Doha: Qatar Museums, in the presence of its President, HE Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, today opened Liwan Design Studios and Labs, a space dedicated to supporting and connecting design professionals who make integral part of Qatar’s burgeoning creative community. Liwan is part of the new Qatar Museums Creative Hub, which initiates and supports projects that nurture artistic talent and create opportunities to build a strong and sustainable cultural infrastructure.
Located in the heart of Msheireb, Downtown Liwan is housed in an imaginatively redesigned historic building that was the first officially recognized girls’ school in Qatar, founded by educational pioneer Amna Mahmoud Al Jaida. The original school, named Banat El Doha, opened in the late 1950s and over the years it was renamed Umm Almo’mneen Primary School.
Led by multidisciplinary Qatari designer Aisha Bint Nasser Al Sowaidi as director, Liwan provides designers who join as members with state-of-the-art labs for pottery, leatherwork, digital photography and prototyping, as well as private and shared studios. , giving them the resources to advance their work.
Liwan’s opening ceremony was celebrated at the March 2022 #QatarCreates gathering of creative industry leaders from Qatar, the region and around the world. During the opening festivities, Qatar Museums announced Design Doha, a biennial exhibition launching in 2024 that will make Doha a hotbed of cultural innovation for years to come. Liwan will serve as an organizing hub for Design Doha, which will draw on Qatar’s vast network of museums to support local and regional designers, generate exhibitions, commission new public artworks and host a robust calendar of public programs.
HE Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, President of Qatar Museums, said, “Liwan Design Studios and Labs will facilitate collaboration, community and creativity. It’s a place where emerging designers can bridge the gap between education and the workplace, and established designers can find the creative network and inspiration they need to propel themselves to the next level. Like everything we do in Qatar’s museums, Liwan has one foot in the past, rooted in our cultural history, and the other in the future, lifting our nation and its people to even greater heights. I am convinced that great things will emerge from Liwan and I know that the creativity that is born here will contribute greatly to Qatar’s creative economy for generations to come.
Aisha Bint Nasser Al Sowaidi, Director of Liwan Design Studios and Labs, said, “When I transitioned from an academic setting to a professional setting after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCU-Q) in the As part of her MFA program, I realized that without the scaffolding of an educational institution, it was difficult to find a thriving artistic community and space for experimentation. Qatar Museums has responded to this need with Liwan, an institution that is much more than a building with design infrastructure. It’s a home for the community, where emerging designers can feel welcome, connect with others in their field, and elevate their work.
Liwan takes its name from the graceful courtyards that served as the physical and emotional center of historic buildings in Qatar. Carefully designed private studios and multifunctional shared spaces line its courtyard. Equipped for individual and larger projects, shared spaces, including a café, encourage coworking and collaboration. The old school library has been carefully converted into a reading room open to the public and houses a curated collection of mid-century children’s books.
Liwan’s unique location in the heart of Msherieb connects it to Qatar’s growing creative community, and the building itself is one of the finest mid-century designs in Doha. Its reimagining was commissioned in early 2019 as part of the many conservation efforts across Qatar to become a creative hub and hosted the Msheireb Art Center – a set of studios dedicated to encouraging the arts in the country. The building is a landmark institution in local history and pays homage to Qatar’s architectural, social and educational history.
In addition to providing resources to its members, Liwan offers a strong program of public programs through the Liwania Series, to raise awareness of local and global design thought and practices. Programming includes heritage tours about the building’s history and featured events such as talks, workshops, dinners, exhibits, film screenings and networking opportunities.
Liwan houses a collection of approximately 850 children’s books and artifacts archived from the former school of the Liwan Archive Library. On display are old children’s storybooks featuring some of the best late 20th century typography, illustrations and designs from the Arab world, including iconic illustrations and designs by Helmy El Touny and Burhan Karkoutly. The archives house the work of a generation that directly inspired much of the culture of contemporary art and design in the Arab world. The library will be open to the public, as well as members, and will host monthly roundtables, called Kotob Zaman.