One month after the explosion in Beirut, rebuilding the city without leaving room for speculation

Workers secure a building blown up by the double explosion of August 4, in the Gemmayzé district, in Beirut (Lebanon), Thursday August 13, 2020.

In the streets of Gemmayzé and Mar Mikhaël, two of the districts most affected by the double explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, dozens of houses of a traditional character were surrounded by security perimeters, some of them reinforced by structures. Support. Facades with three arches, typical of bourgeois houses of the Ottoman era, are gutted, the tiled roofs blown and the stucco decorations torn off.

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The damage amounts to hundreds of millions of euros. They are invaluable to some architectural gems, such as the Sursock Museum and Sursock Palace, whose heiress and heritage advocate, Yvonne Sursock Cochrane, died on August 31, at age 98, after being injured in the explosion.

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“It is not only a question of rehabilitating the heritage, but of allowing the return to life and social diversity” Jad Tabet, architect

Of the approximately 8,000 damaged buildings, 640 are classified as historical. They were built under the Ottoman era before 1914, under the French mandate until the independence of Lebanon in 1943, or during the modernist period which preceded the civil war of 1975-1990. About sixty are in danger of collapse. They had survived the civil war and the savage and chaotic post-war reconstruction. Most were still inhabited, or housed cafes, bars, restaurants, galleries or cultural venues, frequented by cosmopolitan youth and expatriates.

“The future of these districts is at stake. It is not only a question of rehabilitating the heritage, but of allowing the return to life and to social diversity”, explains Jad Tabet, president of the Order of Engineers and Architects of Beirut. This is the goal set by the main actors in heritage preservation, who came together at the end of August within the Beirut Initiative Heritage (BHI). This collective of 150 people brings together the main NGOs in the sector, such as the Association for the Protection of Sites and Ancient Homes and the Arab Center for Architecture (ACA), as well as groups formed after the explosion, such as Beirut Built Heritage Rescue 2020 (BBHR 2020).

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“The state has disappeared”

Two teams are mobilized in the field. That of BBHR 2020 is in charge of buildings built between 1860 and 1930, at the end of the Ottoman Empire, on the architectural model of the Lebanese house, built in local stone and tiles from Beirut. “These buildings have been badly affected: the tiles have popped out, the plaster ceilings and stucco have fallen, the walls are cracked. Sometimes there are structural problems and most have no doors or windows ”, details the architect Fadlallah Dagher, who represents the order of engineers and architects within the BHI. A second team, led by the ACA, inspects buildings of modern architecture from the 1930s to 1970s, whose concrete constructions have held up better.

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