Deconstructing Beirut's Reconstruction: 1990 - 2000, Coming to Terms with the Colonial Heritage

An essay on a public lecture presented by Robert Saliba at Darat al-Funun, Amman on April 19, 2000.

Prepared by Mohammad al-Asad and Majd Musa in cooperation with Robert Saliba, 2001
Transcription of lecture prepared by Dalia al-Husseini



Support for the publication of this essay has been made possible by a grant from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. Additional support has been provided by Darat al-Funun - The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

 Beyond Controversy

Re-questioning the Duality between Center and Periphery

Robert Saliba (1) began this lecture by stating that much controversy has surrounded the reconstruction of Beirut's Central District (BCD) over the past decade. (2) However, he believes that the center has evolved beyond the stage of controversy into a fait accompli, and that the controversy meanwhile has moved from the center to the periphery. This is because post-war Beirut outside the central district has evolved as one of the more congested, chaotic, and expensive urban areas in the region. At the same time, the city's slowly developing and partially razed central district, with its newly rehabilitated conservation area, provides the only adequate open space in Beirut, besides the corniche, to which people can escape. This has initiated a new dynamic of re-appropriating the city center, mainly by pedestrians. At the same time, this development of the central district has raised questions about the practice of urban conservation and development outside the city center, which is characterized by ongoing destruction and poor quality face-lifting of what remains of Beirut's late Ottoman and French mandate residential townscape.

To Saliba, the debate on the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District until recently was defined primarily as one between a promotional approach advocated by the private sector, and a remedial-bureaucratic approach advocating public sector intervention. Although the experiences in bureaucratic planning that have taken place over the past half a century primarily have proved to be ineffective, it is still too early to assess either the positive or negative impact of private corporate planning on both the economic and social levels.

Examining the Central District within the Context of the National Recovery Plan

 Saliba notes that the media and the public generally have reduced Lebanon's post-war reconstruction to Beirut's reconstruction, which in turn has been reduced to the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District, which has been attributed to one person, the Lebanese businessman and Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri (3). Hariri is the one who initiated the private Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District, Solidere (4). However, in order to achieve a more comprehensive view of Beirut's reconstruction over the past ten years, one needs to view it within the framework of the post-war national recovery plan.

The national recovery scenario that has been envisaged for Lebanon covers the period from 1995 to 2007. It has concentrated on the need to raise about 60 billion $US that would be needed to generate a 6 - 8% rate of growth in the Lebanese Gross Domestic Product so as to reach a per capita income that is equivalent to the pre-Lebanese civil war 1974 level.

Such a recovery plan includes a harsh economic adjustment policy. The policy aims at achieving stability in the rates of exchange for the Lebanese currency. It also aims at developing the country's economic, physical, and social infrastructure to stimulate the growth of an efficient private sector that would help reestablish Beirut as the Middle East's major business center. Finally, the plan includes a comprehensive administrative reform agenda for the public sector.

The national recovery plan shows that Beirut only constitutes one part of the overall reconstruction plan for Lebanon. However, due to its political and economic importance, Beirut has tended to take over most of the attention given to the issue of the reconstruction of Lebanon. Furthermore, its status as capital city has brought to the forefront the issue of heritage conservation as a key factor in reasserting the urban identity of the city center, both culturally and politically.

 Expanding the Notion of Heritage

When dealing with the issue of heritage in a post-war context, one needs to address the dialectics involved in the process of conservation itself. In fact, much of the controversy that has accompanied reconstruction efforts in Beirut has concentrated on this matter. The issue of conservation can be addressed at three levels. On the first level, one needs to decide what to preserve. On a second level, one needs to determine an approach or philosophy of preservation, and the quality of preservation to be achieved. On a third level, one needs to decide on an implementation process for the preservation work.

