Inhabiting a Grudge

The grudge : An inhabitable wall constructed to block the sea view for the plot behind

I was asked in 2012 to write a forgotten story from Beirut for an edited book that was being put together .  At that time I was looking into a story I had heard recently from my father. He had told me that a brother who lost most of his plot due to the roads expansion decided to build a wall to make sure his brothers plot behind his does not benefit from the sea view!

Sounds crazy yet today the structure still stands as prove to building a grudge.
To read more about building and inhabiting the grudge, Jadaliyya  has republished the essay.

Early years

Otherwise you may find the book in English or  French as Beirut re-collected or Beyrouth, chroniques et détours.

photo dated 1962 found unreferenced that shows the Grudge

Al Manara: Laying claim to Beirut

Beirut 1925

  The public sector in Beirut is weak, to say the least. Services and resident rights are, if extant, unprotected or inoperative. Yet some fragments of the citys builtscape remind us that the public sphere has at one point manifested iteself  spatially in the city. Today, these spaces remain empty, unused or awaiting their demise.


The narrative of the old manara is a case in point. As a child living in its surroundings it always intrigued me. The black and white stripes, which seemed to climb up to the sky and project  beams of light  to guide vessels, I could never see in the waters, was almost magical. No building in the direct vicinity of the lighthouse on the hill could be constructed that would interrupt its projective abilities.

However, in 1995 MrRabih Amish, a private developer, was given permission to construct an 18-floor building in the Al Manara area. The outcome would leave a wall in front of Beiruts lighthouse destroying its functionality.

This eventwhich destroyed public infrastructure in the interest of private beneficiaries became a symbol of the Lebanese government’s demise.

The following is a photo essay depicting the  nearlly 200 year old monuments transformation on Beirut's seafront.

The lost city: Beirut Modern

Raouche Beirut Modern postcards

This blog has discussed preservation in the city of Beirut in relation to a building, THE GRAND THEATER in Beirut and public space, Martyr square  . Yet on the scale of the city how and what do we preserve?  As a city grows, mutates and becomes more contemporary the question of what to PRESERVE becomes more intrinsic. Do we stand still in time? Do we want to reserve everything ‘old’?  

Gondole a remarkable building Raouche lost . Photo taken by Sandra Rishani 2002

The internal staircase & internal courtyard of  Gondol building. A Landmark that we lost. Photos by Sandra Rishani 2002

Hamra, Raouche and Badaro are the perfect cases for such questions. Recently the booms in these areas' real estate markets have changed a large part of the housing and office stock of the area. Yet the histories of these areas are unique in the context of  the urban growth of Beirut. All three may be categorized as urban fragments that developed drastically in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yet the general public neither seems to be interested nor recognize that these fabrics and buildings may be worth preserving. The facebook page of an active NGO, Save Beirut Heritage,   is a case in point. It created a forum where people identify buildings they believe ought to be preserved rather than destructed to make way for new high-income high-rise buildings. The group documents the cases and attempts to saving them. None of the buildings posted online are from the modern period. Why is that? How do we define historic preservation? Is it everything that’s over 80 years old regardless of their spatial and or historical qualities? 

Beirut's general growth diagram. Yet the cityscape charm remains in its  multilayer-ed development

If the public does not define 'what', 'how' and 'why' it wants to preserve an edifice, the history of our cities will become like our history books- they stop at Independence Day. 

Leftovers Grow

Sanayeh Beirut, Lebanon abandoned building naturally enveloped by greens!

The urban environment we live in today is complex. It is hard to explain its production by using one system. Instead, cities today, such as Beirut, are the result of layers upon layers of narratives, histories, economies, politics, building law, policies, technologies and production systems. Yet often the relationships of the layers to each other are unclear, hidden or disregarded.

The systems that produce the urban environment are usually most evident in residual spaces and surfaces. These spaces which are created as leftovers due to the multilayer that guide and produce the urban sphere. The definition of them as a mere product that are ambivalent to the city make them absent from our mental maps .

They are bare, empty, untreated and most of the times if recognized are seen as undesirable byproducts. For dense cities such as in Beirut where one meter square costs about 3000$, unused surfaces and spaces provide a great opportunity for public interventions. We must recognize these residuals and embrace them.

Residual surfaces in the city of Beirut are everywhere. One regular surface that can always be seen is the side wall of any built building. These walls are a result of the lack of negotiations between neighbors that the building law produced through its attempt to regulate. The building law in most urban contexts does not force any side setbacks. Developers who want to build the maximum possible do not setback from the plot sides. Therefore the side walls of all buildings on urban plots are left blank. The developer expects the neighbor to develop the site with only market intentions as well. Therefore they expect that this will also result in building up to the side plot limits thereby totally blocking the side. 

