01 Jan - 2021

The Beirut-Port Studio

Collaborators | University of Pennsylvania + Studio Madane + Public Works
Author | Nader Akoum + Lynn Moghrabi
This Beirut Port Studio represents a joint enterprise between the University of Pennsylvania, Public Works, and Studio Madane aiming, through creating necessary tools and generating physical interventions, to design a framework for restoring underutilized open/public spaces for a selection of activities that allow for sustainably supporting the August 4th affected community. This project entails a multiscalar approach combined with the direct contact of residents to understand the significance of the city’s different sites. That way, the project can be implemented such that it serves both the residents and the city as a whole.
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Innovation of Industry, Sustainable Communities, Reduced Inequalities, Partnerships for Development, and Social Inclusion.
Project Narrative
Lebanon is currently battling a myriad of political, economic, social, and managerial challenges - among others [Lebanon, 2022]. Thus, considering these conditions, both community interaction and healing have been severely hindered. This brings forth the issue of underutilized open/public spaces. In Beirut, especially in the less affluent areas, many spaces deemed ‘public’ are, in fact, not open to the public - or at all. Most of the country’s public spaces are occupied by sectarian and political conflicts, ideological slogans, and religious symbols - revealing Lebanon’s political division and the constant struggle over which party ‘monopolizes’ the public sphere [Aoun, 2020]. Consequently, the public makes use of private spaces to engage in certain activities: informal housing, car parking, entrepreneurial ventures, and play. Professor David Gouvernor, leading the project at the University of Pennsylvania, comprehensively discusses with Studio Madane the objective of this project, detailed below:

“The goal is to keep the areas from informal occupation—to avoid losing the public realm. The trick here is to select the appropriate ‘custodians’ that will keep an eye on the land until the community clearly identifies them as public places and starts defending them on its own. For this idea to be successful, the custodians should be institutions, community organizations, or even individuals that the community trusts. They should also be able to give the best uses to these “open spaces,” providing a sense of cultural attachment, from the earliest phases of occupation.”
The implementation of this project will run as follows: a 10-day workshop for the students that have traveled to Beirut and enrolled in the course at UPenn. They will enable the development of a conceptual framework that affirms the right to the previously mentioned spaces, as well as the identification of potential locations - on which case studies will be developed. The case studies will include the necessary physical interventions that will initiate the process of healing between the land and its people by rendering these spaces more versatile, inclusive, and inviting. The areas identified will have certain characteristics, such as having unique histories, contrasting geopolitically, and acting as critical nodes of interaction within the city, which will re-establish the relationship between these areas and the surrounding infrastructure. Sites from Karantina & Bourj Hammoud will be filtered in terms of demographics, geography, and proximity to the site of the Port Explosion. In the next phase of the project, the students’ work, through funding from international organizations awarded via faculty and international experts at the University of Pennsylvania, will be used to expand the project logistically and physically.