 From Second- to Firsthand Modernization

The following are a few remarks about Beirut's historical background and the remaining urban features related to the evolution of the city. These features physically translate into two layers, the underground archaeological strata and the visible surviving townscape. Beirut was an important city during two periods of its history. The first was the Roman period, when it was a Roman colony with a famous law school; the second was during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Beirut emerged as a colonial outpost.

Between these two periods, Beirut was a secondary coastal town surpassed in importance by other Lebanese coastal towns such as Sidon and Tripoli, both of which had strong economic ties with the Syrian interior. However, with the opening of Beirut-Damascus road and the upgrading of Beirut's port facilities during the second half of the nineteenth century, Beirut started its ascent as a late-Ottoman colonial gateway city. Furthermore, it evolved between the two World Wars into a showcase of the French Mandate in the Levant. Consequently, Beirut underwent two successive phases of early modernization. The first phase, under the Ottomans, can be described as an example of secondhand modernization since Western urban concepts were first imported to Istanbul and then applied to provincial cities like Beirut (figure 1). The second phase can be described as an example of first hand modernization since the French mandatory authorities directly implemented French urban models in the city.

Figure 1: Beirut during the late Ottoman period.

Figure 1: Beirut during the late Ottoman period.

The first and second phases of Beirut's early modernization led successively to the destruction of the northeastern and southeastern sections of the pre-modern intramural town. Moreover, the French mandatory authorities managed - in less than three decades - to impose a Beaux-Arts / Haussmanian scheme on the city's medieval fabric (figure 2). Such a pattern of early modernization contrasts with French colonial planning policies in North Africa and in other cities in the Levant, where the "European city" usually was built adjacent to the medieval one. In the case of Beirut, the colonial geometric grid was superimposed on the more organic medieval fabric. Consequently, when tourists visiting Lebanon wish to view a medieval Islamic city, they do not visit Beirut, but are directed to Tripoli or Sidon, where one can observe both the medieval core and its modern extensions. Accordingly, the urban identity of Beirut after the 1930s was restricted to the developments of the colonial period and to an evolving modern townscape.

Figure 2 : Beirut during the French Mandate period.

 A Tradition of Destructive Construction?

With the beginning of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, Beirut already was a predominantly modern city that had preserved very few traces of its medieval past. As such, the Hariri Solidere project constitutes the second wave of modernization to affect Beirut, after the first wave of modernization that took place under the Ottomans and the French. The two waves are tied to strong rulers. The first wave was tied at a certain stage of its evolution to an Ottoman Sultan, Abd al-Hamid II (r. 1876 - 1909), who had a traditional power base, and the second wave is connected to Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, a self-made entrepreneur with considerable financial power. The first wave of modernization had raised controversy related to destroying the city's medieval fabric, and the second wave has raised controversy related to destroying the city's late-Ottoman and early-modern fabric.

In this context, Saliba referred to the writings of the French journalist Francoise Sueret, who addressed in an article for the French daily Le Monde the issues of conservation and reconstruction in Beirut as being tied to a "tradition of destructive construction," to a "political will to modernize," to an economic will to join the world economy, and to the personal will of rulers to "access history." Saliba adds that another interesting correlation between the two phases of modernization is that, at the beginning of the French Mandate in the 1920s, the debris resulting from the destruction of the medieval core was used to extend the port area. In the 1990s, the debris resulting from the destruction of the modern city center has been used to reshape the new waterfront.

 Colonial Heritage as National Patrimony

According to Saliba, one should no longer ask: "Should we preserve historic Beirut?" Medieval Beirut already had been wiped out by the first wave of modernization of the late Ottoman and French Mandate periods. Instead, one should ask: "Is the heritage of the recent past worth preserving?" and "Should the colonial townscape be embraced as an integral part of the national patrimony?"

Before the civil war, almost no mention was made of Beirut's recent history, i.e. the formation of modern Beirut under the Ottomans and the French. It is only during the past twenty years that a new generation of historians who are trying to investigate the recent historical evolution of the city has emerged. These historians have been redefining and expanding our understanding of the concept of heritage and patrimony.

