Diverse Opinions

Mona Fawaz
Associate Professor
FEA-ArD – Graduate Urban Planning and Design Programs
American University of Beirut

«These projects maintain the mentality of the 1960’s where the car was considered the only valid mode of urban transportation in the city. If you implement the highway now, you will be destroying one of the only remaining historic urban fabrics of the city, a heritage that can potentially bring lots of economic investments to Beirut and particularly to the handful of neighborhoods where one can still speak of some kind of heritage.»

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Georges S. Zouain
Principal – GAIA-heritage

The previous purpose of this project was meant in the 60s to provide a quick exit for the trucks from the harbor to the road to Damascus. Now, with the size of the tunnel under Sassine and that of the roundabout by the Hotel Dieu, it has become impossible. On the other hand, the Nahr boulevard and the highway to Hazmieh, this project has become totally obsolete. Did you also notice that when it hits Gouraud Street by the Electricité du Liban, it destroys a 3,500 sq.m. garden? The last one in this area?”

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Abdul-Halim Jabr
Independent Architecture & Urban Design Consultant
Former faculty member at the AUB Department of Architecture and Design

” In the late 1990s, I once raised the issue with the late Minister of Public Works Ali Harajli. We were trying to lift all unfulfilled planning easements from Beirut, in order to preserve the little that remained of its historic fabric. This includes the Sodeco-Georges Haddad segment of Hazmieh-Port highway, and the Hekmeh Bridge/ Fouad Boutros-Gouraud connection. I remember very clearly Mr Harajly saying the following: “The Hekmeh bridge cannot be extended downhill due to slope problems. The planning was a mistake. One key argument Ali Harajli used to highlight the redundancy of these unimplemented arteries, is that they are vestiges of old plans. Beirut had grown since, and it’s dynamics continue to change. The need to connect the Damascus Highway to the Port is to be fulfilled by the Penetrante du Port, the highway along the Beirut River. It was a plan in the making then, when we had the discussion. Now it is fully built and useable.”

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Howayda Al-Harithy
Professor and Chair Person
Department of Architecture and Design
American University of Beirut

“Heritage is an important ingredient in the construction of identity, local and national. The past is always a source of contemporary identity and future development. It embodies economic, social and political values. The systematic erasure of the past through large scale projects threatens our very own identity of today. Heritage sites are also cultural and economic assets. Their preservation, upgrading and/or adaptive reuse is therefore essential.
Lebanon is rich with architectural, urban and landscape heritage site, monuments and
landmarks. Each is a testimony of the historical depth of this nation and its cultural diversity and richness. Urban residential architecture from the 19th and early 20th century is one of the important parts of this rich narrative but one that is threatened by high rise development and infrastructure projects that tear neighborhoods apart and creates urban and social ruptures.
Neighborhoods in Beirut are rapidly losing their heritage buildings, unique urban fabric and collective community identity and ties. In absence of regulations to protect heritage and to plan new developments within heritage sites, Beirut’s history is likely to disappear layer after layer and fragment after fragment, thus its very identity.”

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Abir Al-Tayeb
Research Assistant – MUPP/MUD Program
Department of Architecture and Design
American University of Beirut

I am puzzled to find out from colleagues about the construction of a highway in the area of Hekmeh. Surprised by the implementation of past-generation plans instead of addressing relevant municipal concerns such as proper sanitation, waste management, etc…. It has been globally acknowledged that the construction of “highway-wide” streets, in effort to decongest traffic, only attracts more cars and causes denser interlock traffic jams. Most cities today have found that if they reduce the numbers of highways and narrow their roadways, traffic congestion problems diminish. Alternately, we still carry the same 1960’s mentality by which everything we do is related to the car. We eradicate neighborhoods and strong community ties for the sake of creating tunnels, bridges and ramps we cannot afford. This practice has and continues to incrementally reduce pedestrian footpath and mobility, and fragment Beirut till nothing of enduring value remains.
I realize the inevitable need for some sort of development but it is important to concurrently consider alternatives. There should be other options in which homes and people’s livelihoods are deemed equally valuable and the negative long-term economic losses associated with infrastructural land consumption are minimized. This becomes particularly relevant if you also compare the potential economic revenues gained (by the current residents and the public sector) from future private investments in heritage buildings, to the excessive capital needed to construct and maintain new highways.

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Jala Makhzoumi
Professor of Landscape Architecture
Department of Landscape and Ecosystem Management
American University of Beirut

” The Beiruti house garden came into being with the introduction of a new housing typology, the bourgeois villa, or detached house. Shortage of space within the walls of the medieval city of Beirut didn’t allow for gardens. Outside the city walls, the account of travelers speak of a verdant rural landscape of orchards and mulberry plantations serving the silk industry, orchard and large farmlands marked by small cubic flat-roofed, stone house. The earliest lands to be developed were to the East of city, in Sahat al Burj (Martyr Square) and further East in Ashrafiya and Rmeil. The new house architecture, inspired from Europe, slowly transformed these farmlands into a lush “garden suburb”.
The Beiruti garden is a replica of the village domestic garden, the hakura, which is a
combination of orchard, herb and pleasure garden.

