BASHOURA cemetery's airspace

Beirut maps highlighting cemetery location by an outline:                                                                                                          Map1 1876 - Map2 1919- Map3 1964- Map4 1994- Map5 2011

Bashoura's built space to open air ratio is one of the least shocking in relationship to Beirut's other neighborhoods. This is mainly attributed to the large historic cemetery that creates a breathing space in the middle of the dense neighborhood.  Yet when the cemetery was planned it was surrounded by plantations; today it is surrounded by apartment buildings. The cemeteries location today actually allows the neighborhood fresh air, ventilation space, and direct sunlight.

Photo by Sandra Rishani 2009. A void in the city. Bashoura Beirut cemetery

Today urban cemeteries are increasingly viewed as amenity landscapes that may provide charming and ecological values to the communities that surround them. However, cemeteries have historically been seen as sacred spaces; people are, after all, laid to rest in them. At the time of their establishment, most cemeteries were typically a fringe-belt land. Established on what were the outskirts of the built-up areas, many cemeteries are now surrounded by dense urban development. Aside from small religious buildings and family plots, cemeteries were seldom planned as an urban land use.

Several reasons for ignoring this very spatial land use come to mind. In the nineteenth century, municipal governments saw burial grounds as potential health hazards. In addition, 'cemeteries, even those privately owned and operated for profit, are mostly not typically subject to property taxes, so they provide little municipal revenue'.

For planners, the most frustrating open spaces to contemplate are the cemeteries of the city. Together, they take up a large amount of space.... I have toyed with the thought of all of the good things that could be done with the land were there a relocation effort and also explored the airspace over sanctified grounds, but UNDERSTAND  that this might be a politically and religiously explosive matter.  Yet this should not prevent us from investigating on this blog the possibilities of cemeteries and their air space.  
In Bashoura the cemetery has become overwhelmed by graves covered by their marble top. Its dead occupants have taken over the site and turned it all into a marbled raised ground. Two large trees only exist on the site. Even though as is the site already creates a breathing space for the neighborhood, inspired by the plug in 1960s, I wonder may we ‘respectively’  takeover its airspace and hang from cranes along its walls large plant holders to green the Grey open space?

'Plug in'  plant and tree holders. Bashoura Beirut

Floating trees. Bashoura Beirut Lebanon

Greening the Grey with Plug ins that take over scared grounds airspace.

Could designing garden\public space, a physical program that has historically been rooted in the grounds surface be re-conceived in order to maintain significant sites while accommodating growth? 

The possibility of such a plug in light infrastructure that can add green to all those sacred grounds without moving them may be intriguing.   Nevertheless, if this is not possible for now, cemeteries such as Bashoura which are already nearly full should be accessible to the public. With a city like Beirut in which public space is so scarce cant we have a walk, read a book or just respectively relax on a tombstone?  IF the city consciously decides to open up such spaces the cemetery edges and entrances may be re-planned to allow easy access to the residents of Beirut.

Behind “the pink house”

Around the Pink House

I watched again one of my favorite Lebanese movies. For everyone that has not seen it yet pick up a copy or at-least read about it. 

This blog entry will discuss the  movie, “Around the Pink House” that highlights how post war policies on the macro level regarding reconstruction and the internally displaced affected people’s ability to recover from the war. The ambition of this entry  is to highlight the importance of personal narratives and experiences within spatially just reconstruction plans and policies, which were disregarded, and shows how the top down macro scale decisions continue to disturb the post-war geography of the city. 

Documenting the invisible struggles:

The movie begins with a day to day event interrupted by a traffic jam in a neighborhood with men in uniform running in-between the cars. The scene of daily life mixed with a scene of militias and day to day war scenes highlights a confused and forced transition from the war period to the post war period. The people stuck in the traffic are not disturbed by the militia men running through and are discussing an explosion that is shown on a television in a cafe.  