Another consequence of the war and of the post-war reconstruction is that colonial architecture has been far more emphasized during the 1990s in Beirut than in other major cities of the region such as Cairo, Damascus, or Aleppo. This is in spite of the fact that the colonial heritage of a city such as Cairo is by far more extensive and diverse than that of Beirut. In fact, Cairo and Istanbul, the two metropolises of the colonial period in the region, provided the architectural and urban models that were followed in smaller provincial cities such as Beirut. However, the absence of an old historical core in Beirut and the reconstruction process itself have brought forward the colonial heritage as the only remaining townscape expressing a historical dimension of the city center beyond its archeological strata.

 The "People's" Perspective

To Saliba there is a need to look at the memory of the city not only from a formal historical perspective, but also from the informal perspective of the city's inhabitants. He adds that the notion of the memory of the city has been misused and abused during the past decade both by the advocates and the opponents of the reconstruction of Beirut's Central District, who mainly consist of architects, entrepreneurs, sociologists, and politicians. Each group has tailored the notion of collective memory to fit with its own needs and arguments. However, nobody has bothered to ask the people themselves how they actually remembered the city.

In this context, Saliba presented an exercise he carried out with his students in 1990, while teaching at the American University of Beirut (AUB). This was at the end of the civil war, just before the center of the city became fully accessible to the public. The exercise consisted of interviews with about eighty persons who were asked to draw mental maps of the city. This group of respondents was divided into different age groups so as to see how each of the groups remembered the city and how it viewed its reconstruction.

 Collective Memory

Interestingly enough, the youngest of these age groups, who were the AUB students carrying out the exercise, viewed the city center as a tabula rasa. Since these students were all under the age of 25, they had neither a clear recollection nor a direct experience of the city from before the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. The media and the accounts of their parents mainly shaped their image of the city. Their mental maps of the city center emerged as an empty space with two markers: the Place des Martyrs and al-Masarif Street (Banks' Street) (figure 3). The first was drawn as a circle despite being rectangular in shape, while the second figured more realistically on the maps since it existed on the western edge of the Beirut Central District, and was partially preserved from destruction during the war. When asked about their opinion on how to approach the reconstruction of the central district, this group preferred that the center be reconstructed anew disregarding what it looked like before the war.

Figure 3: Mental image of pre-war Beirut by the group under 25 years of age.

Figure 3: Mental image of pre-war Beirut by the group under 25 years of age.

The situation was different for the group between 25 and 45 years of age, who provided more elaborate mental maps of the city (figure 4). Many of the younger members of this group, who were between 25 and 35 years of age, already had established their businesses outside the city center and feared the competition that would arise from the reconstructed city center. On the other hand, the older members of this group, who were between 36 and 45 years of age, expressed a yearning to preserve the pre-war image of the city center. Saliba referred to this group, to which he belonged at that time, as the "romantics." They greatly interacted with the city center in the 1960s and 1970s, and the city center formed an integral part of their mindscape.

Figure 4: Mental image of pre-war Beirut by the group between 25 and 45 years of age.

Figure 4: Mental image of pre-war Beirut by the group between 25 and 45 years of age.

The group above 45 years of age presented the most elaborate mental maps in relation to the other age groups (figure 5). However, they favored the reconstruction of a new city center since they believed it would create work opportunities for their children. Interestingly enough, their response was similar to that of the youngest group, but for different reasons.

Figure 5: Mental image of pre-war Beirut by the group over 45 years of age.

Figure 5: Mental image of pre-war Beirut by the group over 45 years of age.

Obviously, one is presented with a variety of reactions to the reconstruction of the city center, and no generalizations should be made about the "memory of the city" and the suitability of its reconstruction as often asserted by planners, designers, and politicians.

