Designer hopes her hi-tech tent can ease the plight of refugees

BEIRUT: Abeer Seikaly saw a tent and, invoking nomadic lifestyles of the past, re-envisioned its structure as a self-sustaining shelter, not only achieving its primary function of housing refugees, but also providing the point from which their social interactions can be recreated in a new environment.

Her project, “Weaving a Home” re-examines the traditional architecture of tent shelters, creating a fabric that both expands and contracts according to weather conditions, while providing utilities to ensure the provision of heat, running water, electricity and storage. The result is a collapsible, mobile solar-powered refugee tent. The design project garnered her a prize in last year’s Lexus Design Award, with a prototype and patent in the pipeline.

Seikaly submitted the project to the design contest because its theme of “motion” resonated with her.

She has been experimenting with the relationship between structure and fabric for years, while also exploring abstract concepts like motion, time, self-sufficiency and nature in her work.

“When I talk about motion, I am talking about physical motion, but I am also talking about it in a non-physical way,” she told The Daily Star. “The work I do has to do with movement, patterns, light, and I am mostly interested in the type of experience that a space or an object would give to its viewer, occupant and so on.”

The experience of the “object” in Seikaly’s design work is also related to movement.

“Time describes movement,” she continues, describing the theoretical underpinnings of her work. “This is really the main focus, the way things change over time and shift through memory and current experience, and how current experience unfolds with the things we interact with.”

Seikaly’s design concept is deeply rooted in nature, and her work employs principles that she perceives as existing already in the environment. “Whatever is created cannot be detached from the dimension in which it interacts,” she said.

The idea for “Weaving a Home” was the unexpected result of designing luxury retail stores, something Seikaly, who is based in Amman, has been doing since 2005.

“I had to look at many aspects. It was like a dance of some sort. You have to involve the five senses, and engage buyers in many different ways: Visually, sensually, aurally,” she said.

Her experience of the fashion world paved the way for her to use fabric in ingenious and integrated ways, a quality that stands out in her design concept for the tent shelter.

“This was something I saw in existing tents, where … fabric is draped over the structure, but it was never conceived of or thought out as a holistic system,” she said. “I think this was my point of departure.”

She began by looking at the physical aspect of a tent and poor conditions of most refugee camps. Jordan hosts over 500,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom live in overcrowded camps. In Lebanon nearly 1 million Syrian refugees are registered, many living in improvised shelters.

Seikaly also invoked the past in her research for the project.

“There is a very direct reference … in the way nomadic tribes used to live and travel, and these [tents] were their only homes,” she said.

“I tried to look at the physical aspects of a tent that could be inspired by traditional weaving and how to reference old traditional techniques and reinterpret them in our world in a way that addresses contemporary needs.”

Seikaly said the outer solar-powered fabric of the tent should blur the line between fabric and structure and is heavily inspired by weaving techniques unearthed during the research phase. Her design sketches detail how it absorbs solar energy and converts it into power, while the inner fabric features pockets for storage. A storage tank at the apex of the tent supplies water for showers, with a drainage system to avoid flooding.

The tent opens up for the warm summer months and can be clumped down for the colder winter season.

Seikaly’s project will likely require some tweaking before it can be a bona fide product, though she hopes it will one day be the standard shelter for the displaced.

Already, she has been flooded with emails from individuals who live in dire conditions, inquiring about the feasibility of her design, and from engineers interested in its structural integrity. She admits the project will have to be a collaborative one. For now, it represents an example of how inventive design can complement and facilitate humanitarian assistance.

“Design is supposed to give form to a gap in people’s needs,” Seikaly writes in her design brief for the project. “This lightweight, mobile, structural fabric could potentially close the gap between need and desire as people metaphorically weave their lives back together, physically weaving their built environment into a place both new and familiar, transient and rooted, private and connected.”

The Daily Star

App developer wows at just 12 years old

BATHA, Lebanon: The Mir family never expected that the Mac laptop their 12-year-old son Jake bought with his savings would transform him into one of the youngest iOS app developers in the country.

“All I keep telling him now is to focus on his studies as a steppingstone for better universities later on, but his focus now is on creating new games,” says Jake’s mother, Sayde, who welcomed The Daily Star into her home in Batha, Mount Lebanon.

She adds, however, that she intends to support her son any way she can.

“I was inspired by Steve Jobs,” Jake says.