The Balcony and its Planter: Potential of Private-Public partnerships for a Greener Beirut


Many of us have questioned urban public space and, in the case of Beirut, the lack of it. Yet most of us have not stopped to think about the space in between, the balcony.

A Balcony is an external space straddling the private and public space. Its outdoor cantilever coupled with its mostly green eruptions of lush green plants in Beirut mediates between the public hard-scape and the private domestic hard-scape. This cantilever of usually no wider than 2 meters in Beirut is the transitional space between the communal and individual space. It is usually coupled by a planter bed. If a planter is not included as an edge between the balcony and the public sphere the dweller, in most cases, adds greens to increase the threshold or to further filter the outside world.

Mt. Rubble: Reconstructing the 2006 Landscape

2006 by Julie Weltzien
The 2006 Israeli-Lebanon war left 265residential, commercial and office buildings severely destroyed or razed to the ground in Haret Hreik, a suburb of Beirut. The municipality reported 3119 housing units and 1610 commercial units (stores and offices) were completely demolished. In total at least 20,000 residents of Haret Hreik lost their homes.

TO read about the reconstruction process, you can look at the previous entry, Waad Delivers a Reconstructed HARET HREIK,

The rubble of those buildings lay there for a few days in heaps. Some residents sifted through them in the hope of finding some of their valuables, before the trucks rolled in and started the clean up.

Dimitri Messinis Associated Press
The rubble was estimated to be about 80,000 meter square of debris. These included both the debris of the buildings and whatever belongings the residents did not save before the clean up.
Trucks loaded with rubble queued ready to clean up Haret Hreik for its reconstruction. The trucks filled up and  transported the rubble to the coastline of the Ouzai, another southern suburb of Beirut, and placed them into three original mounds later transformed into two. 

2006 by Julie Weltzien
Hana Alamuddine, a member of the Reconstruction Unit, was unclear why the location was selected and said it was a decision made by the Ghobeiri municipality. The municipality was not accessible to clarify why they chose this location in particular to dump the rubble.

Waad Delivers a Reconstructed HARET HREIK

I recently drove around Haret Hreik and I would like to report that most if not all of it is rebuilt. In a paper, I once tackled the reconstruction process of Haret Hreik, so part of the following are extracts of it.

This blog entry investigates the reconstruction of Haret Hreik and critically scrutinizes the type of organizations that took part in the process. The blog entry will assess the organizations involved based on their relationships with one another, the social agents who intervened in the reconstruction in addition to the formal and informal rules that they accepted or ignored (building regulations, etc.) the institutions on which they pleaded with (state , religious customary geographic political) and their results according to my analysis of the situation.


The context:

Haret Hreik is a southern suburb of Beirut that is made up of a mixed residential and commercial fabric housing a relatively heterogeneous shia-muslim community and ministers that support Hizballah.

Haret Hreik before its destruction in 2006 emerged in mainly three different phases.

1- Historically it was known as a school district of christian missionaries. It was also a green space within the city which made it desirable for middle and high income residents.

2- During the civil war the composition of the population in this neighborhood transformed drastically. The near-20 year civil war saw the division of Lebanon into two religiously homogeneous units and the majority of Haret Hreik’s christian occupants were displaced and never returned.

3- In the years that followed the end of the war, the shiite community of Lebanon chose to live there and developed the area into a vibrant commercial and residential enclave. The once low-density green suburb of Beirut became an area dense with buildings most of which were 'against' building laws and planning criteria.(Fawaz2007) During the 1990s, Haret Hreik housed social, religious and economic institutions which transformed it into the Hizballah base that it is famous for, the state within the state.(Fawaz&Ghandour2007)

Original link to photo

In addition to claiming the lives of 1183civilians(30%children),4054 injured and displacing 255,794 citizens, the Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006 destroyed most of the Lebanese infrastructure, several towns in the south of Lebanon and the Southern suburbs of Beirut.(RLn.d, HRCn.d.)

This entry, however, will only discuss the southern suburb of Beirut(Haret Hreik) primarily due to the specific reconstruction process, its repercussion on both the local and national political sphere, its location in an urban area, and its symbolic importance to Hizballah.