The final result of this exercise was to put together a synthesis map (figure 6) representing the "collective memory" of the city center. This map was complemented by an analysis of the physical and spatial structure of the city center in order to articulate an urban design assessment framework instead of a reconstruction scheme. This framework was used to assess the 1977 and 1991 reconstruction plans in terms of their respect for the historical, physical, and perceived identities of the city (5).

Figure 6: Synthesis of the mental images provided by the various age groups.

Figure 6: Synthesis of the mental images provided by the various age groups.

Public Attitudes towards Reconstruction

In 1997, the German researcher Heiko Schmid of Heidelberg University carried out another survey dealing with the reconstruction of the city and the Solidere project (6). Part of the survey included putting together a map that showed the amount of destruction that affected the city center during the war and after the war (figure 7). What had been preserved appears in black, what was destroyed during the war appears in yellow, and what was destroyed after the war appears in blue. The map shows that the structures that were destroyed after the war are more numerous than what was destroyed during the war. For his survey, Schmid interviewed about 200 persons, about half of whom were Christian and the other half Muslim. Almost three-quarters of those interviewed supported the process being carried out for the reconstruction of the city center under Solidere. The study noted that the level of acceptance among Muslims was slightly higher than among Christians. Schmid believed that this was connected to the fact that al-Hariri, a Muslim, was Lebanon's Prime Minister at that time.

Figure 7: Beirut's war-destroyed fabric, post-war destroyed fabric, and preserved fabric.

Figure 7: Beirut's war-destroyed fabric, post-war destroyed fabric, and preserved fabric.

 Modernizing Heritage

Saliba moved on to discuss two approaches towards preservation. The first is that of preserving the urban fabric, i.e. the pattern of streets, parcels, and buildings, and the second is emphasizing the preservation of the buildings themselves. In the case of the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District, the French Mandate section was preserved both as urban fabric and as buildings. On the other hand, the Saifi and Wadi abu-Jamil areas were preserved as street pattern, while their parcels and buildings were partially modified. In the final result, about 20% of the central business district was preserved in terms of urban fabric and buildings.

When dealing with the preservation of an urban fabric, one needs to address three dialectical relationships. The first is that of "above versus below;" where the main issue is urban archaeology versus underground parking. The second is that of "inside versus outside," where the main issue is historic public frontages versus modernized interiors. The third is that of "the existing versus the potential," where the main issue is the existing development versus vertical or horizontal extension of construction.

In the area of the Solidere project, religious buildings were mostly preserved from both the inside and outside. The exteriors of public buildings - such as the parliament and municipality buildings - were kept, and the interiors were partially modernized. However, the Grand Serail, a late Ottoman structure, was vertically extended through the addition of a new floor. Also, the inside was completely rebuilt according to modern standards, thus reducing the original building to a mere envelope in which new elements are placed. Although the new modifications are both imposing and well executed, a number of the elements added to the main elevation, such as the dormers on the red tile roof, jeopardized the original character of the building, especially for those who had memories of the Grand Serail from before the war. Preservation from outside and modernization from within was applied to the majority of office buildings in the conservation area. This usually included the integration of elevators and other modern necessities, and the adoption of flexible open plans (figure 8). Outside the central district area, another recent example where a similar strategy was applied is College Hall at the American University of Beirut. This prominent campus building was completely reconstituted from the outside and rebuilt from within incorporating the latest modern necessities.

Figure 8: Historic exteriors, modern interiors.

Figure 8: Historic exteriors, modern interiors.

Another category that Saliba addressed is that of infill buildings, where one is presented with two solutions. The first is to create a "neo-historical" structure that emulates surrounding buildings, and the second is to develop a contemporary design that adapts to the scale of the surrounding context, but not necessarily to its architectural character. Saliba noted that both solutions have been adopted in the Solidere project.