To date, Jake has released two games: Emoji Escape, which was launched in December of last year and earned an Apple rating of 4+, and Emoji Go, released March 9, 2014. Both apps are targeted mainly toward young people and include several challenging levels where emoticons come alive.

“It took me five months to finish the first game, because I was in the process of learning the programming material, but only two months for the second,” Jakes says.

Jake is looking to branch out from games into other types of mobile applications. He is currently working on one that lists the daily and weekly specials featured at restaurants in Lebanon.

“It is still an idea, but I want to work on it,” Jake says with determination, glancing at his mom.

Ever since he was a young boy, Jake says, he had a passion for programming, so he and a friend decided to try to teach themselves. His friend soon gave up, finding the challenge too daunting, but Jake continued to push forward.

His parents, who were in disbelief at first, started to take their son’s hobby more seriously after they received a call from an Apple staff member in response to a letter Jake had sent.

Following the release of his games, Jake became somewhat of a celebrity with several local and international news outlets running stories on the young developer. He even received a letter of recognition from former Culture Minister Gaby Layoun.

Far from being content with his success so far, Jake hopes to travel this summer to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California in order to get hands-on experience with the company.

He has already spoken with Apple developers over Skype and successfully met the requirements to be certified as a developer.

His dream is to major in computer science and programming in order to enhance his skills and eventually land a job with Apple. Jake looks forward to working with operating systems such as iOS for iPhone.

While Jake says he received recognition and congratulations from the company, they have refused to credit his name to the games since he is still a minor. Instead, his father’s name, Aziz El Mir, is listed.

His father, who works in the field of informatics, insists he did not help Jake, and that his son taught himself by spending hours on his laptop.

“Everyone can learn the material, even at a young age,” Jake says.

Though he is just 12, Jake fully acknowledges the limitations he faces in Lebanon in terms of finding support for technological innovation.

“I hope to travel and seek opportunities abroad,” he says.

The Daily Star

Vintage aesthetic is the star of the party

BEIRUT: At Beirut’s annual wedding expo in February, the clustering of brides-to-be and their families made clear which parts of the feting enticed them the most: expensive, glittering jewelry displays, travel agencies selling romantic getaways and the dresses, of course.

With so much competition, displays for one of the most essential party elements slipped into the background without flashy presentations or luxury price tags: the invitation.

With a mind to change that, Lea Heshme, a graphic designer turned event planner, has taken the invitation and placed it at the center of party planning. Whether a piece of delicately printed tracing paper or block letters on substantial cardstock, the invitation sets the mood and the guests’ first impressions, she said.

“A wedding starts the moment they receive the invitations,” said Heshme, who recently launched her event-designing and paper services company “A Whole Lotta Love.” (Yes, like the 1979 Led Zeppelin song, she assured.)

As a graphic designer, Heshme is inherently detail-focused, and her concept seeks to unify a wedding experience through subtle paper products and signage that carry visual continuity in graphics, typography and colors. Her recommendations include basics like invitations and decorations down to minute details like buffet labeling and tags for party favors.

The idea for AWLL started with Heshme’s own wedding. “I used to design for fun for friends and for me. I used to do paper gift decorations. Last year I got married, and I decided to do the whole thing myself,” she told The Daily Star.

Her do-it-yourself aesthetic comprised pastel signs stuck in cupcakes, chains of paper decorations over the dance floor and handmade party favors with colorful confetti. This is the kind of design-oriented simplicity Hashme wants to infuse into other weddings.

“A lot of decorations are handmade,” she said. “I can adapt to any bride, but she has to be into details.”

AWLL’s concept comes at an opportune moment in the cycle of wedding trends. The lighthearted weddings that Heshme envisions and which focus on graphics and handmade or upcycled decorations are part of an all-encompassing wedding trend planners loosely categorize as vintage.

As part of an international trend, brides are leaning toward vintage themes that incorporate campy elements such as thrift store furniture, natural elements like bales of hay and raw-looking metals like copper or bronze, wedding planner Nataly Chreif told The Daily Star in an interview about her company, Desire.

Mira Mabsout, business manager at the wedding dress boutique L’Atelier Blanc, agreed that the AWLL concept falls in line with popular wedding themes. Heshme launched AWLL in March at L’Atelier Blanc, which also aims at a youthful but sophisticated clientele.

