In-herit

How does one write about something that words cannot contain? Where does she even begin? When did we stop being moved by spaces and the intensity in which they exist?

For this post, I chose to expose something more public than a piece of art. This one is of a much bigger scale and of greater importance as it affects all of us directly, our communal architectural heritage.

It is a term that has not been understood quite well, what it includes and why it is so important that we should protect it– and maybe even what we can learn from it and how we can introduce its techniques into our contemporary architecture.

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Photo from inside Hneine Palace in Kantari Street overlooking Clemenceau

This post has been very tough to write. Aiming at writing about the importance of heritage from a logical architect’s point of view, I realized I had no idea how to explain the importance of our traditional architecture in just a brief simple blog post — which is disappointing because I do have a good amount of knowledge of and experience in the subject.

It is the kind of knowledge that comes from having experienced first hand and personally, these abandoned spaces; to have walked through them discovering them like hidden treasures and most of the times becoming too overwhelmed by how much life had once filled that space, getting to know names and professions of people that had once called the now-destructed house a home, wondering if they are still alive — and if they were, then why hadn’t they come back to retrieve this treasure?

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Abandoned house in Achrafieh, Huvelin
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The most heartbreaking encounter in one of my visits was this car toy, found in an abandoned house on Monot street

You would imagine what was there and what could’ve been there had they not been torn asunder with time and war. Imagine a city that had protected its history and had made it a priority to sanctify those witnesses to our lives throughout the years! To try hard as an architect to be as sensitive as possible to spaces with years older than ours combined.

It is a kind of beauty that is impossible to copy, one that is unique to Beirut, its history, its people and their stories, its troubles, wars, deconstruction, and ultimately arbitrary reconstruction. A reconstruction that forgot the essence of beirut no matter how hard it tried to mimic it.

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castle on Basta street, Beirut

This is something that has happened to history since ancient times. The poorer houses were not the ones that have been saved or protected, but rather the more lush ones; therefore, neighborhoods were  destroyed and spaces between the houses — the actual witnesses of the daily life in the past — were erased. Not only are they important as aesthetic promenades in the city but also as present testimonies to the basic and sustainable life before technology. And that is something we, as architects and active members of the society, could learn from and should never take for granted.

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A courtyard that is shared by several houses in Achrafieh

Humans are mortal beings, but our buildings and what we leave behind will stay for generations to come and it is our responsibility to take care of our legacy.

The traditional Lebanese house was built according to our Mediterranean weather, climate, and its sun orientation. It made sure to give its residents a piece of beautiful and life-giving greenery. Almost every traditional house is accompanied by a small garden increasing our fresh air and adding secret gardens in Beirut. With the loss of these houses, and with the little to no public green spaces in Beirut, in addition to the garbage crisis, we find ourselves suffocating more and more in polluted air. This is only one small example of the heritage situation. All that we are left with are cool photography locations and event venues.

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A house within its garden in Kantari

Neighborhood quarters with a collection of traditional buildings are like open air museums. We have this possibility –now much less than before– to witness the architecture from the twenties on, admire, walk through, and get inspired by it. The main problem now is that we do not have neighborhoods anymore. They are either cut in half by proposed highways that were supposed to alleviate traffic and cater to the people, or high rises have been planted in between, making them all the more non-coherent.

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One of the iconic houses of Ain Mrayyseh demolished to make way to a new high rise

It is important to state that the high rises are a necessity with the development of our society and the increased need for them. However, it is even more important to create a building law that both caters to the people and protects its city. For a more thorough explanation of this basic outline, please download the following link: https://feaweb.aub.edu.lb/feasac/12/ . A paper discussing the relationship between architectural heritage, public transportation, and road planning under the name “Three Edges of a Triangle,” is to be found on page 55.

We have inherited this city. The word itself is self-explanatory. It is important that we take care of what our ancestors have passed on to us, which is what we will pass on to our children, and their children, and their children after them. This city is not ours. It belongs to the future, and without its past, the future does not exist.

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