An example of the first approach is found in the Saifi area, where one is presented with "neo-traditional" infill architecture (figure 9). Saliba qualifies these buildings as pastiche architecture, where one often comes across contradictions between plans and elevations. Here, the designers wished to maintain the symmetrical central hall elevation characteristic of the traditional Beiruti house, which did not correspond to the building's modern plan, and therefore residual spaces resulted from this arrangement. An example of the second approach is found at the intersection of Weygand and Allenby streets, where an infill corner building continues the arcade alignment of one of the streets but exhibits a glass wall along the other street.

Figure 9: The neo-traditional facades of the Saifi area.

Figure 9: The neo-traditional facades of the Saifi area.

Concerning the duality between above and below, Saliba cited the example of the Suq Tawilah area (figure 10). Here, parking areas were needed for the modern shopping mall to be constructed at the location of the late Ottoman suqs. The result is what Saliba identified as "skin-deep historicism," where the late Ottoman street pattern was recreated over the concrete slab of the parking structure.

Figure 10: The new shops of Suq Tawilah area.

Figure 10: The new shops of Suq Tawilah area.

Saliba deduced that we are presented with a wide range of responses to the issue of heritage conservation. In the case of Beirut, there is a considerable difference between the generally high standards reached by Solidere in its conservation area, and the cheap face-lifting solutions being implemented in the peri-center districts. Of course, attempting to apply such quality control on the scale of the city would be difficult to realize because of financial and technical complications.

Saliba added that the experience of the reconstruction process has been an extremely rich one. Over the past ten years, those observing or involved in such projects have had to revise their own assumptions about reconstruction, preservation, and the ideological positions underlying the notion of heritage. In this context, Saliba mentioned the remarks made by the AUB architectural faculty member, Marwan Ghandour, who commented that the architectural discourse in post-colonial societies is fundamentally attempting different ways of interpreting or identifying what can be viewed as an authentic local identity. In this discourse, traditional buildings are the principle narrators of that identity (7). Ghandour denounces the futility of such attempts, which view history as consisting of two opposite forces, the eras of pre-modernization and post-modernization, both of which are connected to the process of colonization. With this, Saliba concluded by stating that in the case of the reconstruction of Beirut, we see a clear example of the incorporation of the colonial legacy into national heritage. To Saliba, this leads to the conclusion that maybe we are coming to terms with our "hybrid personalities," thus transcending the duality between the authentic and the colonial in favor of a "new authenticity."

Questions and Answers

The first question to be raised following the presentation inquired as to who owns the buildings involved in the Solidere project, and if the original owners were given the opportunity to continue to own residential or business properties in the project. Saliba answered that there is considerable controversy concerning this matter. In the areas specified for conservation, the original owners had been given the choice of recuperating their properties. However, they had to abide by a predetermined completion timetable and strict conservation standards, or else lose control of their buildings.

A follow-up question to this response was whether the original owners would lose all rights to their original properties if they were not able to meet the requirements specified by Solidere. Saliba answered that the conservation of an area such as that of the Beirut Central District presents one with two options. The first would be to allow people to carry out rehabilitation work without having to adhere to timetables or conservation standards. Basically, this is what is happening outside the Beirut Central District. The other option would be to enforce a predetermined schedule and quality control measures through an implementing agency. This is what is happening in the Solidere area, where Solidere is taking on the role of the implementing agency. The work outside the Beirut Central District is moving at an inadequate pace, but inside the Solidere area deadlines are being met.

Another question inquired if original property owners were allowed to own a percentage of the buildings of the Solidere project, and also asked about the identity of the present owners. Saliba answered that there are two types of stockowners in the Solidere project, type A and type B. Type A stockowners consist of the original owners of the properties of the Beirut Central District. These were given shares according to an appraisal of their property. Type B stockowners consist of new investors who bought shares in the company (8).

Saliba added that there are examples of such large-scale regeneration or construction projects in other parts of the world. Two of these examples are the London Docklands and the La Defense project in Paris. The first was heavily oriented towards private financing, and even infrastructure work was at least partially financed by private-sector developers. The second project placed an emphasis on public initiative. Here, the state played the central role of investing in infrastructure, and even relocated some of its own institutions in the area as catalysts for new development.