At L’Atelier Blanc, brides have likewise been interested in understated gowns harkening back to themes from the 1950s and 1920s – periods that complement the kind of aesthetic simplicity Heshme is offering, Mabsout said.

“Vintage is very popular,” Mabsout said. “I don’t know how it’s revived, but maybe because of [period] movies like the Great Gastby.”

Heshme’s isn’t targeting nuptials only, she said. Her corporate clientele includes Kitchen Central, a boutique cooking academy in Gemmayzeh. When she designed a party invitation for the company, she took direction from its logo, using the same sans-serif typeface and white-on-black color combo to create a coherent graphic aesthetic.

“The details are what I work on,” Heshme said.

The Daily Star

Electronic cigarettes may not help people stop smoking

NEW YORK: A small U.S. study raises new questions about whether using electronic cigarettes will lead people to quit smoking, adding to the debate over how tightly the products should be regulated.

The study, which looked at the habits of 88 smokers who also used e-cigarettes, was published as a research letter in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday. It found that smokers who also used e-cigarettes were no more likely to quit smoking after a year, compared to smokers who didn’t use the devices.

Outside experts say the small number of respondents, and a lack of data on whether they intentionally used e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking, mean the findings from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco can’t take the place of much more rigorous study on the subject.

E-cigarettes were first introduced in China in 2004 and have since grown into a $2 billion industry. The battery-powered devices let users inhale nicotine-infused vapors, which don’t contain the harmful tar and carbon monoxide in tobacco.

At issue is how strictly U.S. health regulators should control the products. Advocates say e-cigarettes can help smokers quit. Public health experts fear they can serve as a gateway to smoking for the uninitiated, particularly teenagers. Leading U.S. brands include blu by Lorillard Inc and products from privately-held NJOY and Logic Technology.

A previous report from the UK found that people who use e-cigarettes primarily want to replace traditional cigarettes (see Reuters Health story here:

“We did not find a relationship between using an e-cigarette and reducing cigarette consumption,” Rachel Grana, the lead researcher on the new study, told Reuters Health.

Grana and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco analyzed 2011 survey data collected from 949 smokers. Of those, 88 reported using e-cigarettes.

When the researchers looked at those smokers’ responses a year later, they found that the people who reported using e-cigarettes in the 2011 survey were no more likely to quit smoking than the people who didn’t use e-cigarettes.

For those who were still smoking in 2012, using e-cigarettes also didn’t appear to change how many traditional cigarettes people smoked per day.

The researchers note that the small number of participants who reported using e-cigarettes may have limited their ability to detect a link between quitting smoking and using the device.

Dr. Michael Siegel, who was not involved with the new research, told Reuters Health that the new study had several design flaws, including that the researchers did not know why some of the participants tried e-cigarettes or how long they had used them. Siegel is an expert on community health at Boston University School of Public Health and has studied e-cigarette research.

By comparing people who smoked regular cigarettes and those who smoked e-cigarettes, the researchers are assuming “that the groups are exactly equivalent in terms of their motivations and their levels of addiction to cigarettes,” Siegel said. “You can’t make those assumptions. You’re not dealing with comparable groups.”

In an emailed statement, Grana and fellow researchers acknowledged that they did not have information on the participants’ motivations to use e-cigarettes, but said their analysis took into account other factors known to be linked to quitting smoking, such as their stated intention to quit and how many cigarettes they already smoked each day.

“These factors may also reflect motivations to use e-cigarettes, as e-cigarettes are frequently marketed and perceived as cessation aids,” they wrote. “While these factors predicted quitting as expected, we found that e-cigarette use did not predict quitting.

Siegel also pointed out that only about eight percent of the people surveyed said they had any intention to quit smoking within the next month. He hopes people will reserve judgment on e-cigarettes until randomized controlled studies – considered the “gold standard” of medical research – are published.

“We need solid data that’s based on solid science before we make decisions,” he said. “I hope no one would take this research letter and make any conclusion based on it.”


SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, online March 24, 2014.

Parliament Adopts Domestic Violence Law, Activists Criticize it

A controversial draft-law on domestic violence was approved by the parliament on Tuesday, although it did not meet the expectations of activists supporting the cause.

The draft-law on the protection of women against domestic violence was one of the 70 items on the agenda of a three-day parliamentary session.

