Beirut Persists

Juliette Jabra

Staff Writer

Most of the Ottoman and French-style buildings that once epitomised Beirut are today only preserved through photos, as one after the other, these cultural gems are being demolished and replaced with high-rise towers.

Once deemed ‘The Paris of the Middle East,’ Beirut was recognised for the grandiose houses that flooded the city, many of which have since been drowned in a sea of towers.

Beirut’s post-war period has seen the destruction and loss of several of its old buildings, but today the capital’s remaining architectural heritage is up against a new obstacle – developers.

Only last week, demolition began for Beirut’s ‘Grande Brasserie du Levant,’ a brewery in the heart of Mar Mikhael that opened its doors sometime during the 1930s. Spearheaded by architect Bernard Khoury, the project aims to flatten the brewery and, from its ashes, allow for a 99-apartment complex to rise.

This poses the question many will ask – is Beirut losing its identity at the hands of these demolitions?

It is naïve to limit Beirut’s identity simply to the structures within it. The capital is constantly redefining itself and is fortunate that its identity cannot be confined to architecture or engineering.

It is undeniably true that Beirut has lost a considerable amount of its heritage, as the edifices, monuments, and historical sites which once characterised it have been badly preserved. However, it is imperative to distinguish between heritage and identity – as the latter cannot be lost.

Identity is a fluid notion continuously subject to change, and Beirut’s identity is no exception. It is shaped and defined by its people, whose ideas, beliefs and aspirations permeate borders with both the domestic and global impact they possess, thus adding to Beirut’s identity even from beyond the city itself.

As time progresses, it is inevitable that contemporary architecture will begin to manifest throughout Beirut. We cannot expect Beirut’s structures and buildings to remain consistent in a city that is anything but.

Rather than dilapidating the structures that have endured so much, perhaps developers should focus on their restoration and renovation, adding to them aspects of modernity. The melange of both old and new constructions is itself what illustrates the city, each contributing to Beirut’s identity separately but merging to form a state that celebrates both.

The contrasting structures paint a picture of diversity, and by living harmoniously amongst and even within each other, they achieve precisely what Beirut strives to.

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