Barakat Building : A Public Green Space

picture courtesy of al@mashriq
 The Barakat building is located on what used to be the tramway station on Damascus road. Everyone who has ever visited Beirut has come across this building. Situated on a corner it stands today alone as a memorial to a history that the city and its haphazard developments have been trying to erase. Activists were able to save a number of individual structures one of which is this.

unknown source 

The Barakat Building was designed and built in the 1920s by the Lebanese architect Youssef Aftimus. In the 1930s two story were added to the house. The building is built in the Ottoman revivalist style with Deir el Qamar limestone.
image courtesy of al@mashriq
Yet The Barakat Buildings significance is not only in its architectural uniqueness but mostly in its location. The buildng took a key position in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war outbreak.  The position of the building on the demarcation line,the greenline, that separated east and west Beirut and its location on a crossroad in addition to its large openings made it a sniper haven.The middle class residence moved out and the militiamen moved in.

Today the plans for the building are in limbo.  We still wait and wonder.What will happen to this  skeleton on the Green Line? Hallak, one of the key activists in preserving the building,  has big plans for the museum. The building is planned to become the first  memory museum. Whose memories and whose representation of it and how remain vague to the public. No one in Lebanon can doubt the need for a Memory Museum,  whether we are ready or not is a different topic.

Beit Beirut's websites keeps this issue quite vague, instead it highlights several programmatic entities to be housed in the building,, . These include a library, a lecture space, an auditorium, leisure facility and a museum.  Yet I wonder what will this program add to the building and its space and what will it take away. In such a unique architectural structure, history and location and a city that lacks green and public spaces why don't we just let this building be. Is it possible for a museum to just be a structure that people can visit, picnic in, hang out .... Do we have to over enclose, control  and program everything.

The World Health Organization[1] has established indicators for what makes a city healthy. It specifically established a metric that links open air to public health with an international quota of 10 square meters per person as a benchmark for healthy cities.

A brief look at Beiruts public green space shows the lack of them. Ironically the overgrown green line during the civil war is the greenest Beirut has been since the war!

Source unknown

What if Beirut green line skeletons because simply public green spaces. What if we merely met, talked, watched each other, or just shared a once conflictual space. Will that not be enough of a memorial to a once divided city.

I have to admit that the fight for the preservation of this building was unique and inspiring but the over programming of the building worries me. I feel the skeleton as a public green space is a much stronger memorial to a conflictual history we remain divided upon. Yet sharing the space of the skeleton as a public space on  the green line might allow informal interaction and discussion of history of place, space and the city that noone has succesfly created yet. also it will give the city a semi enclosed public space it so requires.

[1]WHO green area indicators,,

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