Change and Reform MP Ghassan Moukheiber, who played a key role in lobbying for the law, told Agence France Presse: “It is a big step forward in protecting women, we should be proud.”

“We now have a law that provides effective protection for women …

“It’s not the ideal text, but it’s a first step,” Moukheiber said, while stressing that the law must now be enforced.


Earlier, KAFA, a non-governmental organization that supports non-discrimination, gender equality, and women’s rights within the Lebanese society, held a protest near the building of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in downtown Beirut to press MPs to adopt the draft-law with amendments introduced to it.

The protesters chanted slogans against domestic violence and held banners calling for the non-adoption of a “distorted law.”

But a KAFA spokesperson told TV stations that the NGO was not satisfied with the law.

KAFA was calling for parliament’s approval of amendments introduced to it. But MPs adopted the proposed draft-law without changes.

“This is not an achievement for the Lebanese woman because it does not guarantee her full protection,” Maya Ammar, the spokeswoman, said.

Layla Awada, a lawyer from KAFA, called the adoption of the law a “farce.”

Speaker Nabih Berri did not allow any MP to make remarks at the legislative session in collaboration with the lawmakers, she said.

“This is a punishment,” she added.

Awada promised to propose amendments to the law and work on putting it back on parliament’s agenda.

Meanwhile, for the NGO’s Faten Abu Shakra, who led the campaign, the law “does not specifically focus on women.”

She opposed the introduction “by religious men of religious language” into the bill, which fails to specifically refer to marital rape as a crime.

It criminalizes causing “harm”, including “beatings” and “threats”, to obtain sex, but the term “conjugal right” is used without mention of consent.

Moukheiber said the term aimed to appease Lebanon’s powerful clerics, who had been opposed to the bill outright.

According to Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch, the law is “a positive step forward in ensuring protection for women from domestic violence.”

She told AFP: “It includes positive steps such as providing for restraining orders against abusers; temporary accommodation for the survivors of abuse.”

The law also “assigns a public prosecutor in each of Lebanon’s six governorates to receive complaints and investigate cases of violence; and establishes specialized family violence units within Lebanon’s domestic police to process complaints.”

But “parliament should seek to urgently reform this new law if it is to ensure women full protection from domestic violence including criminalizing marital rape.”

The law passed after a KAFA-led campaign which saw thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of Beirut on March 8, International Women’s Day.

Several Lebanese women have been killed in recent domestic violence cases which have led to a large-scale condemnation on social media.

The Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc later issued a statement voicing some reservations over the approval of the draft-law, suggesting the inclusion of a few amendments.

It said that the name of the law should be stated as the protection of women from domestic violence, seeing as the draft-law was initially written with the goal of protecting women.

“Any change in the title would make it seem as the law was aimed at protecting the family from domestic violence, which consequently ignores the bitter reality” that women are facing, it remarked in a statement.

In addition, it said that women subject to domestic violence should be able to resort to the General Prosecution or police stations should they seek to report a case.

The General Prosecution is the quickest and least costly resort for the women, explained the LF bloc.

It also addressed the case of marital rape, stressing the need to designate such incidents as crimes, not giving them legal descriptions that apply to laws on beatings and threats.

It therefore demanded the rephrasing of the draft-law’s article on cases of marital rape.

The bloc rejected the use of “the term ‘fulfilling marital sexual rights’ because obtaining such rights through violence, threats, or deception is a form of rape and a violation of human dignity.”

It criticized how the draft-law did not explicitly mention marital rape, saying that the current phrasing “only emphasizes such acts and justifies violence in marriage.”



Natural choice: Lebanese design honored

BEIRUT: Lebanese designer Nathalie Trad wore a giant stone to the 2014 Grazia Style Awards. But the gem wasn’t on one of her fingers; it was clutched in her hands.

Creations such as that bag, which looked like a piece of volcanic rock sitting on the designer’s lap, won her and her small team one of the most sought-after awards in Dubai’s blossoming design world. Grazia Magazine named Trad “2014’s Best Regional Accessories Designer.”

Shortlisted for the award with two established brands, Poupee Couture and Baraboux, Trad told The Daily Star several days later that her win was unexpected: “It was definitely a surprise.”

Born in Beirut but raised in Dubai, Trad, 27, opened her self-titled accessories brand one year ago exactly, launching a collection modeled after the minutia found in nature. The designs on her bag that night, for example, drew inspiration from the black spots that cover the wings of a Polygonia butterfly.

