St-W 119 – ‘Beirut's Design landscape is a virgin terrain with great potential for becoming a regional pioneer,’ says Armenian-born designer Etienne Bastormagi as we drive around the city that’s been his home since childhood – a place he calls ‘very progressive’. As a first-time visitor, that’s exactly the impression I’m having, not least because the city is hosting Beirut Design Week and celebrating its inaugural Beirut Pride as we speak – events that plant a city known for its buzzing nightlife even deeper into the heart of today’s developing Middle East.
Regardless of the festivities, however, it’s impossible to ignore the effects of a 15-year-long civil war and the current Syrian crisis, severe challenges to the city’s resilience. The resulting slightly chaotic status – a web of fragility and division – inspires Bastormagi and his practice, Etienne Bas, founded in 2013. ‘Beirut has a certain authenticity, and the city’s design talent maintains that sense of honesty. It’s something a city such as Dubai doesn’t enjoy, even though Dubai was earlier to launch its design week and generally does things on a larger scale – physically and financially.’
Whatever their size, Bastormagi’s projects always have an urban dimension. ‘I’m very interested in the city and in the impact it has on our lifestyles,’ says the man who studied architecture before pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning. After graduating from the Lebanese University, Bastormagi widened his scope, becoming a multidisciplinary creative whose work ranges from products and art installations to interiors and entire buildings.
His scheme for the flagship of patisserie Des Choux et Des Idées demonstrates how his knowledge of urban planning even seeps into relatively small-scale projects. Handed a 20-m2 space – originally the car park of a residential building – Bastormagi decided to integrate the street into his concept. ‘The retail experience should be contextualized within its neighbourhood,’ he points out. Using an ‘urban mirror’, he played with reflections, sometimes making the store’s merchandise visible to passers-by and sometimes reflecting passers-by instead of pastries. ‘Over the course of the day, the position of the mirror can be changed manually,’ he says. ‘Based on the store’s opening hours, the reflections either extend the street into the store or vice versa.’