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Saudi Design Week: A Celebration of Heritage and Sustainability

An exhibit at Saudi Design Week
An exhibit at Saudi Design Week | © Saudi Design Week
Modern, sustainable design meets traditional Islamic craft at the fourth edition of Saudi Design Week. Culture Trip explores the artists producing this year’s most innovative pieces.

Innovative design meets sustainability

It has taken Sultan AlMarshood almost three months to carve a custom walking stick, embellished with an uncoiled snake, from a single piece of olive wood. It’s been whittled and worked into a sculptural masterpiece, and AlMarshood is now in the final stages of production. With the help of a handheld torch, he scorched fine details into the wood’s ash blonde fibres. The seared, rich brown snake scales and the serpentine features of the head and tail will take several more hours to complete.

In his boyhood, AlMarshood started carving wood pieces he found outside his home. Today, this artisan designs custom wood pieces like walking canes, and jewellery such as misbahas or Islamic prayer beads. AlMarshood’s work is a tribute to his heritage and helps to preserve Saudi’s traditional arts and handicrafts. By using natural local materials such as olive wood and date seeds, he also embraces the idea of environmental sustainability.

Innovative design that supports sustainability was the theme of the 2018 design week, and elevated the event from a celebration of cutting-edge creativity into an important contributor to the global dialogue around sustainable solutions.

Local artist Sultan AlMarshood, one of several designers featured at of the Quby Group’s exhibit, uses local materials like olive tree wood for all his unique pieces © Culture Trip / Elizabeth Branca

An unmissable design event

Held from 4 to 7 October at the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue in the heart of Saudi’s capital city, Saudi Design Week (SDW) explored and exhibited innovative design through a variety of media. The event hosted 58 new and well-established exhibitors, with Saudis comprising almost 90 percent of the designers.

Visitors had the chance to peruse exhibit booths featuring home decor, handicrafts, tech gadgets, jewellery, architecture and apparel, in addition to attending a wide selection of designer workshop and forums.

Sponsored by Saudi’s General Entertainment Authority and partnered with Ithra, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, and Quby, a creative design and product innovation branding agency, SDW elevated conversations on design as well as the industry’s vision of future sustainability. The two-tiered venue included exhibits on the lower level, with the ground floor transformed into a marketplace offering a myriad of handmade gifts and goodies for sale.

More than just an unmissable event, SDW is a unique melange of Islamic cultural heritage and contemporary crafts, and offers visitors an exciting opportunity to learn the cultural history and personal backstories of its design pioneers.

Designers gather in the SDW marketplace © Saudi Design Week

Noura Bouzo’s exhibit, entitled ‘Dining with Sultans’, featured Islamic miniature paintings on ceramic dinnerware and wooden home decor. “My work focusses on sustainability of cultural heritage through design, but I also take into consideration environmental sustainability,” explains Bouzo, who was the Arab Woman Award’s Artist of the Year 2015. Bouzo’s wooden pieces such as serving trays, platters and wall decor are made from reclaimed wood, and the ceramic dinner plates are made using non-toxic paint and fixatives. Painted in extraordinary detail, the dinnerware is both functional and decorative.

“Our concept has always been to take pieces from our heritage and history and make them into something functional, modern or usable in our daily lives,” says Raneen Bukari, manager at Desert Designs. At their showroom in Al Khobar, designers take heirloom furniture, rugs and even antique jewellery and upcycle them to create unique modern decor. Antique doors and windows are repurposed into contemporary tables or desks that are favourites of regional collectors. As well as their custom designs, the showroom features the work of other local artists.

Epitomising SDW’s theme of cultural and environmental sustainability, the Jeddah-based Efreez Art and Design pottery studio exhibited its zmzmya. A natural clay canteen inspired by the region’s nomadic Bedouin heritage, the zmzmya, or zamzamiah, is a light, portable drinking terracotta bottle with little environmental impact and zero waste.

Honoring Saudi culture and heritage through its furniture and décor, Desert Designs upcycles antiques by repurposing and redesigning pieces with a fresh new look and function © Culture Trip / Elizabeth Branca

Again combining Saudi heritage with innovative design and sustainability, contemporary luxury womenswear label Abadia exhibited its signature farwa. Featured in the October issue of Vogue Arabia and a presenter at 2018’s Paris Fashion Week, Abadia’s collection is an homage to old-world traditions blended with today’s high fashion. The brand’s farwa, a bisht-like coat worn during Saudi’s winter months, has been transformed from a Bedouin clothing staple into a piece of contemporary couture. With the help of traditional weaving craft from more than 40 artisans in Qassim, Abadia’s line is both environmentally minded and stylish, and it generates zero production waste.

Born in Jeddah, Lillian Ismail graduated with a BA in jewellery design from New York’s New School and prides herself on her cultural heritage and on the responsible environmental practices of her namesake jewellery brand. “This collection features a vintage Saudi riyal coin; it’s our bestseller, and also locally sourced,” she says, adding that all of their pieces are handmade in Jeddah.

If you missed the event, check out SDW’s comprehensive web page, which includes links to the exhibitors and the design market vendors.