Ghar, A Living Archive

Ghar or Aleppo soap has been prepared with a traditional recipe for hundreds of years. About three hundred families in Syria ran businesses producing this type of soap, but due to the war production is now impossible. The soap is connected to countless stories and memories, which Syrian refugees took with them. Ghar (meaning soap) shares the stories and memories connected to Aleppo soap, in order to make Syrian refugees less anonymous in our society. This consists of a wooden stamp printed with a short memory about Ghar (the scent reminds me of..) and can be stamped any time the soap has been used. This way, the memories will not get lost.
 The product creator, Nienke Galjaard, and the Willem de Kooning Academy asked me create a concept based on this for a hybrid publication, and also design the branding and packaging. A dedicated team was put together to combine our efforts to transform it into a hybrid publication.

How Ghar is made

The soap is made in a huge large vat in the ground, where three ingredients get mixed: water, laurel oil and lye. This is called the 'hot process', because there is an underground fire that heats the materials to a boil. This lasts three days until it becomes a thick, liquid substance. The laurel oil only gets mixed in at the end. After that the liquid gets spread all over the floor of the factory on a huge wax paper, and is allowed to cool and harden for one day. Then it gets cut and stapled into pieces.

Digital Preservation

The key elements in this project were the preservation of the production process, the rituals and people's personal memories. The original GHAR publication is one big archive of memories of this Arabic ritual. The information we already had was the analog 'stamp' (the wooden case) and the stories of the people that in this way, are not lost. The need was therefore to translate the analog version into the design and the application.



To strengthen the presence of Ghar, we used the earthly colours of the soap and a combo of the Arabic word in the logo. The application also contains both languages, Dutch and Arabic. The colours, a soft orange, sandy beige and a black as a support mix right in with the feeling of the soap. We were also big fans of green, as that is the color of the laurel oil, the color that is inside the soap - but the orange is keeping it lively and takes it back to Ghar's original form. 

Usage: A Digital Handshake

The bold letters of Ghar and what is used in the overall design are keeping it tight, cool and to the point. Typography in general is a big part of the digital application, where the NFC chip and link on the package takes you. When swiping your phone over this invisible chip, it will open the publication. We wanted it to feel like a handshake with one of the storytellers, and feel like the user can meet them in an online environment where the stories can be passed on.

Digital stamping

As the original project works with wooden stamps, we wanted to take this element into the hybrid publication. To unlock content, users can manipulate the letters until they click in an invisible box and the word 'fits'. The word describes which part of the story comes next, where content is divided into different chapters. Most of the words are linked to a memory of the storytellers, or part of a Ghar ritual, such as 'Bath' or 'Wedding'. Some are video's and are supposed to be full screen, like you are facetiming with one of the storytellers.

The Living Archive

As the cultural history of Ghar is something that we wanted to preserve, it also has a place in the present. We really wanted to involve the users of the hybrid publication to add to the archive as well. Now that the production of Ghar is back, people can share new memories they made with the soap within the hybrid publication, and bring in new words and content which we can build in, or they can just leave a review of how the publication made them feel. As Nienke says: "The soap is anonymous, the people who make and use it give the soap a story".


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Creative Team

Nienke Galjaard - Concept, Product Owner & Issuer
Kimmy Spreeuwenberg - Project Manager & Issuer
Megan Hoogenboom - Concept & Developer
Camie Roos - Concept, Design & Motion
Lou Muuse - Journalist & Copywriter
Gabriëlle Marks - Editor