© 2019 by Abbas Sbeity


Role: Designer

Year: 2016

Location: Beirut, Lebanon


KED served as the central location of Beirut Design Week in 2016 and 2017. The building was renovated in partnership with MENA Design Research Center and its partners. KED is located in Karantina, at the periphery of Beirut, near the port and facing the Beirut River. KED holds a rich history and the process of bringing it back to life is a story worth telling. Today, KED runs as a cultural hub hosting local and international events within its spaces. 



The central Beirut Design Week building, KED—which means “river” in Armenian—has a long and complicated history that dates back to the early 1900s. Although the architect of the building is unknown, the origins of this Karantina building are not completely forgotten. The current owners, the Markarian family, bought the building two generations ago. Originally the building comprised only one floor. In 1932, Garbis Markarian renovated the building in order to start the family business, a metallurgical factory called Markarian Establishment. Today, KED is owned and operated by his grandson, Gaby Markarian.

At the time that the factory was built, Karantina was a central camp for the Armenian refugees who had escaped the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire. Garbis Markarian proved to be very skilled in the metal industry and decided to buy the building to expand his business. He chose the building because of its proximity to both the river for water usage and the port for importing and exporting goods.


As the business found success, in 1951 the family added the first floor, and later during the Lebanese Civil War, militias built a second floor. In the 1980s, however, the family was forced to abandon the factory, both because the war made it difficult for labor to reach the factory and also because business was going well, and they found a bigger factory location in Mkalles, where they still operate today.

KED History Timeline

   History of KED Timeline -  Illustration by Patil Tokatlian 

During the civil war, Karantina was the site of a number of tragedies, the most famous of which was the Karantina Massacre (1976). The building became a strategic location for militiamen, who invited it in and squatted in it until 1989. The building remained in a decrepit state until February 2016, when renovations for Beirut Design Week began.


When Gaby Markarian met the director of Beirut Design Week, Doreen Toutikian, through a mutual friend, they both set out to revive the building and named it KED. With the help of Architects for Change (previously called Lebanese Architecture Club), the network of partners of the MENA Design Research Center, and Gaby’s labor force, the building was redesigned and renovated in only four months.



Since 2015, Architects for Change has been supported by MENA Design Research Center. By providing a space for meetings and events and regular consultancy, MENA DRC allowed the organization to develop and build its own network.


In October 2015, after MENA DRC’s decision to take on KED as BDW2016’s home, Architects for Change took part in the initial study of the project. Both organizations agreed that this would be a good opportunity for the young members to learn how to develop a real project, which is also aligned with the organization’s goals to provide learning opportunities for young students beyond the classroom while focusing on social impact and service learning. It also provided the members with critical input by professional architects and a chance to collaborate with other designers.


The initial phase of the project included various site visits and survey drawings of the building. After careful analysis, the team studied different aspects of the project, taking into consideration the various challenges and constrictions as well as the needs of the organizers, the exhibitors, and the visitors.

The team had to familiarize themselves through personal research about sustainability in design, which involved a hands-on experience and experimentation with locally sourced materials. The final proposal was then delivered alongside technical drawings and the bill of quantities to the MENA DRC partners to build on for the second phase of development.


As part of the project, there were different sessions with the Beirut Design Week team for feedback, open presentations with the main BDW partners, a session with theOtherDada team - the sustainability consultant partner of BDW2016 - a sustainability and design session with Robert Wittkuhn, and a presentation skills session with Asil Sidahmed.

The team was led by Abbas Sbeity and its members came from different backgrounds in architecture, interior architecture, landscape design, and lighting design.


The following members were the KED team: Abbas Sbeity, Cynthia Mattar, Malak Rahal, Katia Zahwi, Mohamad Kahil, Sally Itani, Rabih Koussa, Dana Harakeh, Ali Abbas Ahmadi, Lara Wehbi, Judy Abi Rustom, Moustafa Kridly, Ramona Abdallah, Nada Rahal, and Romy Bechara.


In consultation with BDW2016 partners and specialists in sustainability, theOtherdada, Cedar Environmental, Recycle Lebanon, Waste, Architects for Change, and many others, the team spent numerous months studying how to be as sustainable as possible with the renovation of KED and the overall design and communication elements of Beirut Design Week’s central location. The aim of the project was to restore the building with the intention of reviving Karantina while shedding light on the misuse of the area as a waste dump, as well as creating awareness about sustainability with concrete actions and examples in the space. The team focused on certain aspects of the building, recognizing that there would be a lot of challenges and that 100% sustainability was not feasible. These aspects are:


Reducing energy consumption, especially in a country like Lebanon, where power outages are a daily issue, is key to creating a sustainable event. Therefore all the lighting in the space consists of LED lamps. Air conditioning is only used in one room of the whole building; the rest of the space depends on ventilators that consume very little energy. However, power outages remain a challenge, and therefore a fuel-based generator is needed for the hours where electricity from the public grid is unavailable.



Water is supplied by the six tanks installed on top of the KED building. Much of the greywater is used to irrigate the Beirut River Less installation by theOtherdada next to KED. To create awareness about the importance of conserving water, messages about water usage are communicated through environmental graphics in the washrooms.



The sustainability of materials was a key factor in all decisions related to building interior spaces, installations, and exhibitions. All the walls in the building were made out of OSB (Oriented Strand Board) wood, which is made out of discarded wood particles. All the furniture in the space, especially on the second-floor terrace is made from recycled materials. These include the eco-boards made or plastic bags by Cedar Environmental and Waste seating furniture made from up-cycled ad banners.



Recycling bins for sorting papers, plastics and organics are installed on the premises. The service of delivering the waste to the appropriate facilities is provided also by Cedar Environmental.



All the organic waste created at the event will be sent to local farmers for composting.



All events and especially the KED central location are open for all free of charge, with the exception of some workshops.



Encouraging sustainable mobility to and from the venue is also of concern to the team of organizers at MENA Design Research Center. Public transportation, shuttle services, carpooling, and riding bicycles (in collaboration with CyclingCircle) are all encouraged and advertised in the BDW communications. Moreover, all delivery services prior and during BDW are provided by Deghri Messengers, a local Lebanese bicycle courier for all deliveries.



Digital communication saves tons of paper. Beirut Design week communicates with participants partners and the audience mostly through email, website, and telephone. This includes the registration process and follow-up. Online copies of all publications are also provided to be downloaded from the website.



The development of all aspects of renovation is provided through local craftsmen, designers, architects, and construction workers. All the food vendors are also 100% local businesses.



Beirut Design Week was above all a truly collaborative process involving students and local partners in every step of development.



All the leftover food that is not consumed during the event is sent to food charities across Lebanon.



We hoped that with the initiation of KED as a cultural hub, the local authorities will start appreciating the value of Karantina as an important part of Beirut with flourishing communities. We also hope that more people will visit the area and actively support a ban on polluting Beirut River with the country’s waste, which causes irreparable environmental damage to the entire area.

Original text appeared in the MENA Design Research Center publication “Beirut Design Week 2016 – Feature”