My New Life: Amman Design Week

It never ceases to amaze me at how badly I can underestimate things. We moved to Amman three full months ago and we’re still adjusting to our new life here. You might say, “Of course you are, Ashley. Don’t you know adjustments take time? There’s a lot to get used to.”

And I’d say, “Of course, I know that. But this is the third time I’ve moved overseas and so I’m confident I’ve totally got the hang of it by now.”

Cue the dramatic eye roll.

And the truth of the matter is, there is a lot that we have adjusted to. We have our favorite grocery stores, restaurants, and happy hours (I know: Food, food, food). We have our route to and from school, good friends we see on a regular basis, and bit by bit we’re exploring the city.

BUT. Not only are we at a new school (more American, less international), I’m also teaching a new grade level. And while I love the independence my third graders have – being a year older than I’m used to teaching – I still have a whole lot of new content I need to dig into.

Which is why I had a totally productive and utterly boring weekend of delving into the next six weeks of my reading and writing units. And, as a former PYP (Primary Years Program at an International Baccalaureate World School) teacher, it does devastate me a little that those two units aren’t linked more than they currently are. Which is why my weekend looked the way it did…it takes time to rewrite things.

And while I feel ramped up and ready to support my students with their reading and writing from now until winter break (don’t ask me about math and science just yet, that’s a task for another day), I don’t feel particularly balanced about my current lifestyle.

Here’s the part where you tell me to stop complaining, because, honestly, I live a pretty incredible life. And you’re right. Not only did I travel to 28 countries before I turned 28 (29 has been a slow year, what with the move and all!), but we’ve even been able to do some pretty cool things since showing up here in Amman.

Take Amman Design Week for instance: 2019 saw the third annual celebration of this event and their website boasts 89,000 attendees, 160 exhibitors, and 50 participating spaces.

Amman Design Week has brought local, regional, and international designers/innovators to Amman and has provided free/open access to a series of large-scale curated exhibitions, student and community programs, workshops and talks, and city-wide cultural programs.

It was a blast. Their four objectives: Support local, provide learning programs, design for social impact, and create connections led to a fascinating range of exhibits, many of which were staffed by their own designers.

There was so much to see and experience that we set aside two days to explore this massive event. Our first evening was spent in Ras El Ain at the Hangar Exhibit and the Future Food/Future City outdoor space. Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to explore the Student Exhibit, so we’ll make sure that happens next year.

One of the first pieces we encountered in the Hangar Exhibit was the Ein Ghazal Jameed Concrete Statue by Omar Sartawi. Pictured below, this edible statue is a replica of the Ein Ghazal statue originally found in Jordan, now on display at the Louvre – Abu Dhabi. This statue was reinvented with another purely Jordanian product, jameed: A food consisting of hard dry laban (yogurt) made from ewe or goat’s milk. There were even samples so you could see what the statue tastes like!

This was just one of the many tactile pieces we encountered throughout our Amman Design Week journey. Another piece I thoroughly enjoyed was Hala Kaiksow’s A Room of One’s Own. Constructed of cotton, silk, linen, jute, oak, and mud, it creates a sanctuary and place for personal reflection that is both soft and tactile, while also rigid and structured.

We got to meet the designer of the third piece pictured below: Stone Weave by Khalid Ali and Norma Kopti. A coffee table composed of 2,000 hand-sawed, polished, and woven pieces of stone. The stone slab is reduced into smaller threaded units interlaced with metal threads, forming a weaving system that is similar to the process of weaving a carpet.


Another piece I couldn’t help but touch (the signs said you could!) was Soils of Jordan by the Atlal Collective. Designed to last for the duration of the exhibit, it had nine columns, each composed of soils found in different parts of Jordan. Each column was constructed using a rammed earth building technique and was set in stratified layers, reflecting a distinct color and texture.

The (short-lived) fashion design major in me loved Noureddine Amir’s clothing collection made from muslin, silk, tulle, sabra, and chiffon. The bold and contrasting colors, as well as textures, made the outfits so much fun to look at. Plus I love fabrics made from raw and natural materials.

And speaking of raw and natural materials, the last piece in this collection of photos is made from Egyptian cotton and pure sheep wool. It took five months for Ali Seliem to complete this tapestry depicting daily life in an Egyptian village and fields along the banks of the Nile. Ali has been weaving for the last 63 years.


One of the largest pieces in the Hangar Exhibit was Abeer Seikaly’s Meeting Points, made of wooden sticks, goat hair, jute yarn, and steel connectors. A working prototype for a reconfigurable composite material system, it is only made possible through each individual connection and the hands that created them. These different meeting points – between fiber and structure, material and space – arise in response to the design processes of Bedouin tent-making craft; communal practices of weaving and construction traditionally tasked to the women of the tribe, the invisible architects in a patriarchal system.

