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Design Diary: Fadi Sarieddine designs for the soul

Beirut-born architect’s latest collection ‘Damascus Revisited’ speaks of the Levantine diaspora and their longing for the land

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Having often questioned the progression of Arabic design and architecture, and the massive creative gap caused by a century of political disruptions in the region, Dubai-based designer Fadi Sarieddine’s works are consistently underscored by a sense of identity and a strong intent to create a vocabulary of design Arabesque that moves beyond the obvious and commonplace.

Born in Beirut in 1971, Sarieddine’s early life played out against the backdrop of the Lebanese civil war. In 1990 he joined the American University of Beirut to study architecture in a country that needed rebuilding and later acquired a Master’s Degree in Architectural Design at the Bartlett School in London. “As part of a generation raised in war-torn Beirut, I had an unconscious urge to pursue a career where I could assist in shaping my postwar environment,” says the designer, who has worked with the likes of Pierre Al Khoury & Partners, and taught at the America University of Beirut before relocating to Dubai in 2004.

In 2013, he launched his eponymous design studio at Dubai Design District. The studio’s scope ranges from architectural projects to interior design for offices, retail, restaurants and homes with a focus on furniture design, delivering bold, interactive concepts. “The common parameter in our design is that they always tell a story,” says the designer.

His latest collection, Damascus Revisited tells one that strongly resonates with the region. It’s the story of the Levantine diaspora and their longing for a land, that for most exists in memories or is a vision for the future, but its now remains in doubt. For this very personal collection, he focused on the Damascene table — a staple in most Levantine homes; its traditional format includes a brass tray top with foldable wooden legs.

In order to explore how Arabic design and architecture would have progressed away from the commercialised Arabesque design trends prevalent in the Middle East today, the studio, through an yearlong research identified key moments in the early history of Arabic art to identify and understand the root of its forms and geometries. Informed by their findings, they then deconstructed the Damascene table into its purest of forms, and laid bare, its distinct materiality.

The first edition of the series explored deconstructing the leg base into individual pure forms that could be stacked as beads on a stick. The design was further deconstructed by introducing new materials to the leg compositions and creating new interpretations for the tops. The logic for the combinations were borrowed from the chemical notion of bonding, allowing the end-user to construct a design that could grow organically with its function. Soon, the collection moved beyond a table — bowls, lamps, display stands and candelabras were introduced — while simultaneously, the material palette was enriched with glass and marble.

Etched on the surfaces of the trays and tables are figure-ground maps of Levantine cities where the table was commonplace. Maps of Damascus, Beirut, Al Quds, Amman and Baghdad, are visible, gloriously etched on wood and brass. Maps of Dubai feature as a homage to the Emirate that has hosted generations of displaced communities and is a melting pot for the world.

While the design community and critics see the collection as a successful fast-forward of the Arabic design into 2017, Damascus Revisited has touched a nerve with the Levantine diaspora in the region and beyond. “This notion of bonding transcends to another level as an attempt to connect Levantine people to each other and in turn connect them all to Dubai,” says Sarieddine. “These urban tissue patterns are large-scale art pieces developed collectively over decades by each of the city’s dwellers.”