image by Caroline Tabet of Theater of Beirut ground, mezzanine and first floor seating from stage

Our insistence to remember the value of heritage and the built environment has impelled us to continue to question the reconstruction of the downtown area in Beirut. Recently images of the partial destruction of the grand theater in Beirut created a mass of rumors that resulted in nothing else but that. The recent demolition of a section of the Grand Theater complex was perceived by many as a prelude to the demolition of the entire building.

image by Habib Battah of the back building on the same block as Grand Theater Beirut

Solidere informed everyone that they are only removing parts that are not 'valuable', specifically the block attached to the theater, and will rebuild and so on. First let us establish that in such cases the  government is accountable and  not Solidere, a private company. Having said that I do not approve how and what the private company has established. Yet I think that we have over exhausted our rumors and need to publicly debate and critically evaluate heritage and reconstruction. Issues of ownership of heritage buildings need to be dealt with, and addressing questions such as :

image by Caroline Tabet of Theater of Beirut from mezzanine looking towards the stage

Who heritage is for?
Why and to whom is it significant ?
How do we decide what to preserve?
What and how do the tensions of global historic preservation agendas fostered by international donors affect the embeddedness of monuments in local historical and social contexts?
How much do public initiatives play a role in urban heritage and preservation?
How much of the recreation of the past in the present is a political act that we should avoid by integrating heritage preservation in the present and the future instead?
Do we preserve a building spatial production and program or its facade as a poster?
Do we preserve an urban quarter or just a building?
Most importantly what are the implications of such decisions on local and national economies? 


in1000 years a large part of Lebanon's coast will be under water

The future of Lebanon’s coastal cities and their flood mitigation and sea rise plans are affected by two main things:
1-  The constantly and drastically changing environment causing the rise in sea levels, increase in storms and their frequency, sinking landmasses and wild waves are all some results we are observing constantly among others.
2-  Planning disabilities that contain lack of funding, long  time periods plans with no direct encouraging results, unclear understanding of issues and results, lack of management and communication between diverse stakeholders…
None of us today can forget the images of Hurricane Katrina or the recent tsunamis. Our coastlines are much denser today and are growing so the scale of disaster we will face is drastic.  Yet avoiding such disasters even some of which will appear in as far as 1000 years may be managed in a positive manner starting today.  (previous blog entry maps 1000 years water rise effect on Beirut. http://goo.gl/HXjWb)

Current condition of sea level in relation to Lebanon
I will highlight several strategies to ‘overcome’ the reality of loosing  coastal communities that  are an intrinsic part of our histories, contribute to the  economy, and are home to millions of residents .  These strategies are long term plans and are sometimes used in fragments on some areas and are governed by funding and investors.  To avoid the coastal areas drowning these strategies nee to be used on all the coast.
The main three strategies presented are
1-      RESIGN: phased out abandonment of the coastal city area of Beirut
2-      OVERPOWER: land reclamation to build habitable dam types
3-      INTEGRATE: floating a city: new types of development

in1000 years a large part of Beirut's coast will be under water that is if we do not get a tsunami before


ATLANTIS source http://atlantis.haktanir.org/ch3.html

The idea of inhabiting the planets oceans and seas is a fascinating one that has been dealt with by designers and philosophers for centuries. Noah’s Ark, Atlantis, and most recently movies such as Water world have all dealt with inhabiting the water . Today land reclamation, dam habitations, and floating structures exist but remain underplayed in the urban planning and development strategies of flood mitigation in coastal cities. 

The Mediterranean sea will rise between 10mm to 20mm/ year on the coast of Lebanon in its best case scenario!

 Yet flood mitigation and utopic dreams of inhabiting the waters might become a must with the continuous rise of the sea levels. Strong evidence shows that global sea level will rise at an increased rate due to thermal expansion of ocean water and of the melting of land ice. Bindoff et al. (2007) states that Global sea level has been rising at a rate of 1.7mm/yr during the 20th century, and increased to a rate of 3mm/yr since. Specifically, the Mediterranean Sea, during the 21st century, is expected to become saltier and rise drastically (Marcos and Tsimplis 2008).  The map above shows a rise around the coast of Lebanon of about 10mm/year! This will imply that if we do not start dealing with the sea level rise a large part of Beirut will become under water by the next millennium. 

Beirut coast line today Beirut coast line in 1000 years

The next few entries will address Beirut, a coastal city situated along the Eastern Mediterranean coast at 33.5°N and 35.5°E.  Beirut's location and environmental condition sets it in the zone that will rise between 10 to 20mm/year in the best case scenario.  To start understanding this rise and the effects a look at Beirut's topography is required. Mapping the rise of the Mediterranean on Beirut. regarding its topography displays the results. The results are shocking and yet we remain unaware of them. What can we do and how can we build and plan our cities for the centuries to come?