Both private and public directed regeneration projects exist in Beirut. Solidere represents an example of a private corporation in charge of the reconstruction of a sizable area of the city, while the Elyssar project, which started as private corporation for the redevelopment of the city's southwestern suburbs, ended up as a public agency as a result of the intervention of Hizbollah, the military-political organization that is a main representative of Lebanon's Shi'i Muslims (9).

Saliba was asked to elaborate on the various master plans that were devised for Beirut in recent history. He answered that the two main master plans that illustrate the change in approaching the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District are the 1977 and 1991 master plans. The first was articulated shortly after the start of the war, when physical destruction was still limited. Therefore, it adopted an approach based on the preservation of the urban fabric through small and medium scale development by the original owners, but also allowed for the participation of real estate companies in heavily damaged areas. The 1991 plan was more intrusive and was to be implemented by a single development corporation. This proposal was faced with harsh opposition. In fact, Solidere had the wisdom to take into consideration such opposition when it embarked on its reconstruction program. Consequently, it made amendments to the 1991 plan and also invited a number of those who opposed that plan to participate in the amendment process (10).

One audience member asked Saliba to elaborate on his comparison between the Beirut of the Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid and that of al-Hariri, and on the controversy that accompanied the changes to the city that each of them initiated. Saliba responded by stating that if one examines two daily newspapers from Beirut, Lisan al-Hal in the late ninteenth and early twentieth centuries and al-Nahar in the 1990s, one would come across a similar discourse relating to the subjects of conservation, modernization, and even globalization. In addition, it is interesting to note that the option of establishing a real estate development company for Beirut's reconstruction was also raised during the time of Abd al-Hamid.

Saliba was asked about the relationship between the "physical" and the "socio-political" plans carried out for Beirut, and if physical planning can play a role in either fragmenting society or building social cohesion among its members. Saliba commented that one of the main criticisms made of the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District was that it would result in segregating the center from its periphery and making it an island for the rich. Here, it should be kept in mind that the majority of those who will be working in the city center are not corporate heads, but middle and low-income employees involved in service jobs. Therefore, Saliba stressed that he does not fully agree with the opinion that the current development of the Central Business District will result necessarily in a state of social segregation.

In this context, Saliba cited an interesting development that is taking place in Beirut today. The residents of the city are starting to penetrate the Solidere area through the sea promenade that will continue along the new waterfront. Also, fairs are being organized in the French Mandate Foch - Allenby and Etoile conservation areas, and these fairs are proving to be very popular among Beirut's inhabitants. Saliba emphasized that people are more powerful than corporations, and that eventually they will take over the city and its center.

The follow-up question to Saliba's response was whether the Solidere plan for the Beirut Central District provides for adequate open spaces. Here, Saliba stated that this area has the highest percentage of open spaces in the city, such as pedestrian walkways, parks, and squares. This was not the case before the reconstruction of the city center area. Of course, one should keep in mind that not all of these open spaces will be accessible to the public. However, Saliba added that the open spaces in the city center area more or less provide the only open public spaces in Beirut. In contrast, the city's periphery is growing into a highly congested area that lacks minimal public amenities.

Another question inquired as to how much of the Beirut Central District is occupied by residential areas, and whether the central district allows for economically mixed neighborhoods that include upper, middle, and lower income inhabitants. Here, Saliba mentioned that around 40% of the built up area in the city center is residential. The other 60% percent consists primarily of offices, commercial facilities, cultural facilities, and hotels. He added that the majority of the people living in the central district currently belong to upper income groups. However, part of the area is being developed for middle class residential use. Saliba added that future changes in the socio-economic status of the inhabitants of the city center will depend to a great deal on economic developments taking place in the city as a whole. If Solidere wishes to compete effectively in Beirut's residential real estate market it may have to lower its prices. This will allow the Beirut Central District area to become accessible to a wider variety of income groups. However, Saliba mentioned that upper class residential concentrations are not unique to the Solidere area, but are spread throughout the city, which can be viewed as a permeable mosaic. Here again, Saliba emphasizes that the Solidere project cannot be an exclusive island in the long term (11).

