Infinite Spaces of Beirut – BAC design exhibition

Beirut Art Center is pleased to present Infinite Spaces of Beirut, a BAC design exhibition and series of workshops dedicated to the world pre-launch of urbacraft, created by Ayssar Arida and Sabine de Maussion. 

Part educational construction toy, part design object, and fully hackable, urbacraft is essentially a model construction system dedicated to city-makers from the age of 7 to 100, and design lovers and professionals interested in systems thinking, architecture, and urbanism.

The exhibition showcases dozens of one-off designs built with the first ever urbacraft sets by some of Beirut’s foremost architects, designers, film-makers, entrepreneurs, and creatives, including Raed Abillama, Ana Corbero, Johnny Farah, Nabil Gholam, Bernard Khoury, Nadine Labaki, Marwan Rechmaoui, Sharif Sehnaoui, and Najla El Zein. It runs from 22 May to 5 July 2014, stage set by Veronique Gelber.

urbacraft (http://urbacraft.com/) is a city-crafting system completely developed and produced in Lebanon by urbatect and designer Ayssar Arida and curator Sabine de Maussion. The project was initiated when the couple moved to Beirut and realised there were no toys or dollhouses that specifically related to local spatial environments. Instead, their two daughters, aged 2 and 4, were forced to play with imported images from Miami, suburbia, Victorian England, or US film franchises — so they set out to create something new.

“We didn’t want to fall into kitsch or nostalgia either,” says de Maussion. “Making an old Lebanese House for Barbie to play in isn’t wasn’t the answer; we wanted to think globally.” Arida, co-founder of URBATECTURE (http://urbatecture.com/) explains, “Living in Beirut, we figured the most diversified and adaptable space was the city, not the building–so urbacraft became a way to quickly build entire neighbourhoods, and let players dress them up in different styles and aesthetics.”

What began as a quest to engage their daughters, quickly grew into something bigger, as they put together a team to design, protect, and manufacture urbacraft in Lebanon. “Everything we need is right here,” says Arida, “designers, intellectual property lawyers, mould makers and state-of-the-art plastic injection industry. No need to trek back and forth to China!”

Infinite Spaces of Beirut - BAC design exhibition


Infinite Spaces of Beirut – BAC design exhibition

urbacraft responds to the catalogue of architectural construction toys of the twentieth century: Meccano’s “Mechanics Made Easy” (1901), “Lincoln Logs” wood cabins designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son (1929), Bayko’s suburban buildings that used the first ever plastics (1934), Tri-ang’s “Arkitex” (1959) which produced boxy buildings, and Ideal Toy’s “SuperCity”(1967) which was a great introduction to Modernist architecture.

More than half the world’s population lives in cities. Eighty per cent of the Middle East is urban. Embracing this urban 21st century, urbacraft represents a departure from traditional building sets: its subject matter is not simply architectural but urbatectural, encompassing the civic space of the street where all interactions of peoples, structures, and events happen. It encourages big thinking, and lets imaginations sprawl outside of single structures to immerse users in entire worlds, all the while teaching us to think about architectural and urban space.

urbacraft is a model construction system at 1:64 scale (similar to some Matchbox/Hot Wheels/Majorette cars, and 2.5cm/1 inch figures such as Lego Minifigs). Two interlocking types of elements make entire cities: the “urbs” (walls, floors–made of child-safe plastics) and the “kits” (facades, handrails, plants, people–made from paper, cardboard, or anything the player may want to craft). The walls and floors are modular and configurable in different positions to create entire buildings, with or without balconies. The “kits” are infinitely hackable, editable, changeable, colourable to create different places and cities: historical, contemporary, or fictional.

By combining more sets, the street grows, widens, branches out, becomes denser and more complex, and transforms into a city. “We think urbacraft will create a new generation of empowered, civic-minded citizens,” said its two creators.

BIOS

Ayssar Arida is a practicing urbatect, writer, educator and entrepreneur.
He holds a degree in Architecture from AUB and a MA in Urban Design with Distinction from Oxford Brookes University. Arida’s award-winning work ranges from digital interface design to large-scale city planning and strategy. He is the advisor to multiple international organisations in culture, education, urbanism and design including Parsons the New School for Design (NY).

He is the director of Q-DAR development | architecture | research founded in London in 2002. His many publications include the influential book Quantum City (Architectural Press, Oxford 2002). He has taught at AUB and LAU, and continues to lecture and exhibit internationally.

Sabine de Maussion is a French curator and researcher based in Beirut.
Currently a PhD candidate in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College (London). Her research focuses on the impact of art on publics and their processes of activation. She holds a Master in Postcolonial Studies (La Sorbonne), and a Master in Economics of Culture (Dauphine), and is trained in the History of Art and Arabic Language and Civilization.

She was previously director of the Arts Department at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after an extensive experience within art institutions, (International Relations Officer at Le CENTQUATRE/Paris, Education and Learning Programmes Curator at Centre Pompidou, Curator at La Villette).

She lectures in the Master of Curating and Art Criticism programme at Université Saint Joseph in Beirut.

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