No labels, please: hybrid indie design spaces are trending in Amman

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Across the vibrant colored stairs extending from the renowned King Hussein street that curls its way down to the center of Amman, stands a modern glass exterior that reads: 'Turbo' in Arabic.

The scene is rather unusual. It is not too often that you find a modern design studio in one of the the oldest parts in town, resting among aging shops and artisans next door.

Turbo design studio located on King Hussein Street. (Images via Tala Elissa)

Many entrepreneurs escaping the hustle and bustle of Amman are choosing to work from the secluded and spotless King Hussein Business Park, Jordan’s new iconic startup hub.

But graphic designers Mothanna Hussein and Saeed Abu-Jaber find no inspiration in the gated community. Instead, there is nothing more appealing to them than being present where the real action is: right in the heart of the old city.

The two designers didn’t know of each other before the 2012 'On Board' exhibition that featured a painted skateboard by Abu-Jaber. The piece appealed to Hussein who then approached the artist.

Being a designer himself at Warsheh, a studio he cofounded with Hadi Alaeddin, Hussein and Abu Jaber were both bored with the typical office work they had to comply with. They wanted to replace the mundane catering to the clients with a more holistic enriching experience, and that’s how the idea of Turbo was born in 2015.

Cofounders of Turbo Mothanna Hussein and Saeed Abu-Jaber.

Refusing to be one thing, makes you a part of everything!

Turbo, which has not officially launched yet, is both a design studio and a public space. It will act as an office for the two designers, exhibition, library, a cafe, and anything in between.

“We are bored of running a regular office that only serves the clients,” said Abu-Jaber, who believes being exposed to different kinds of events and people adds value to the overall design experience.

Turbo is part of a larger movement spreading across Amman: fluid and flexible spaces that choose to remain outside the box, away from categorization and labelling.

The experimental phenomenon has become prevalent in the Ammani creative scene during the last couple of years.

“The most important challenge is to have this place find its own identity… it is trying to create its own character,” said Hussein. The authenticity of the space is a top priority.

Other projects that are experimenting with a multi-identity space include Darat al-Yasmeen (Jasmine House) which is a gallery/cafe/restaurant, gallery and print making workshop The Studio, and Hayyez, a collaborative design studio. Others include Jadal, a cultural center, and Fann wa Chai, both an art gallery and tea bar.  

Colorful stairs leading to King Hussein Street in downtown Amman.

Design researcher and instructor at Design Institute Amman, Nada Jaffal, believes that this hybrid business model is suitable for designers in particular as the field is a broad one that demands high exposure and diversity.

“If you limit yourself [to one category], you are limiting your clients, and your work,” she told Wamda.

Independant studios and freelancers as an alternative

Jaffal said independant studios were very important. They not only offered alternative products to the commercial market, but also helped other creative initiatives make use of advanced designers.

She gave an example of an amateur musician intending to release an album who would most probably not be able to afford buying a logo or an album cover from a big design agency. Having more affordable design studios with independent artists allowed the struggling musician a cheaper and more accessible option, encouraging him to advance his profession.

Preparing for a music recording event organized by Never Records.(Art work by Mohammed Zakaria) 

In this way, design becomes more approachable rather than being an expensive luxury displayed in top notch galleries.

While Turbo has not officially launched yet, it is hosting a music recording event organized by Never Records. It will be also be exhibiting the work of architect Sahel Al Hiyari who designed the space, and Laith Dimashqiah during Jordan’s inaugural Amman Design Week taking place in September.

“We are very excited for Amman Design Week because it will raise the average person’s awareness about design,” Jaffal said. “Everyone thinks that we study fine arts, or interior design, or advertising, but it’s really more than that,” she said.

Wamda will be covering Amman Design Week so check in with us for more coverage on this unprecedented event.

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