An audience member raised the example of planning approaches currently taking place in European city centers. Here, it was mentioned that although the centers of many European cities had been treated as isolated business centers during the past twenty years, they now are being rehabilitated to include more mixed uses. Saliba was asked whether Beirut's center has gone through such changes. Here, Saliba mentioned that Beirut's city center went through a similar cycle. Beirut's city center developed from a mixed-use area into a business district during the French Mandate, primarily as a result of suburban growth. It started a process of decay in the 1960s and 1970s because of the competition brought about by the emergence of secondary business centers outside the central district. It is only now that residential use is being reintroduced in the city center.

The last question dealt with the possibility of creating a city center that includes a mix of different income groups. Here, the example of Spain was presented, where low-income groups are provided with the opportunity to live in the city center even though real estate prices are very high there. In fact, municipal authorities allocate 20% of the residential areas in city centers to lower income inhabitants, and provide them with the necessary financial support in the form of loans and subsidies that allow them to afford living in city centers. These practices encourage the development of city centers as more heterogeneous areas. Saliba was asked whether such an approach is being adopted for the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District. Saliba answered that no such approach has been applied to the Beirut city center even though it would be a good idea to create such a "balanced social profile" within the city's neighborhoods. However, he added that modern cities generally tend to display a degree of economic segregation in their residential areas, and that examples of such segregation are quite common in the United States and Europe. In fact, cities in the Middle East still provide some of the few surviving examples of mixed income neighborhoods. However, even these cities are evolving into ones where neighborhoods are becoming more homogeneous, especially on the economic and sectarian levels. Still, Saliba concluded by stating that through his work at the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles he has come to the conclusion that attempts at creating "artificial social mixtures" rarely work, at least in the case of the US.


(1) Robert Saliba is an architect and planner, and a post-graduate researcher at Oxford Brookes University's Joint Center of Urban Design. He taught architecture and planning at a number of Lebanese universities including the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese University, and Université St. Joseph. He also served as a planning consultant for the World Bank on a number of studies related to Lebanon, and was a city planning associate at the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles.

He is the author of the monograph Beirut 1920 - 1940: Domestic Architecture between Tradition and Modernity (Beirut: Order of Engineers and Architects, 1998). He also has written a number of scholarly articles on architecture and planning in Lebanon.

 (2) Concerning the reconstruction of Beirut, see Peter Rowe and Hashim Sarkis (eds.), Projecting Beirut: Episodes in the Construction and Reconstruction of a Modern City (Munich and New York: Prestel Publishing, 1998); Angus Gavin and Ramez Maluf, Beirut Reborn (London: Academy Editions, 1996); Samir Khalaf and Philip Khoury, Recovering Beirut: Urban Design and Post-War Reconstruction (New York and Leiden: American Bible Society, 1993); and Friedrich Ragette (ed.), Beirut of Tomorrow: Planning for Reconstruction (Beirut: The American University of Beirut Press, 1983).

 (3) Rafiq al-Hariri held the post of Lebanon's Prime Minister from 1992 to 1998. He was re-elected to the post in October 2001.

 (4) For additional information concerning Solidere, see This web site, which belongs to Solidere, provides relatively detailed information on the company's program for the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District.

 (5) A more detailed discussion of these master plans is provided in the Questions and Answers section of this essay. Also, please see endnote (10) below.