This starts the conversation about reconstruction and what this new type of city destruction will bring to the residents of the city. One man in a  café proposes that the new plan for a new ‘world’ city is going to save the neighborhood with an upsurge in the economy.
The movie then focuses on the pink house by showing us a man looking into the day to day activities and windows of the houses residents.  We see the the pink house in the activities of its residence.  
The camera slows down several times during the movie; the music becomes eerie and shifts into the private moments of the characters. The moments only share a common house, the pink house,  but their memories and thoughts are varied all affected by the trauma and displacement of the war.   

These portraits create multiple narratives that show that the groups opinions about post war reconstruction were not based on peoples religions but on their a geo-political locations  and outlook on social justice.
Around the Pink House - screen shots

Occupying the urban landscape: Burj-el-Murr

A serene sacred monolith stands still in Beirut’s continuously changing urban fabric. This 40 story unfinished tower dominates the skyline of down-town Beirut.
The unfinished building is about 35 years old now. Its construction started in 1974 and by 1975, the start of the Lebanese civil war, 28 of its floors were built. Despite the unrest, the work continued until the whole structure was erected.
The building was structurally daring relying on a hollow tube concrete structure with its facades as the load bearing walls braced by the core buildings shear walls. It was firm enough to withstand the weapons used on the battle-field and to continue to exist as an icon in the post war period. 

Its height, location and facade treatment and structure made this an ideal sniper location. It created a type of panoptic war tactic which drew an imaginary urban circle of about 2.2 km  of fear around it.
After the war a post construction boom took place. Sites and buildings were either erased and reconstructed or developed a new. The Murr tower's problem or advantage is that it is too high to topple and too solid to implode making its erasure problematic and expensive.
This concrete artifact originally meant to be an office tower was only used as a sniper outpost.
Today it stands filled with disturbing memories, horror stories and scars rising to the sky. What is to become of this structure and what should become of it has been an issue to many in Beirut? In the mean time it stands as an unused tower.


With the past blog post, Beirut is ill: The WHOs 'Healthy City Networks',
( ) showed that the required public green  space required for Beirut is extremely scarce. We need to start dreaming of possibilities for  new public green spaces.  Green spaces have a range of functions and types of which not all need to be equally physically accessible. Access may range from the climate change results they cause in terms of oxygen production and or food production, ecological variety, visual access, or physical contact access among other types.

 What I propose for Burj-el-Murr , which is structurally viable, is a landscape of green.
 The Burj’s east and west facade is made of 6 equally placed and sized windows on each floor. The strategy is simple, a range of bush type plants or trees to be placed on each of the widows from inside with guidance to the exterior.   

The result might just be a vertical mountain or wall of green that will overtake the sacred monolith of Beirut.
The project proposal will require an efficient watering system and maintenance system but its result will be immeasurable on the street and urban scale among others. 

The hill will grow on itself and slowly decompose the building. After 50 years when the mound is more or less fully grown the exterior may become habitable in some form and the building will be lost.

Original Images 
by  Ramiabikhalil
by Centrifugador
all collages  by sandra rishani  

Food Security: Can global food production be increased?

In a day where the water tables are falling, the temperatures of the world are rising drastically, and the population continues to increase, our food production is facing eminent collapse.
Moreover countries that continue to industrialize today drive up the demand for food increase the population and simultaneously shrink the cropland areas.  The cropland areas are then used for industrial and residential developments.

Yet even though these associations are visible to most of us reversing this decline of space for food production has not been easy even with government incentives. 
 Can urban agriculture be large enough in scale to feed its city?

To quantify this in numbers is hard mainly because these numbers do not exist. They only exist in the form of specific crops such as grain and for specific countries.  After a vast research of these numbers I concluded that if water shortage and environmental disasters do not continue to increase and with the current average common technologies  a viable relationship of food production area to number of people it feeds is
This doesn't seem very shocking until you start trying to understand it in terms of your cities and or towns. I wonder if other numbers to indicate this ratio have been produced as i still have not found any.  

Lebanon’s food requirements

HOW much food does Beirut need to produce to feed itself?

The Biqa Valley, plus the narrow valleys sweeping down to the sea is evidence of the variety of Lebanon's agricultural lands. However, Lebanon's fertile land In addition to the livestock production has not been fully exploited because of almost constant warfare.

The Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations has some key statistics on Lebanon published stating that the agricultural area in Lebanon is 6,870 km2 in a country that is 10,452 km2 with a population of 4.224 million ( ).  

If we are to assume the numbers of the FAO, and assume that all that land is intensely cropped all seasons, which is not the case, they will show that to feed Lebanon we need to increase our food production .

For Lebanon to be self sufficient the numbers show that we need three times the total area of the country and therefore increase the currently existing agriculture land by about 5 times

These shocking numbers seem unreal! These are just calculations I put together and need to be verified and questioned further.  Yet technical advances need to increase the amount of food production within 1km2 in addition to a conscious decision for people to eat less and for planners and architects alike to realize that this is as much a spatial problem as it is a humanitarian one.  These numbers are even more shocking in dense cities if we are to  assume cities need to at-least share the burden of food production.

 Links and References
"Agriculture and Genetic Diversity." World Resources Institute. 
 Agricultural Biotechnology Information Center Home Page (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
 "The Ecological Risks and Benefits of Genetically Engineered Plants." Science (290), 15 Dec 2000.
Unknown, Human Appropriation of the World's Food Supply, last accesses may 2011
Thomas Collelo, ed. Lebanon: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1987. last accessed may 2011
Ministry of agriculture, Republic of Lebanon,, last accessed may 2011
Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Country Profile: Lebanon,, last accessed may 201
Lester Brown, Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures, 2004
Lester Brown, Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble,  Earth Policy Institute, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2003, ISBN 0-393-05859-X
"Food Production: Have yields stopped rising?" World Resources Institute's Sustainable Development Information Service 

Illegality and informality clashes in Lebanon

Taken in 2005 by Sandra Rishani St. Simone Area

“… [N]either cities nor places in them are unordered, unplanned; the question is only whose order, whose planning, for what purpose..." (Marcuse, 1995:244).

The recent Beirut headlines state 2 killed in clashes over illegal housing in Lebanon, April 21, 201 ( Six policemen injured over illegal housing in south Lebanon ( ) among other skirmishes resulting from a decision by the government to stop and eradicate ‘illegal’ and ‘informal’ construction.

With such conditions and varying urban realities we need to critically analyze the approach to the phenomenon of informal housing in Lebanon.

What is an ‘informal city’? A fashionable word that intrigues some, including scientists, architects sociologists, artists, and disgusts others. ‘Formless’, ‘chaotic’, ‘dirty’, ‘self-built’, ‘illegal’, ‘irrelevant’, ‘ephemeral’, ‘productive’, ‘unproductive’, ‘integral’, ‘critical’, ‘tax-free’, ‘lacking public services’, and ‘parasitic’ are some words that can be used to describe it.

So, how does one approach something that can be anything and a concept??

In a continuously changing city, there needs to be a conscious and specific recognition and approach to such spaces by tackling the humanitarian issues whilst addressing and understanding informality as a study of adaptation and innovation. Defining informality as a transitional phase caused by the civil war has allowed this type of production to continue without serious attempts at its eradication.

Beirut is ill: The WHOs 'Healthy City Networks'

Public Green Space in Developping cities

The United Nations (1991) identifies that the number of people living in cities almost tripled in the world. More specifically it identifies that in developed countries the urban population doubled while in developing countries it linearly quadrupled. The main factor behind this transformation is a population boom of the 20th century coupled with the rapid economic growth which is unfortunately  associated with a decline in the share of agriculture in economic activities and increased share of the industrial and service sectors, the latter of which are mostly located  in urban areas. 

Public spaces and green spaces have many functions in a city that are important. Some of which are physical, ecological, social, provision of recreation opportunities, as well as opportunities for pedestrian circulation, provision of comfort for citizens , encouragement of natural habitats to remain in the city, as well as the reduction of noise and air pollution among others. To be able to provide these contributions, public green space needs to be planned systematically and maintained or at least protected. I believe gardens are much more than natural vegetation's in a dense urban context These spaces have a potential through which many cultural, social, economic, and political concerns, can be directed, expressed and brought forth to the public sphere.