A rapid survey of the domestic gardens in the Hekmeh neighborhood demonstrates that they are typically Beiruti, combining productivity and pleasure. Garden productivity is ensured by the dominance of fruit trees (citrus, loqat Sycamorefig) and invariably a vine pergola. Ornamental woody plants were equally valued (hibiscus ,jacaranda, oleander, plumeria), as were scented climbers (Jasmine) and shrubs (Queen of the night, Jasminiumsambac. A common inclusion are evergeen trees and later the introduced evergreen fig trees which now dominates the city streets.  At the center is the ever present water features that served to store irrigation water from the well.

During the civil war (1975-1990), Rmeil suffered in view of its proximity to the city center. Reconstruction of the city center in the early 1990s had its impact, slowly at first but faster with rising land values in the peripheries of the newly reconstructed downtown. Today Rmeil/Jemeizeh, of which the Hekmeh neighborhood is a part, represents a unique part of old Beirut, a tangible treasure and cherished collective memory.

The fate of the Beiruti house and garden is intertwined, both under threat by realty developers. One by one the Beiruti house and traditional garden are pulled down to make room for high rise residential tower. And although the traditional Beiruti house is accepted by all as integral to the city’s architectural heritage, gardens are far from being recognized. This is partly because architectural heritage is tangible, visible and permanent while gardens are ephemeral and, if left untended, can die. And yet with growing awareness of the need for public green spaces in Beirut, the few remaining residential gardens become an inspiration. Unlike the Horsh al Sanawbar and the few remaining municipal parks, house gardens speak of a tradition that has been traced to the landscape portrayed in Abrahamic texts, the old and new Testaments and the Qoran. As such they represent a long tradition of gardens that is rooted in the regional history, culture and environment of the eastern Mediterranean.

The call to protect the houses that would be destroyed by the Fouad Boutros Street is a rare opportunity to preserve samples of the Beiruti garden, that has all by disappeared from the city.”

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Mosbah Rajab
Professeur à l’Université Libanaise
Chef du Département d’Urbanisme
Université Libanaise

” Depuis des années, le pont « arrêté » de Hikmeh est devenu un élément du paysage de l’Avenue Charles Malek à Beyrouth. Plusieurs questions me venaient alors naïvement à l’esprit concernant les raisons qui empêchaient sa continuation, sans faire le lien avec le chemin qu’il devait emprunter et son impact sur le tissu urbain.

La réponse n’est arrivée que durant le projet urbain « Mar Mikhaïl » au Département d’Urbanisme de l’Université Libanaise. Le thème de ce projet urbain a été lancé en 2010 en réaction aux dynamiques urbaines créées par « l’effet Gemmayzé » et leurs impacts sur le patrimoine urbain en présence, dont un patrimoine architectural de transition dans l’histoire de l’architecture libanaise. C’est ainsi que le diagnostic nous a dévoilé l’impact du rabattement de l’avenue Fouad Boutros sur les anciennes demeures de Mar Mikhaïl, mais aussi sur la classe sociale qui habite le quartier.

La surprise a été plus forte quand j’appris que la décision de l’achever a été prise, sans aucune réaction des acteurs publics concernés (DGA, DGU, Conseil municipal, etc.). Pourtant,le Conseil municipal en place aujourd’hui, et au début de son mandat, avait constitué une commission de planification stratégique formée d’universitaires et de professionnels, pour doter la Capitale d’une vision et d’un projet urbain et stopper par ce biais, et une fois pour toute, son développement tronqué et morcelé. Il s’agissait également de mettre sur la table tous les projets d’infrastructures en attente et décidés depuis plusieurs décennies, pour une reconsidération dans le cadre de cette nouvelle vision. Altruisme, «Complicité» ou impuissance de ces acteurs?

Je pencherai plutôt pour la dernière vu l’enthousiasme de certains élus municipaux à travailler pour le développement de leur ville et la nature ambiguë du système de décisions administratif  partagé entre le Mouhafez et le Conseil municipal.

Réaliser ce projet aujourd’hui c’est démanteler les derniers ensembles urbains traditionnels de Beyrouth, ouvrir la porte à la réalisation d’autres anciens projets inappropriés et en attente depuis plusieurs années, créer un paysage urbain « brouillé » et contribuer à terme à l’asphyxie totale de la Capitale. Les expériences que nous pouvons tirer aujourd’hui de différents projets entrepris depuis une douzaine d’années dans plusieurs villes et régions libanaises montrent bien l’urgence d’appliquer les lois concernant l’utilisation de l’espace public afin de réprimer toutes sortes d’infractions qui provoquent sa saturation, et de développer un système de transport en commun approprié poussant les libanais à utiliser de moins en moins leurs voitures privées. Après cela, et en fonction des besoins, nous pourrons réfléchir alors à de nouvelles infrastructures faisant partie d’un projet urbain intégré.”

 

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