 (6) Schmid, Heiko, "The Reconstruction of Downtown Beirut - Decision-Making, Participants and Public Opinion," unpublished paper, 1997. Mr. Schmid can be contacted at (

 (7) Marwan Ghandour, "'That Secret is your Phantasm': The Traditional in Architectural Offices," in Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Working Papers Series, vol. 110 (1998).

 (8) When Solidere was established in 1994, the total value of its type A shares was assessed at 1.17 billion $US. Moreover, 650 million $US of type B shares were offered for public subscription. For additional information concerning the composition of Solidere's shares, see

 (9) Saliba provided a more detailed discussion of the Elyssar project and the different approaches to reconstruction being applied in Beirut in a presentation delivered to the Center for the Study of the Built Environment's architectural forum, Diwan al-Mimar, on April 20, 2000. His Diwan presentation will be documented on this site in the forthcoming e-publication entitled Emerging Trends in Urbanism: The Beirut Post-War Experience. For additional information concerning the Elyssar project, see Mona Harb el-Hak, "Urban Governance in Post-War Beirut: Resources, Negotiations, and Contestations in the Elyssar Project," in S. Shami (ed.), Capital Cities: Ethnographies of Urban Governance in the Middle East (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming).

 (10) Saliba provided a more detailed discussion of the different master plans that had been devised for Beirut in the presentation he delivered to the Center for the Study of the Built Environment's architectural forum, Diwan al-Mimar, on April 20, 2000. Concerning the forthcoming documentation of this presentation, see note (9) above.

 (11) For additional information concerning the city as a mosaic of patterns, see Christopher Alexander, et al., A Pattern Language (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977). In this publication, Alexander and his colleagues at the Center for Environmental Structure at the University of California at Berkeley discuss the city as a pattern of a "mosaic of subcultures." The book states that "the homogeneous and undifferentiated character of modern cities kills all variety of life styles and arrests the growth of individual character," and suggests enriching cultural life in the city by breaking it "into a vast mosaic of small and different subcultures.

 List of Figures

Figure 1: The first phase of early modernization: Plan of Beirut during the late Ottoman period. (Source: Robert Saliba)

Figure 2: Beirut during the French Mandate period: The 1931 Danger master plan with the scheme for the future Place de l'Etoile superimposed on the razed medieval fabric of the inner city. (Source: Robert Saliba)

Figure 3: 1990 exercise on 'the memory of the city' carried out by Saliba and his students: Mental image of pre-war Beirut as represented by the group whose members were under 25 years of age. (Source: Morphological Investigation of Downtown Beirut: Towards an Urban Design Framework. The Department of Architecture, American University of Beirut, 1991.)

Figure 4: 1990 exercise on 'the memory of the city' carried out by Saliba and his students: Mental image of pre-war Beirut as represented by the group whose members were between 25 and 45 years of age. (Source: Morphological Investigation of Downtown Beirut: Towards an Urban Design Framework. The Department of Architecture, American University of Beirut, 1991.)

Figure 5: 1990 exercise on 'the memory of the city' carried out by Saliba and his students: Mental image of pre-war Beirut as represented by the group whose members were over 45 years of age. (Source: Morphological Investigation of Downtown Beirut: Towards an Urban Design Framework. The Department of Architecture, American University of Beirut, 1991.)

Figure 6: 1990 exercise on 'the memory of the city' carried out by Saliba and his students: Synthesis of the mental images provided by the various age groups. (Source: Morphological Investigation of Downtown Beirut: Towards an Urban Design Framework. The Department of Architecture, American University of Beirut, 1991.)

Figure 7: Map of Beirut prepared by Schmid showing the war-destroyed fabric, the post-war destroyed fabric, and the preserved fabric of the city. (Source: Heiko Schimd.)

Figure 8: Historic exteriors, modern interiors: The Foch-Allenby conservation area. (Source: Solidere)

Figure 9: The neo-traditional facades of the Saifi area. (Source: Solidere)

Figure 10: The new shops of Suq Tawilah area in central Beirut. (Source: Solidere)