Provision of urban green spaces has to be planned and realized together with the planning of housing, transport infrastructure, etc. In developing countries where all these planning resources are inadequate and are coupled with traffic congestion, air pollution, insufficient services such as water and electricity green spaces are regarded as less important aspects of land use.


The problem of disregarding planned green spaces in cities have been exacerbated and highlighted by the World Health Organization(WHO). Currently  the WHO has established indicators for what makes a city healthy.  These include a varying amount of issues including private green space, pollution levels, water quality etc....It specifically established a metric that links public green space  to public health with an international quota of 10  square meters per person as a benchmark for healthy cities. 

Several cities have produced the number for themselves to compare to the WHO number. Only a few Western European Cities make the cut for surface area. Not a single Middle Eastern City comes anywhere close.
The data graphed here are collected from varying sources between 2005 to 2010

City Intiatives: 
None the less cities across the world cities are taking measures to add green space, trying to meet the WHO criteria in order to be included IN THE HEALTHY CITY NETWORK 

-    In Cairo, an moderate Islamic NGO, the Aga Khan Development Network, created a new Park in the center of the city. The park was basically a gift but the land had to be expropriated by the Egyptian government. 0.04m2 PBS/person
-    In Beijing, the government planned a ring of green spaces around the city, expropriating land and trying to distribute it radically
-    In New York, the city government is teaming up with private interests to transform existing privately owned parks into publicly accessible green space. This adds up to a distributed network of greens.

Gardens in Beirut 

Beirut has even less available public green space than these examples. Only 1.8% of its surface area is green, this would have to be multiplied by 22 to arrive at the WHO indicator. The city would have to demolish  41%  of the city, and transform it into a park, in order to meet the World Health Indicator.

The Greenest Beirut has ever been was during the war, from 1982 and 1992. This is because a line divided the city--a no-man's zone where fighting occurred--which was overgrown and created a green desert landscape.  To qualify for the WHO city networks Beirut will need to demolish 41% of its existing fabric, and this is only regarding the existing urban population which is still continuously increasing.

In CITIES that value the density of their urban fabric, a green infrastructure needs to be inserted into the existing city fabric. We need to reimagine what and how we can inject public green space in such cities. Such is the case in Beirut where the urban fabric and the real estate is in such high demand for housing and other basic urban needs.We need to start dreaming of new types of public green-spaces that can be inserted into  existing congested cities.

On the agency of designers:

Are designer’s only observers, autonomous creators, self interested professions, victims of the market or can they also be enablers, activists and resistive agents within their field? Through their work, designers/architects have been tackling large infrastructural, ecological, urban, and regional systems and through their involvement with public buildings, they have touched upon culture, religion, and education among others. Following a shift in the scale of their tasks in the past few decades, it appears that architects and designers at large have acquired more power to shape their environments. They concretize social, political and economic interactions and can have an agency in their production. Therefore design practices can have a more active and transformative influence in shaping contemporary urban realities.  Although urban environments and their design cannot single-handedly solve deep-rooted problems, they, coupled with political and social conditions, can alter and affect each other. 

Therefore, architects should no longer be submissive to the demands of clients and their agendas and programs but should be part of shaping the agenda and the strategy to achieve it. International institutional buildings that have emerged as a type of office building that will produce peace is an example of a typology that the architect on the project should challenge.  Even though a building to house bureaucratic needs is inevitable yet  if the reality is to create dialogue and  coexistence or bring the international community closer to its source of intervention  these building have clearly failed as spaces.
Walls wrap the building entrances seen in Google earth (no pictures of ESCWA walls are allowed)
Look at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia , ESCWA, in Beirut for example. A huge building, set up in Beirut, has built huge concrete and sand walls around it with constant armed guards walking around. This building has created a gated pocket in Beirut that’s sits in the city’s most expensive and inaccessible real estate surrounded by high walls  as a prove to the failure   of such spaces  specifically in urban contexts.  

Yet if agendas of public buildings and their budgets are used to build institutions that in themselves will help in achieving their agendas and are accessible and open then architects and designers transform their interventions  from objects  within the landscape  to  spaces that  can  unite and invite and encourage certain interactions.