It was reported that 265 residential, commercial and office buildings were severely destroyed or razed to the ground in Haret Hreik. “The municipality reported 3119 housing units and 1610 commercial units (stores and offices) were completely demolished. In total at least 20,000 residents of Haret Hreik lost their homes.” (Fawaz&Ghandour2007)

Get me out of this Traffic Jam


If you have tried to drive within or towards Beirut and ended up spending double or triple the amount of time, it should take, this blog entry is for you. The excuses are endless and include “well it’s raining”, “there is an accident”, “a car stopped”. But the reality is that the massive ‘generated traffic’ is enough evidence to question and propose an alternative transport system, which recognizes the problems brought by the mass use of privately-owned cars (Newman and Kenworthy, 1999)


Unfortunately Lebanon’s transport culture has become exclusively American, which favors automobile transportation and disregards the establishment of any public transport system. This results in unsustainable economic, social, and environmental burdens in addition to the cost of health problems, accidents and excessive construction and maintenance on land resources that are rare and limited. Most importantly labor and productivity is diminished due to traffic jams and higher costs of living (Newman and Kenworthy, 1999; Kay, 1997).

Studies have shown, even in the United States, that building more highways resulted in more congestion due to a number of related causes that, according to Newman and Kenworthy (1999) amongst others, include more sprawl.

So if you campaign for bigger roads please read about the unsuccessful experiences of the United States, Turkey, and England amongst others in this regard.

Light Railway is clearly the answer and has achieved international consensus (Hass-Klau, 2000; Kenworthy and Laube 2001). Several Mediterranean cities have proposed or established rail transport systems, including Casablanca, Rabat, and most notably, Cairo (Lowe, 1993). The advantages of rail transit systems surpass any other form of mass ground transport in dependability, speed, comfort and safety. Such a system will reduce land consumption, congestion, as well as air and noise pollution (Lowe, 1993; Newman and Kenworthy, 1999). Electric train systems greatly reduce dependence on oil but with our continuous power outages in Lebanon, I can already see your smirks.

Even though the blog invites its readers to dream of other possibilities, most of which are extreme, this blog entry will not propose a light railway system as the solution to our problems due to limited government funding. Instead, this entry puts forth a simpler proposal in the hope that I will reach my destination one day in Beirut and during this lifetime without driving like a maniac, cursing my way through and paying a ridiculous amount of money for gas and parking fees. 

SOME NUMBERS (references 6 to 10) 

The future is grim if we do not stop to think .

A 1970 study estimated that motorized person trips in Beirut were split as follows:
52 % by private car;
9 % by bus;
39 % by shared ('service') and unshared taxis

It is known that during the war there was no other forms of public transportation other than the shared and private taxis, both of which were automobiles seating four passengers.

In 1994, buses, vans and similar vehicles, both public and private, transported a maximum of  1.3 percent of all person trips in the Beirut metropolitan area.

Some recent studies estimated that in 1999
83 to 90%  commuted using private cars
7 to 10% by bus + shared and unshared taxis

Cars have therefore increased by 538% from 1974 to 1998

It is deceiving to look at Beiruts map with its streets empty ...Therefor the second map depicts the reality of the mass versus void of the city

This implies that looking at Beirut's urban fabric in a map is deceiving because its streets are not empty instead they  are always so full and congested producing tons of decibels of sounds and pollutants and hardly any pedestrian pathways.
The second map highlights this and depicts the reality of the city's street-scape. A large congested city with hardly any breathing space.

The proposal 


Improving the bus services is the quickest and most effective way to increase publ

Revolt Against Bladders Leash

Your Public right to a Public Toilet

"A nation is judged by its toilets, it's one of the first images tourists and visitors get and we should generally be ashamed in this country" stated Greed when discussing the case of the UK! Imagine what she would say about Beirut.

Did you ever walk anywhere or were driving and had to drive like a maniac to sneak into a coffee shop's toilet and exit shamefully? If you do not live in a 10 minute radius of any of your outings the chance is the answer to this question is yes. Where do you go and what do you do in Beirut when you need to use the toilet?

I decided to investigate this in one of our only public spaces in Beirut, the Corniche.

The case of Beirut’s Corniche

The Corniche is a seaside promenade offering visitors a view of the Mediterranean and the mountains. The Corniche a beautiful space that people in Lebanon can access and spend the day regardless of their economic backgrounds and their purchase ability. However this site lacks adequate public services that will facilitate your stay  for longer than an hour.

On Sundays and holidays the Corniche is packed and let’s face it it’s the only place in Beirut where people can spend the day without paying for entrance, seats, parking … During the week the Corniche is also congested with passersby that spend an average of an hour walking, sitting, contemplating. Couples meet there and of course the joggers during sunrise and sunset fill the space. Families that try to provide their children with a space to spend some time outside their apartments also frequent the Corniche after sunset during the week and all day during the holidays and Sundays.

Public toilet 1

Toilets on the Corniche

So I decided to first ask two young women seated  close to what I thought was the only public toilet in the area if they ever had the urge to use the toilet while on a visit. They looked up at me worried and thought I needed a toilet and said “oh I am so sorry but you should try to hold it in and if you are desperate there is a very dirty and smelly toilet just behind us in between the two streets.” I smiled nodded and thanked them.

