Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, was destroyed and rebuilt seven times during its five-thousand years of history. It is known as a city of contrasts. In contrast, through cultural diversities, construction materials, architecture, urban planning, and more. Beirut has an amalgamation of architecture from civilizations like the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans, French, and many more. 

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Beiruts Architecture_©bbc

In 1975, a civil war hit Lebanon until 1990. Post-war Beirut in the 1990s saw damaged buildings, war ruins, and deserted cityscapes. Now, after more than two decades of the war, Beirut still is immersed in war-stuck buildings surrounded by new developments. 

Famous structures in Beirut 

1. The Egg or The Dome 

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The Egg_©bbc

The Egg or The Dome, designed by Lebanese architect Joseph Philippe Karam in 1965, was to be The Beirut City Center, a multi-purpose complex. The complex comprised spaces for leisure activities as well as office spaces. The future of the egg is still vague, even after a proposed plan by Christian de Portzamparc that shows high-class hotels and office spaces, including the dome. 

2. Yellow House or Barakat House 

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Yellow House_©lebanonuntravelled.com

Yellow House or the Barakat House belongs to the 1920s. This attractive house stood as a symbol of the period before the war. The architecture, diverse habitats, and strategic position led it to become a symbol. The facade of this beautiful house now narrates a tale of sinister heritage through the bullet impacts. This house may become the City Museum of Beirut following a partnership project with France in several months or years. 

3. National Museum of Beirut 

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National Museum of Beirut_©linkedIn.com

Along Damascus road, the National Museum was relatively affected by the war and the gunshots that had damaged many masterpieces in the museum. Located on the former Green Line, this is a major artistic institution. Its emotional, magnificently displayed collection of archaeological vestiges offers a great overview of Lebanon’s history and the societies that impacted this artistic crossroads. Highlights include the notorious, important- mugged Phoenician bejeweled citation statuettes set up buried near the Obelisk Temple at Byblos; a series of mortal-faced Phoenician coffins, and a frescoed Roman grave, these ultimate in the outstanding basement, restarted in 2016. 

4. Front Line 

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Front Line Palace_©designboom.com

A palace in the South of Lebanon was known as the front line as it was the army base, stronghold, and lookout point. Currently shattered in ruins. There is not much information on this structure, but it surely served as an important aspect during the war. 

5. Circle of Trust

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Circle of Trust_©designboom.com

It is the facade of the residential building. Also known as the Cheese Grater building. This building is covered with curtains, which adds up to the aesthetics of the building. 

6. Beit Beirut

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Beit Beirut_©designboom.com

A nearly 100-year-old house that served as a sniper position during the civil war that hit Lebanon. Beit Beirut is a huge archeological monument and a landmark that embodies the soul and heritage of the old city. More importantly, Beit Beirut embodies the spirit of Beirut and its endurance and resilience in the face of war, adversity, conflict and destruction.

7. Mosaic of the Good Shepherd 

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Mosaic of the Shepherd_©twitter.com

The mosaic was in the Lebanese National Museum in Beirut. During the civil war, a sniper hit the left corner destroying it.  The image of the good shepherd comes from pagan iconography and symbolises goodwill. Today it’s not only a reminder of things that can divide us, but also of what can bring us together in peace.

8. Nightclub B 018

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Nightclub B 018_©bbc.com

In the 1980s, gatherings were held at a semi-secret location code-named later B018. In 1998, Bernard Khoury designed Nightclub B 018 in the exact location. Khoury revealed that’ in the absence of public spaces above ground, this club was designed not only for entertainment but also to bring people together for therapy.’ When looked at from the top, the lid covering the place looks similar to a helipad. 

9. The boutique L’Artisan du Liban et L’Orient 

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The Boutique_©bbc.com

Inaugurated in late 1967, the boutique was a response to the concussion of defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war by May El Khoury, wife of a distinguished architect. Modernizing and selling local crafts brought in the eroded confidence of Arabs and can also suffice as an act of cultural activism. 

10. Basilica of the Cathedral of Harissa

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_The Cathedral_©bbc.com

This cathedral stands on a hill overlooking a bay next to a significant Lebanese Christian pilgrimage site. After the 1967 war, this religious structure was devised to create a stronger Christian identity. 

Post-war affect on Beirut Architecture

The historical buildings still hold the scars of bullets and shelling left during the civil war that ruined the country from 1975 to 1990. Even before the blast, a few buildings were slowly falling into ruins overlooking the surroundings to be messy, creating a contrast.  

Right when Beirut was recovering from the war, in October 2019, massive anti-government protests hit the city that continued for months as Lebanon’s economy collapsed, losing 80% of its value, followed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Later on 4th August 2020, after the explosion of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the city’s port, there was a rising concern over safeguarding Beirut’s architectural heritage. During the three decades after the war, thousands of Beirut’s rich architectural heritage vanished as lax state protection allowed developers to rip them down and replace them with modern skyscrapers. Now, there is fear that the ruins from the explosion might be an excuse to destroy the few that remain. The total cost of restoration is currently $300m. 

There also have been rumors that money is given to the owners to sell the ruined buildings away, and there is a risk that the one who buys the property will destroy it to build skyscrapers to generate more money. 

On 12th August 2020, the ministry of finance issued a decree to prevent the exploitation and sale of historic buildings. It includes the risk of abandonment by the ones who don’t have enough funds to rebuild. 

Volunteers have been working to comfort the owners and tenants that help is on its way. Many international organizations seriously are overlooking the concerns and are waiting for the right system that could finance the renovation. 

Beirut Architecture_©pinterest.com

References: 

  1. “Architects amidst Conflict.” Architecture Now, architecturenow.co.nz/articles/architects-amidst-conflict/
  2. Architecture, Failed. “The Value of a War-Scarred Ruin in Beirut.” Failed Architecture
  3. failedarchitecture.com/the-value-of-a-war-scarred-ruin-in-beirut/.
  4. “Beirut: How War and Conflict Affect Design.” BBC News, 17 Nov. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-34834414..
  5. “Decades On, War-Scarred Beirut Buildings Remain.” The New Indian Express, www.newindianexpress.com/galleries/world/2019/apr/13/decades-on-war-scarred-beirut-buildings-remain-102213.html. 
  6. Kerwin, James. ““A Paradise Lost” by James Kerwin Reveals the Derelict Architecture of Beirut.” Designboom | Architecture & Design Magazine, 30 Jan. 2020, www.designboom.com/art/a-paradise-lost-james-kerwin-derelict-architecture-beirut-01-29-2020/. 
  7. Leclair-Paquet, Benjamin. “The Recovery of Beirut in the Aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War: The Value of Urban Design.” Www.academia.edu, 1 Jan. 2010, www.academia.edu/241120/The_Recovery_of_Beirut_in_the_aftermath_of_the_Lebanese_Civil_War_the_value_of_urban_design. 
  8. “Starchitects in Pre-War Beirut.” Linkedin.com, 2015, www.linkedin.com/pulse/starchitects-pre-war-beirut-tracy-nasr. Stoughton, India. 
  9. “The Battle to Save Beirut’s Beautiful Buildings.” Www.bbc.com, www.bbc.com/culture/article/20200820-beirut-explosion-the-battle-to-save-the-citys-buildings.
Author

Sanvitti Shetty, an aspirant in the architecture field, has a keen interest in reading, writing, and researching. She is strongly opinionated and headstrong with her beliefs. She believes words can bring about a revolution in the field of architecture.

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