The Grazia Style award wrapped up the designer’s inaugural year on a high note after a whirlwind of success these past 12 months.

Last April, the brand debuted a collection encompassing leather goods, statement necklaces and solid, abstract clutch purses. It was the latter, part of her “Shell” line and made from unusual materials like resin, mother of pearl and stainless steel, that caught the attention of regional boutique curators such as Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, co-founder and director of D’NA boutique and magazine.

Today, Trad sells her clutches throughout the Middle East and in shops from the United States to India.

“Success is not really about the awards, it’s about being able to sell in New York, in London, in Riyadh, in Tunis, in India, in Beirut,” she said. “It’s because people like Dina from D’NA just believed in me … people like that, who believe in you for your designs and not for who you are or how long you’ve been in the business.”

Trad’s overnight success, so to speak, is unusual, particularly in this region, where support for young designers still leaves a lot to be desired. Her story is an indication that the market may be opening up to local talent, especially in places like Dubai, which is pushing to promote itself as a destination for design.

Dubai is super central. In terms of business, it’s easy to work here, it feels like an international playground.”

“It’s going to give us a playground to be able to play and work together – that’s what’s missing in the Middle East. We don’t interact with each other, push each other, give each other feedback,” Trad said.

Before moving back to Dubai, Trad studied fashion and business, first at ESMOD Paris and then at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City, where she also worked with then-rising designer Proenza Schouler.

Trad got hands-on experience in accessory design at Proenza. “It was in a loft, where everyone worked. There were three, then I was the fourth so it was extremely hands-on. It was very enriching, from understanding what goes into the research, which materials to use and what not to use.”

It was also in New York that Trad came upon her personal design credo: deconstructing forms from nature into avant garde accessories.

“I was at Strand. It’s a bookstore with three floors of used books and books that are out of print. I was looking for something that would spark something in me. At the time, I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I was going to start my own line. I found this book of drawings from the 1800s of insects and nature. I remember opening up the book, and that’s sort of where it started.”

That inspiration provided the basis for the asymmetry, texture and geometry of her off-beat purses. Do her Lebanese roots inspire her work also? “I’m 100 percent Lebanese, so I’m sure it does. It’s in my DNA.”


By Beckie Strum

The Daily Star

AUB letter sheds little light on tuition issue

BEIRUT: A much-anticipated letter from the chairman of the AUB Board of Trustees sheds little light on the proposed tuition increases that have riled students and sparked protests.

Some students denounced the letter from Chairman Philip Khoury as vague and opaque. While it outlined topics discussed at last week’s meetings, it contained few hints about the proposed budget for next year.

“The budget presented to the Board for final approval in May … will strike an appropriate balance that is at once fiscally responsible and also sensitive to students and working families who are struggling in this difficult economy,” Khoury’s statement reads. “These dual concerns are of paramount importance.”

Students have expressed frustration with the administration’s handling of the budget, threatening to strike if the Board of Trustees approves proposed tuition increases.

Student leaders decried Khoury’s statement as vague and inconclusive. “It really doesn’t set any concrete conclusions,” said Tala Kammourieh, a member of the student government. “This letter is not enough.”

“It was really diplomatic and vague, and I don’t think this is enough for our situation,” agreed Jinane Abi Ramia, another student leader. “They didn’t give us answers. … We need more.”

With no word on whether tuition will in fact increase next year, student activists can do little but wait for the budget announcement in May.

The letter calls for cooperation between students, faculty and administration based on “mutual trust,” warning that “any other approach will lead to the most serious consequences.”

Students have also demanded transparency, an issue Khoury addressed. “The Board instructed the administration to continue efforts to bring further clarity to administrative issues. … We strongly encourage more timely and frequent dialogue with the university community.”

The lack of particulars in Khoury’s letter, however, has left students questioning whether the board is committed to transparency.

“It’s frustrating. The highest decision making board is being as opaque … as the administration itself,” Kammourieh told The Daily Star. “It’s somewhat disrespectful for us.”

In the statement, Khoury reiterated the board’s support for the university administration. “It is reassuring to the board that the institution’s leadership is so firmly committed to advancing AUB’s mission and values,” the statement said.

Peter Dorman, president of the university, has insisted that a tuition increase is necessary.

By Elise Knutsen The Daily Star

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