MIXED TENURE : "بناية الأشباح “ The Ghosts Building"

Walking around Hamra today and seeing the new and under construction building stock I feel that we have already lost the social and economic heterogeneity in Hamra. Today the building stock is made up 220 to 350m2 net areas for each apartment. In addition each ‘high-end' apartment has its own core (elevator + staircase). The building law has set up through its formulas of allowable net and gross areas a homogeneous building stock for what used to be one of the most diverse areas in Beirut.

Original image taken as part of a research project in AUB 2003 with BASTA

The flowing is a snapshot of a mixed tenure building in Beirut.

X star narrative:

X star is nicknamed "بناية الأشباح “ , the ghosts building". There is a rumor that the walls speak and talk about the fleeting partitions, gazes, and the eroticism of friction, movement, proximity, contact, suspicion, and an attempt at obliviousness.

The three by three meter grid on the facade produced by the generic balconies and vertical concrete partitions entice the passer by with voyeuristic gazes from the semi transparent balcony doors. Different intensities of light, saturation of color, transparency, amount of laundry, and exhibited utilitarian objects, fragment the screen and hint at the invisible affairs of the separated partitions. The ephemeral is the myth of the building.

It is illegal to rent a room for less than a month. Yet that can happen. Prices may range from hour, day,  month

Its assembly has been composed due to the economic, political, and contextual pressures of Ain Al Mressieh, which had introduced the diverse users in one space. The context allows the ability for different users to exist with close proximity to each other, while still maintaining the capacity to define themselves, and shape their routine and movement; not only in reaction to the 'other' but also in relation to their existing habits. This makes the assemblage unique. Proximity does not enforce contact; and the characters traits create specific perceptions of their spaces in which they move around and engulf or are engulfed by them. The building seems to house misplaced individuals, all with different backgrounds, that occupy the space on the margins of the center. Fragments of contradictions, produce within the building a set of momentary veins (relationships), pulsing with emotions and reactions intoxicated by the constant redefinition of the 'other'.

Original image taken as part of a research project in AUB 2003 with BASTA
In between the structural grid and the endlessly repeated compartments, is a building, drunk by the life of its characters, creating architecture.

In the romanticizing of the building that encompasses and defies boundaries and zones that separate user groups, I find myself having introduced my fascination and intrigue with the social relationships produced. This de-zoning of the space functions with user groups that discriminate against each other, but through a continuous negotiation of space, and fluidity of experiences, continue to live within the same building.

Living within a city that used to allow this mix to occur, I find that the utilization of this phenomenon is a missed opportunity. At no point am I suggesting that this mix will enforce any type of relationship, but rather I do the opposite in highlighting my interest in how proximity will not impose connection. None the less I recognize that it injects the chance of an encounter.

Original image taken as part of a research project in AUB 2003 with BASTA

Vertical Towers of Green: Skyscrapers of Food in Beirut

In July, a show in Lebanon aired on TV, “Kalam el-Nas” on LBC that informed and documented the state of our food production quality in its varying processes. It seems we water our fruits and vegetables with sewage directly among other major hygienic problems.  An increase in the death of citizens due to food poisoning and an active Facebook page 'Food poisoning victims of Lebanon' keeps this topic alive. Without discussing the restaurant hygiene standards,  controlling where and what we purchase of fresh food products,  with the current population cost and  temperature rise has become nearly impossible.

               Part  of Kalam al Nas report

To add to the problem of our unhygienic food production a previous entry entitled “Food Security: Can global food production be increased?”  indicated that Lebanon needs to increase food production by  three times the total area of the country and therefore increase the currently existing agriculture land by about 5 times to be self sufficient.


Moreover the Food Security indicators of Lebanon’s agriculture instead of increasing show a steady and clear decrease. Considering food is a basic human right for nutrition food security policies and plans need to take a forefront in our demands. Moreover healthy and clean food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods need to be affordable and accessible to all. 

The need to tackle food security and sovereignty in all its aspects is clear, yet, what to do, how to act, what to propose to increase access to good quality food, seem less clear in the case of Lebanon. Vertical farming in this case, similar to the world, might be a viable option to help grow the food needed to support the growing population and provide the existing one with healthy clean food. 

The case of Beirut:

If Beirut used all its public sites as sites where a network of vertical farms  can proliferates several aspects will be covered. These my include 

1-     No weather related crop failures 
2-     Introduces urban agriculture in amounts that are relevant to the need of production.
3-     Control quality of food production
4-     Public land tenure is secure and may be secured by a government decree
5-     Reduces the need for transportation of produce 
6-     Control price of the raw food products as they are planted on government owned land


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.

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



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)