LEBANON: When Benedicte de Blavous Moubarak moved to Beirut, Lebanon, with her husband Raja Moubarak and their children in 2003, she did not know she would be championing the cause of sustainability and social design.
Her company 2B Design is driven by her love for the beauty of old objects. Using old wrought iron balustrades, window frames and other creations of skilled craftsmen which adorned traditional houses, 2B Design transforms this architectural salvage into works of art by employing the unemployable.
Wrought iron railings and old juniper wooden arches become lamps, candle holders, chandeliers, tables, consoles and other items. Lampshades are made of vintage fabric. All the materials used would otherwise end up in scrapyards often littering the environment.
“Our mission is to restore the unseen beauty of the broken. We salvage elements of architecture from traditional Levantine buildings that have been destroyed by the war or by real estate development,” said Moubarak.
The firm only employs people who are marginalised, who suffer from disabilities or who have limited access to the job market. Moubarak and de Blavous train them and pay them above market wages. 2B Design has amplified its social impact by partnering with up to four NGOs to date.
Living and travelling in the Middle East for over 15 years, de Blavous was drawn to the different style of traditional Lebanese houses. Moubarak said the idea for 2B Design came to them after they relocated to Beirut and saw the traditional houses there fading away.
“Seeing the disappearance of beautiful buildings and the dire conditions of a segment of the population inspired us to take action. We strongly felt designing and creating beautiful objects from a disappearing past could be combined with restoring the dignity of broken people,” he added.
The firm also wanted to provide customers authenticity in design at a time when mass produced items were the norm.
“We also wanted to adopt a different model of success which was not simply based on the pursuit of profit,” he said.
They called the new firm 2B Design, inspired by the name ‘Benedicte Moubarak’ as both words mean ‘Blessed’ in Latin and Arabic, which translated to 2B.
“We go around Lebanon to salvage yards and look for elements that can be transformed into nicely crafted designs. These elements are then sent to the forge of a partner NGO where we have a team of blacksmiths. The blacksmiths shape the pieces into the designs that my wife, Benedicte, develops,” said Moubarak.
From the forge, the pieces are sent to 2B Design’s workshop. There, a team of women clean each piece by making sure the original patina is preserved. They apply natural pigments when a thin coat is necessary to be placed on an item. The electrical wiring is then put together and tested, in parallel lampshades are made.
Moubarak said usually the lampshades take time to produce as they are fragile to make and the fabrics used mainly come from vintage 19th century French trousseaux (linens and clothing that a bride used to assemble for her marriage) or vintage Suzani.
Advocates of sustainable design, Moubarak said sustainability transcends energy conservation measures, lowering carbon footprint or building green buildings. He said it also applies to the way people give back to the community, the work conditions of a firm’s employees and other factors.
“We believe that sustainability is no longer a choice but an important necessity. It needs to be incorporated into the DNA of every activity, business and behaviour of individuals. Architecture and design are part of that chain; in fact, they come early on,” added Moubarak.
It is a lot easier, more efficient and less costly to start with sustainability in mind when designing a building than having to convert it into a sustainable building later on, according to Moubarak.
The firm sells 15% of its production in Lebanon, with the rest sent to upscale stores in the US, Japan and Europe. The US is a growing market, with the American Society of Interior Designers (NY) awarding the firm the Best of the Best Award for Social Responsibility, Ecological Sensitivity and Universal Design Awareness recently.
“As a small social enterprise, we make efforts to raise the level of awareness for social enterprise and sustainability in Lebanon and the region. We hope that some people will be inspired by what we do and will start incorporating the relevant values and behaviour into their own activities,” added Moubarak.