A Crime against Beirut's Heritage: Call for Action

Save Beirut Heritage is calling for a sit in on Sunday May 1st at 12 noon at the previous location of Cinema Vendome, Mar Mikhael Street.

The Crime: 
Demolish 3 significant heritage buildings in Mar Mikhael near the previous cinema Vendome Cinema in order to build towers. Demolition permits has already been granted for: 
.A building owned by Mr. Michel Pharaon in Achrafieh to be demolished so that he could build parking space and increase his investment by 3 stories.
.A beautiful traditional house (Sodeco Plot 5) owned by Mr. Michel Pharaon and Mr. Samaha.
.Abdallah Al Yafi's Villa that will be demolished to be 'reconstructed' as part of a 30 floor tower.
The Gang:
Owners: Mr. Fahed Rafic Hariri, Mr. Michel Pharaon*, Mr. Antoine Samaha, Mr. Fouad Zeidan.
Permit Granter: Minister Salim Wardeh
The Plot: 
Permits were obtained through political coercion and abuse of power by the owners of the plots. The buildings demolished had been previously classified as architecturally significant by a committee designated by the Ministry of Culture. This same committee resigned once Minister Salim Wardeh succumbed to political pressure and overturned their decision to preserve the buildings. He granted demolition permits.
Spread the Word. Take Action.

More on this issue: Tradition in Trouble, Save Beirut Heritage
*I personnally do not understand how the residents of Achrafieh keep electing Mr Pharaon who is destroying the neighborhood's cultural heritage for his own economical benefit.


City Metaphors

from Oswald Mathias Ungers' Morphologie: City Metaphors (1976) .


Preemptive Revamping of Beirut's Public Park

A public space is a social space such as a town square that is open and accessible to all, regardless of genderraceethnicityage or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons. For example, no fees or paid tickets are required for entry, nor are the entrants discriminated based on background.

Beirut's public park, Horsh Snawbar ( The Pine Forest in Arabic), is a  300,000 square meters green space that has been closed indeterminably by the Beirut Municipality. 
Reason? fear of vandalism, immoral conduct, love making and sectarian tension among users.... Foreigners, on the other hand, are allowed in by showing their passport at the door. So are upper class lebanese and friends of the Mayor. Obviously, they are deemed incapable of such behaviors. If one do not fit in such categories and still insist on visiting the park, he/she need to apply for a "special permit".
This gentrified and elitist appropriation of the Horsh is a growing trend which is reclaiming Beirut's carefully preserved gardens, making urban nature a luxury for the few rather than a public amenity.
Vandalism is a challenge faced by all park managements, and many lessons can be learned from world cities on how to deal with it. Beirut Municipality simply chose to close the park. It seems insulting to me to presume most Beirutis "uncivilized" to use a public amenity without , say, stealing flowers and plants from it,  making out in the bushes or devising vendettas; especially when we see the Beirutis' good use of their public gardens like this Sanayeh scene.

Nonetheless, I tried to follow the Municipality's segregative rationale in this LA Times article, to which i responded with measures that nonetheless allow to make the park public. 
So for officials, here are some preemptive measures to revamp the Park for uncivilized masses:
Durable Palette:
Trees instead of Plants.  people wont be able to rip them off
Green lawns instead of flower beds. less maintenance and less restriction for movement
BAN 'moveable' plants and shrubs from landscape palette. 
Solid Urban Furniture:
Surround trees with bench-fences.
Design fixed, concrete benches, and durable floor finishings. 
Solid Gym Platforms
Solid Sculptures/Urban Art
Control and Programming:
Control the park with pervasive cameras units, planted high in the trees. 
Fine high all infringements activities at the exits of park. 
Program the space with round-the-clock public free activities.
Link park security to municipal police patrols.


also, if the Municipality would be interested to invest on the long term:  
Educate citizens.
more links on this issue:  At the Edge of the CityBeirut's Public Space


"The physical design of cities and their economic functions are secondary to their relationship to the natural environment and to the spiritual values of human community." Lewis Mumford                             


Digital Discrimination

Lebanese were promised to enjoy normal internet speed at the launching of the India-Middle East-Western Europe (IMEWE) submarine cable by December 2010. 
In December, however, IMEWE announced the beginning of its operations at all stations except Lebanon, due to conflict between Telecommunications Minister Charbel Nahhas and Ogero, the company responsible for the construction and maintenance of the cable.
Angry users have launched in protest Ontornet ( Arabic Word for Wait for the Net ), an online campaign for a decent and affordable internet connection in Lebanon, featuring a caricature of a dated Internet service as their front page : turn-of-century Lebanese house/server powered by Roman communication system/doves; run on donkey power.
Needless to say, the upgrade and affordability of this infrastructure is a precondition to any claim of modernization and democracy that Lebanese are so famous to brag about. 


