Located in Msheireb Downtown Doha, Liwan offers space, resources, and a community network to build Qatar’s creative economy, and will be home to Design Doha, a biennial exhibition debuting in 2024

Qatar Museums, under the patronage and in the presence of its Chairperson Her Excellency 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 are integral to Qatar’s burgeoning creative community. Liwan is part of Qatar Museums’ newly created 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, Doha’s ambitious new design district, Liwan is housed in an imaginatively repurposed historic building that was the first officially recognized school for girls in Qatar, founded by education 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 its Director, Liwan provides the designers who join as members, with state-of-the-art labs for pottery, leatherworking, digital photography, and prototyping, as well as private and shared studios, giving them the resources needed to advance their work.

The opening ceremony for Liwan was celebrated during the March 2022 #QatarCreates gathering of leaders of creative industries 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 home for cultural innovation for years to come. Liwan will serve as the organizational hub for Design Doha, which will draw on the extensive network of Qatar Museums to support local and regional designers, generate exhibitions, commission new public artworks, and host a robust schedule of public programs.

Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, said, “Liwan Design Studios and Labs will facilitate collaboration, community, and creativity. It is 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 catapult themselves to the next level. Like all that we do at Qatar Museums, Liwan has one foot in the past, rooted in our cultural history, and the other in the future, elevating our nation and its people to even higher levels. I am confident that great things will emerge from Liwan and I know that the creativity that originates here will contribute greatly to Qatar’s creative economy for generations to come.”

Aisha Bint Nasser Al Sowaidi, Director, Liwan Design Studios and Labs, said, “When I moved from an academic setting to a professional one after I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCU-Q) through its Master of Fine Arts program, I realized that without the scaffolding of an educational institution, it was hard to find a fulfilling artistic community and space to experiment. Qatar Museums has met that need with Liwan, an institution that is far more than a building with design infrastructure. It is 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 Qatari buildings. Thoughtfully designed private studios and multifunctional shared spaces line its courtyard. Equipped for both individual and larger projects, shared spaces, including a cafe, encourage co-working and collaboration. The old school library has been carefully updated to 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 Doha’s most beautiful mid-century designs. Its reimagination was commissioned in early 2019 as part of the numerous conservation efforts across Qatar to become a creative hub and hosted the Msheireb Art Centre – a set of studios dedicated to encouraging arts in the country. The building is a landmark institution in local history and pays tribute to Qatar’s architectural, social, and educational history.

In addition to providing resources for its members, Liwan offers a robust schedule of public programs through the Liwania series, to raise awareness of local and global design thinking and practices. Programming includes heritage tours about the history of the building and featured events such as talks, workshops, dinners, exhibitions, film screenings, and networking opportunities.

Liwan houses a collection of roughly 850 archived children’s books and objects from the former school in the Liwan Archival Library. On display are old children’s storybooks showcasing some of the best late 20th-century typography, illustration, and design from the Arab world—including iconic illustrations and designs by Helmy El Touny and Burhan Karkoutly. The archive is home to the work of a generation that directly inspired so much of the contemporary art and design culture in the Arab world. The library will be open to the public, as well as to members, and will host monthly panel discussions, called Kotob Zaman.

The Journal by Liwan is an online collection of essays, articles, book and exhibition reviews, and visuals, exploring contemporary design themes across the Middle East and internationally. The digital journal, accessible to the public on Liwan’s website, features pioneering Qatari creatives and connects local and global design voices, encouraging collaboration and commentary on cultural and intellectual design matters. Special guest-edited issues will focus on semi-annual themes on topics such as design in pandemics and sports and design.

Liwan Design Studios and Labs is an integral component of the Qatar Creates program, that is supported by Qatar Airways as its Official Airline Partner.