Connecting Local Knowledge – A Resilient Construct To Advance Development In Beirut

The proposed construct embodies complexity and embraces uncertainty, in an effort to establish a resilient attitude towards local knowledge in fabrication and re-development in Beirut
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Designer(s) : Tarek Abou Dib

University : Notre Dame University - Louaize

Tutor(s) : Charbel Tannous

Historical Relevance/Conditions – Beirut/Lebanon

As the capital and largest city of Lebanon, Beirut’s history can be stretched for over 5000 years making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The city has been often described as a cosmopolitan mercantile power-sharing enclave, a forum for religious and political ideologies, and a fusion of the Arab East and the Christian West. Arguably, such complex dichotomies may have contributed to the outbreak of the civil war of 1975-1991 and most recently the current political and socio-economic unrest.
Beirut continues to accumulate scars, even today. A total of 1500 listed heritage buildings has shrunk to a mere number of 300. Critics stated that reconstruction efforts have failed to connect peripheral neighbourhoods to the central district, creating a spatial paradox. Rather than revitalizing Beirut’s pre-war role as a national cosmopolitan centre, the implementation of international urbanism models has inevitably led to an identity crisis, and abandonment of the historical urban fabric. Leaving pockets of the city stuck in a state of in-between, neither at war nor in reconstruction.

Conceptual – Contextual Response

The maps compare new construction vs demolition based construction and relay that a “destroy and start again” attitude exists towards the built environment, arguably causing the gradual loss of heritage. The urban fabric continues to deteriorate, and in light of the damage from the recent Port explosion, Beirut continues to accumulate scars. This prompts the idea that a change in attitude is needed to advance Beirut through a localized construction and “fabricative” process.

Within the landscape of continual uncertainty that is Beirut/Lebanon, the proposed construct embodies complexity and ambiguity that favours interaction and embraces uncertainty, in the effort to establish a resilient attitude towards local knowledge in fabrication and re-development.

Site Response / Concept / Re-programming

Potential exists in uncertainty and if navigated, and explored, Beirut can advance in the effort to realize these possibilities. The Construct proposes to achieve this by integrating and adopting physical and applied research in a platform for Fabrication and Urban Culture Research.
1- The proposal occupies the site that historically and cultural divides the urban fabric and responds with a space of convergence and connection of districts, identities and ideas. It is located at the junction between the Bachoura, Saifi, Achrafieh, and Mazraa districts, previously the position of the civil war demarcation line. Adjacent to Beit Beirut and opposite Beirut Digital District (BDD), the science and technology community Hub. The proposed fabrication lab complements the digital goals of BDD with the ability to materialize ideas and experiments.
2- To integrate with its context the massing is submerged at the side of the tunnel, creating an open public space at the ground level inviting circulation, while retaining the alignment of the street towards the demarcation line to further emphasize pedestrian movement by integrating the massing above ground.
3 – A Void is defined at the centre as a point of focus, and exists not as something externally limited but as something internally animated. Within this void, the fabrication processes and culmination of ideas are provided platforms to thrive. The void allows light to reach the underground program and a path to bridge the site, connecting the two streets.
4- An organizational hierarchy is established by placing more permanent functions underground and more temporary and adaptable functions towards the level of context. Within the landscape of continual uncertainty that is Beirut, this hierarchy will be re-programed to achieve a complexity that favours interaction and embraces uncertainty. Programs are treated as a set of constituent elements rather than singular constructions and reformed into program groups based on adjacency and opposition, allowing for an exploration of new potential programs.

In addition to the functional re-programming, an ambiguity of space/choice and a visual/physical permeability will be utilized as agents guiding the design process. The architecture is articulated such that opportunities for the appropriation of spaces manifest themselves. At the same time, the ambiguity of enclosed versus continuous spaces allows for individuals to journey instinctually among a “heterarchy” of spaces, developing a personal hierarchy founded on interest and experience. Ambiguity is achieved by allowing both enclosed spaces and continuous spaces to be coherent in one place, and to coexist in tension.
The re-programming of functions into groups based on adjacency and oppositions transforms the visual and physical connections between activities becoming more permeable, provoking the user to perceive and be involved in activities that otherwise would not be available.
The existing structure retains its residential function to a limited capacity housing the makers and fabricators. Striped to its primary structural element, the building is open for future intervention.
Open platforms provide opportunities to build and intervene. The adaptation of this system leaves the project in continual evolution and a resilient uncertainty.