Lebanese American University

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Designing the future

[photo]
Children in a refugee camp.

June 22, 2015—

Seniors in the B.A. in Interior Design program were confronted with a daring final task before graduating: they were asked to develop a project that contributes to alleviating a problem felt by their communities and to present it in front of a panel of LAU instructors and external experts. Given the total freedom allowed in the choice of topics, this new generation of designers demonstrated that it not only has talent, but also a strong sense of social justice.

Many of the projects focused on the difficulties faced by the most deprived communities in Lebanon and revealed the students’ sensitivity toward environmental issues, animal rights and mental health. For example, following encounters with street children from Aleppo, Lea Azar developed Street Smart, a center where kids can use their skills to make money to send back to their family members in war-torn Syria. “I discovered that most of the children have talents that need to be cultivated,” says Azar. “The center would give them the opportunity to enhance their abilities and earn money through performances.”

Similarly, Yasmin El Mamlouk ideated the Ain el Hilweh Community Center, where mothers can make a living by creating objects out of recycled material. The center’s design enables them to have their children within eyesight while in the playground or the dance studio. “These children do not have a childhood, they need a place where they can be detached from the reality of the refugee camp,” says El Mamlouk.

Two other projects addressed the poor state of Lebanon’s prison system, which tends to criminalize offenders rather than assisting their reintegration into society. An innovative project by Nadim Saab, titled Overoccupied, merged architecture with interior design to create a prison that embodies the process of healing. “Offenders enter the [new] prison from a dark room and exit it from a sunny garden,” says Saab. In their journey, inmates proceed uphill through a series of rooms, each representing a different stage of their path towards a new beginning.

For his part, Hana Abd el Latif aimed to ease the psychological pressure put on inmates by the lack of privacy and constant observation. He designed cells to mediate between security requirements and personal needs, while using transparent glass as the main material of the detention facility to relieve the feeling of oppression. “Glass also allows the prisoners to see the guards, in order to establish a reciprocity between them,” says Abd el Latif.

Some designs expressed students’ desire for a greener Lebanon. Mohammed al Nabhan presented a venue where customers can deposit their glass bottles and then watch the entire process of recycling. Dalia Boshali developed a green awareness space, where visitors can grow plants, use a science laboratory and get in touch with nature. Thanks to her crafty use of shapes, the whole structure is free of walls while still protected from rain and wind.

Other projects included cultural venues such as public libraries and collective spaces, animal shelters and relaxation resorts for escaping Beirut’s hectic reality.

Assistant Professor Nada Khoury was taken aback by the way in which these projects reflect reality. “There is a lot of sadness in their work,” she says, “but also a lot of hope.” Her students success in coming up with projects that make a difference gives her hope that this new generation of professionals will truly usher in a new era of change.


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