as a writer with mesmerizing power, embracing warmth, and transcendent compassion. He is a Professor at the University of California, Riverside and the recipient of many awards. His prose includes Song For Night, The Virgin of Flames, Becoming Abigail, GraceLand, and Masters of the Board. His poetry collections are Hands Washing Water, Dog Woman, Daphne's Lot, and Kalakuta Republic. Mr. Abani has been described as an evocative speaker whose keynotes mix the personal and the political. His luminous presentation highlighted the redemptive power of art to battle tyranny and to remind us of our common humanity.

The much anticipated Design Debate Doha, which was conceptualized by Icograda Vice President, who thought Mousharaka would be a perfect platform to launch a debate of this kind, saw a packed atrium debate on the topic ‘This house believes ‘Globalization harmfully subverts culturally unique sensibilities.’ Panelists for the motion included writer and design critic from the UK, Rick Poynor, Dr. Sami Angawi, Founder and General Director of the AMAR Center in Saudi Arabia, and Australian educator and designer, Russell Kennedy. Panelists against the motion included Qatari architect Ibrahim Jaidah, Roger Mandle, Head of the Qatar Museums Authority and from the Netherlands, Petra Blaisse, founder of design studio Inside Outside. Both sides put forward very strong arguments for their case and the audience asked questions which were just as passionate.

Speaking for the motion Poynor spoke about globalization being responsible for all cities in the world looking the same with commercial icons of McDonald’s being spotted everywhere. He compared this to a form of colonialism or imperialism and said heritage sites were overtaken by tacky commercialism. Jaidah, speaking against the motion, talked about how globalization helped small countries like Qatar learn from other cultures and implement better practices. He gave the example of the Fulla doll, made so Arab children wouldn’t emulate Barbie but learn about their culture with an icon of their own. Speaking for the motion Kennedy continued in the same vein as Poynor and talked about how Americanism was taking over the world and how indigenous cultures were being lost to Coca Cola and Disneyland. He concluded with a clip from the Tyra Banks show where young girls from the Far East were having cosmetic eye surgery to look like western women. Blaisse started with a Dutch painting which she said was an example of globalization working as the painting had different elements from all over the world. She also stood her ground using nature as an example. When botanists were looking at how local plants were facing extinction, they thought it was because of the foreign plants. So they worked to eliminate the foreign invaders only to find this exacerbated the situation. This proved, she said, that even nature agreed that foreign elements were necessary for local ones to thrive. The last speaker for the motion Dr. Angawi said while he wasn’t against globalization, he couldn’t accept the concept of superimposition that globalization came with. He talked about the superimposition of the new on the old, in the bargain destroying heritage sites and anything of the old that should have been treasured. He used his hometown of Mecca to illustrate his point. The final speaker, Mandle referred to globalization as globalism instead, and talked about how cultural exchange existed from the times of the crusaders and Ottomans. He argued that not just the west but even the east and countries like Qatar were able to export technologies and processes because of globalism today. He compared the fear of globalism to Talebanism and the North Korean way – closed cultures who were fanatic in a bid to keep other cultures from polluting their own. He said nobody would thrive in this kind of cultural isolation. Kamahl Santamaria, the Al Jazeera English channel presenter moderated the discussion.
In the end the audience voted 47% for the motion and 53% against.

Mousharaka / The Icograda Design Week in Qatar, presented by VCUQatar, is composed of the Education Symposium and the Professional Conference, where prominent speakers will share perspectives on design and design collaborations. VCUQatar is also spearheading the creation of MEDEA – the Middle East Design Educators Association - a platform for educators charged with getting the most out of design. For more information about Mousharaka, featured speakers and events, and to register please visit http://www.mousharaka.com/

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