Istanbul The First Time

It wasn't until I saw Istanbul from the air through the plane window that I truly realized the milestone that Turks has undergone through since WWI.
Later, seeing the positive change in the city made me realize how Ottoman Lebanon still was, and how numerous are the missed opportunities that led it far from where Istanbul currently stands.
The greatest turkish delight, in addition to pistachio pomegranate, was the city itself.

Many aspects swept me off, not in a particular order:
The abundance of monuments and exquisite architectural detailing,
The road infrastructure which channels some 15 million people without major traffic*,
The city's harmonious relationship with the sea through its public waterfronts,
The livable urban fabric and the natural topography which allows unexpected vistas of the Bosphorus,
The Istanbul Modern,
In addition to guilty pleasures: Tulips, Turkish delights,Whirling Derviches, Bazaars and Hammams...

Debating the historical development and nation building of Turkey with friends while having kebab, we reflected on the benefits of secularization and its impact on Turkey's foreign & interior affairs, economy, urban development, modern and solid institutional structure... This led us to compare Turkey's path to other nations which took divergent (mostly religious) constitutional partis, like Lebanon and Pakistan.

I was intrigued to find out how Ataturk managed to do it, at the backdrop of WW1. When I asked if he imposed the reforms autocratically, an Istanbuli replied that it was not the case, that the people longed to move on. The veneration for Ataturk is certainly obvious throughout the city. So i returned to Lebanon with reads and started my own research on the subject.

Apparently, Ataturk's reform process was not that democratic,  given the way he dealt with minorities and resisting religious authorities with firm implementation methods. In a vague allusion to him, Antoine de St Exupery mentioned in Le Petit Prince how a turkish astrologist won the recognition of a scientific convention because of his attire; after his ruler, a dictator, had them dress the European way.
Looking at them from the present, one argues whether these were the only successful methods to deal with the prevalent culture at the time and plant the seeds of Enlightenment. Later, the new turkish constitution has been guarded by the military against any potential change, leading to 1960, 1970 and 1980s army uprisings against diverging rules. The results of this political legacy are certainly obvious today: progressive education, secularized civic and social life, liberalization of women, thriving economy, flourishing arts, culture and design scene.
Fact which got me thinking whether "enlightened autocracy" is better than "participatory democracy" in Lebanon, given the slow and unbalanced growth of the country since independence,  its status quo due to multiple power struggles since the Cedar revolution in 2005, and the absence of civic culture and enlightened citizenship...
However, the problem remains with popular indoctrination and the cult of the reforming leader (real plague of the Arab world, China, Cuba, and so on..) rather than the rise of informed masses and a bottom up process. Also, I do not believe in determinism and the fact that a nation has to cross the same path of others to modernization... It's too naive of a thought.

It wasn't until last year that Lebanese were exempted from visas to travel to Turkey ( which is also the only country in the world to do so). I always wondered why Turkey remained relatively distant from Lebanon all this time. The disputed genocides and forced migrations between 1915 and 1923 leading to major Armenian and Greek Orthodox communities in Lebanon, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the rise of Islamophobia in Europe certainly account to this fact.
In all cases, with no visa required, low airfares and being 1.30 hours away, Istanbul has placed itself among top destinations for the Lebanese public's weekend getaways.

*I later found out that lack of traffic directly relates to the fact that 45% istanbulis take (good!) public transport, 45% walk and only 15% have private cars. Following data courtesy of Urban Age.


In The Terrain of Water

Visualizing Landscapes: In the Terrain of Water, is a historical reading of different representation mediums for water, gathered from the University of Pennsylvania's Archives and curated by ANURADHA MATHUR on Design Observer.

some of my favorite captions:


Beirut Porosities

Today, I was in town for a walk with the PoroCity Studio, between the Beirut Central District, Saifi Village and Gemmayzeh. If Collage City exists, it is certainly there, with various urbanisms and architectures : colonial (BCD),  global (Rawche waterfront), new urbanist ( Saifi), Ad Hoc ( Gemmayzeh and Sursok)...
Beirut waterfront. courtesy of  skyscraper.com
Saifi Village, a new urbanist legacy

The walk was an exploration of urban moods, fabrics and moments of porosities, created by types of architecture with private public gradients. 
 Most of the 1940-1960 building types included transitional spaces (balconies, porches, staircases with underpass, covered open spaces, enclosed coutyards, verandas...), giving depth to building skins, solid and voids and experience of space between inside of outside. In my mind, this in-between space related more appropriately to the city's mediterranean roots, and was embedded in the building culture of the city between WWII and 1975. Design and building culture degraded since war, becoming mundane and elementary, populating the city with short-term edifices that aged very badly. It also generated an inward residential architecture. As such, most balconies of former buildings got converted to glazed, climatised rooms and the 1980-2000 apartment building types had less of transitional spaces, reducing the skin and public-private interaction to the thickness of walls.

Climatized Balconies. image courtesy of shutterstock.


Adaptive Reuse

The city of Amsterdam has called for a competition for the reuse of obsolete sewage silos. This is NL Architects' take on it.