On a lighter (though often politically charged) note, was the collection of comics we looked at next. Titled The 80s Road to Arab Comics, this exhibit contained artwork from collectives in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco. I wish I knew more about the piece I photographed below, but the illustrations weren’t individually labeled, otherwise I would have snapped a picture of the artist as well as the artwork.

The last piece is an image of Ma’an, Jordan from Cluster Labs’ exhibit titled Urban Patterns. It was self-described as a visual cartographic exhibition that highlights the effects of human exploitation of natural landscapes in Jordan. The images were stunning but also a horrifying reminder of how unregulated urban sprawl, the broad and expansive mining industry, the systematic occupation of forest and agricultural regions, and the over-consumption of natural water resources is drastically altering Jordan’s landscapes.


The exhibit was a mixture of discouragement and hope. There were collections made as tributes to the struggle faced by Syrian refugees and weaving done to highlight the women who spend their time working in the secluded environment of their own home where they are by tradition, kept hidden.

But there were also artists that repurposed marble waste to create unique furniture; artists that used local materials as a stand against imports that come at a high-cost for both pocketbooks and the environment; and a project that turns repurposed, disposable hookah (shisha/argeileh) pipes into functional everyday objects (it is estimated that around 11,500,000 disposable argeileh pipes are used only once and thrown out every year in Jordan alone. This amounts to roughly 430,000,000 in the Arab World annually).

We made our way across the street to the Future Food/Future City exhibit to receive even more inspiration: An imagined future for the city’s public spaces, and a re-examined illustration of how rooftops, gardens, streets, and schools could be transformed into green spaces that bring communities together and transform livelihoods. The exhibit introduced a holistic approach to tackle different parts of the food chain; the way food is grown, processed, transported, consumed, reused, and recycled.

I couldn’t take any decent photos of this space due to the night-lighting, but know we got to see (and taste!) some incredible things. Like Yanboot’s hydroponic garden; stands with fresh, organic juices; and I even returned home with some organic herbs and succulents for our garden.

If you’re still with me this far, I’m impressed! We loved our time at Amman Design Week, but sometimes I worry that the pictures just don’t do it justice. After a full night’s sleep, we spent the next day in Jabal Amman to explore the Craft’s District and more.

We started on the surrounding streets and were fascinated by some of the artwork we saw. Like Wehda, the first piece pictured below. It was designed by Turquoise Mountain to open a conversation on craft practices in the context of displacement and to shed light on the importance of crafts as part of a collective cultural heritage.

The next two photos are of Sik, a work designed by Arini and Petra National Trust. Another tactile win for me, as viewers approach the installation, Sik reveals a path into its parts, emphasizing the role of the journey in altering our perception of the object. The coins were made of clay and sand and were produced as part of a collaboration between Petra National Trust and Cambridge School.


We made our way into the Kabariti Village and were greeted by these indigo-dyed fabrics designed by Arini and made by women in Ghor El Safi (Safi Crafts) using traditional techniques in cultivating indigo and creating dyes, which are then transferred to modern applications in design. I loved the way you could glimpse the city as they fluttered in the breeze.

Another piece exhibited outdoors was the Reciprocal Frame Tensegrity Pavilion. Created by Yazeed Balqar, it is a self-supporting structure that can disassembled to create other geometrics and shapes.


We made our way indoors and discovered Sama Shahrouri’s Rosemary, Kiss, Kill. Made with starch and straw, the fibers help the mixture take shape and preserve form after drying.

Another exhibit I absolutely loved was the Shadow Cave. An installation of LUCEM light fixtures created a play of shadows using lights and different shaped silhouettes in the cave. LUCEM Lights is a collection of light fixtures made from translucent concrete, which is a composite of concrete embedded with fiber optics that transmit light.


You’d better believe that by this point, regardless of how incredible the past two days had been, we were definitely ready to get off our feet and do some resting!

Unfortunately, our final stop of the day required quite a few stairs. Luckily, my companions put up with me and we made our way to the Calligraphic Steps. Located at the Abdul Muhsen Al Khazimy Stairway, these steps were painted by the calligrapher and designer Hussein Alazaat.

The writing on the staircase is a quote by Aboul-Qacem Echebbi, a Tunisian poet, which reads:

ومن يتهيب صعود الجبال يعش أبَــدَ الدهــر بيــن الحــفرْ

[Those who fear to ascend the mountains, will live forever among the hollows]


There was still so much of Amman Design Week that we missed: The Student Exhibit for one, but we also didn’t get a chance to dig into any of the talks or workshops. There were some cool printmaking and photography classes I wish we had had more time for. That said, I’m grateful for the time we did have interacting with all of these incredible exhibits.

To be completely honest, Amman Design Week 100% blew me away. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year and if you’re around, I highly recommend the event!

  1. Brilliant! It’s always so great to ‘travel’ with you and your new adventures are opening up my eyes to a part of the world I’ve never been to. Hope you get to do more of this and less of the school work…LOL!xx

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