Downtown Beirut in the next millenniums

 The reality of losing  coastal communities that  are an intrinsic part of our histories, contribute to the  economy, and are home to millions of residents should awaken us. Moreover, this should encourage us to start thinking of the future of our cities . The following entries are designed to provoke longer term thinking across a wide audience: from architects to government, to policy-makers, to planners, engineers and the general public.

Bindoff, N.L., J. Willebrand, V. Artale, A, Cazenave, J.M. Gregory, S. Gulev, K. Hanawa, C. Le Quéré, S. Levitus, Y. Nojiri, C.K. Shum, L.D. Talley, and A.S. Unnikrishnan. 2007. Observations: Oceanic Climate Change and Sea Level. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H.L. Miller, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
Marcos, M. and Tsimplis, M.N. 2008. Comparison of results of AOGCMs in the Mediterranean Sea during the 21st century. Journal of Geophysical Research C: Oceans, 113 (12), art. no. C12028.

Water privatization in Lebanon

Mapping Lebanese Rivers

Water privatization touches on many intriguing and conflictual debates such as public versus economic good, monopolies, human rights and government failures in provision of services. The lists of incentives or the lack of them for the market to provide for the low income areas are obvious.

 If I were to debate this issue in theory, I would definitely agree on the dangers of turning a public need into an economic good controlled by efficient yet financially guided partners.

However, in the midst of a continuous debate in Lebanon about water and electricity privatization I found my position less definite

Demonstrators burn tires to block roads in  south Beirut, which have suffered extensive electricity and water cuts. (Hugh Macleod/IRIN) http://electronicintifada.net/content/politicized-power-cuts-behind-deadly-riots/7328

AIR-scape urbanism: Building Green 'Infrastructure'

In a previous blog entry ' Beirut is Ill' http://goo.gl/M33Bm we established that for Beirut to become a healthy city and achieve the 10m2/person of public green space required by the World Health Organization it will have to destroy 41% of the existing city!

This is because The World Health Organization has established indicators for what makes a city healthy and it ultimately arrives at a statistic of 10 meter square of public green-space per person and 40 meter square of private green space per person. For more details about Beirut's numbers and how it compares to other cities please refer to blog entry 'Beirut is ill' http://goo.gl/M33Bm.  


Cities across the world are trying to meet these criteria in order to be included in the network of healthy cities. But these criteria ultimately reflect the European cities that they are drawn from, which were planned and designed after the Renaissance.
Moreover, the assumption that green space must accumulate into large-scale spaces in order to optimize public usage reflects a western stereotype of space utilization. 

Cities where public green spaces were not designed in adequate amounts need to address and  challenge the possibilities of inserting public green space. In the case of Beirut we need to dream BIG. Do we destroy or build for green?
Instead of demolishing, I Propose to grow and proliferate a green space from within the city. It accepts the density of Beirut and exacerbates it. It creates a new dimension of urban experience—airscape—which comes not from the clearing of history but from a new encounter with it. This productive green space is proposed as Beirut‘s second reconstruction, a productive stage for the city to improve its public health.

Green infrastructure DESIGN STRATEGY:

 Air rights are appropriated over the whole city.

  Public building and sites Roofs

Roofs of public & semi-public buildings are occupied for public roof gardens with side access. All public spaces in the city are also appropriated, including public sites (such as archaeological sites), public gardens (such as the three parks I showed earlier) and public buildings (such as mosques and churches). 

vertical links to public green roofs

This will create dispersed green rooftops that will not amount for more than a 0.5% increase in public green space. Therefor a green pedestrian network that connects them giving each neighborhood a pocket garden is encouraged.  There will have to be a vertical connection to the network every 250 meters.
These dispersed greens establish a datum over the city which traverses its political divisions.

Re-frame and Connect

This decline of traditional public park space is also opportunity for the rise of a new kind of green space—a productive green space, rather than a contemplative one.  The pathways are meant to be understood as a new and much needed infrastructure for the city that includes pedestrian pathways, bike lanes, pocket gardens, a possibility of an air train and most importantly a productive green space from which the neighborhoods may partially feed themselves.

The varying vegetation schemes in the city will generate and intensify a series of green surface experiences in the air creating a mini eco-system and present the paradoxical notion that as diversity increases both in nature and society so might  cohesion. 

Dreaming BIG about green infrastructure will result in large amounts of construction. Lets face it construction is not so green and so this will have to be a long term plan to move people up into a new type of transportation in the air (bike- air trains- pedestrian in green lines)  . By 2050 people might give up their cars and move-up into this mode of transportation. This might also then allow us to plant the ground. 

Martyr square

Martyr square is a public square in downtown Beirut,Lebanon. Its history is the story of Lebanon, eventful and dramatic. The story of this square starts in the 1920s and today awaits  in limbo.
This entry will be a short photo-history of the square. The text will only be in caption form: