Hit & Run

Beirut and Bernard Khoury


A not bad article in the Wall Street Journal on Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury, who has designed some of the more interesting buildings of Lebanon?s post-war period. I?ve always found him somewhat pretentious (while thoroughly enjoying his work), especially in his easy dismissal of colonial French architecture, which Solidere, the company managing reconstruction of the downtown area, allegedly imposed on architects there.

?Mr. Khoury bristled at this ?postcard image? of the Middle East [that Solidere sought to enforce] … ?There was just nothing here for me,? he says.? In fact, there are remarkable art deco and art nouveau buildings in the downtown, which should appeal to Khoury?s apparent modernism.

The Journal story is shallow in small ways. For example, in this passage:

The next big phase of the project was launched earlier this month with an international competition to design what?s known as Martyr?s Square, a once bustling plaza where ethnic groups mixed more than almost any place else in the country. It is now a barren swath of land. But plans to revitalize the square have forced a confrontation with one painful result of the war: Balkanized into sectarian enclaves, Beirut is still a long way from the mixing pot it once was. [P]lanners want a rejuvenated Martyr?s Square to help remedy that. ?It?s the only place where all the groups in the city really came together. That has to happen again,? says Angus Gavin, who manages the urban development division of Solidere. ?If [downtown] works, it means the idea of a multireligious, multiethnic society is back in business.?

Gavin is full of it, and the Journal author should know this. The downtown area is already a place where ?all the groups in the city really come together,? but they don?t congregate at the empty field that is Martyrs? Square; they do so a few hundred meters eastwards in the Maarad area. Gavin should also get a grip on himself in his latter allegation: The downtown area, no matter how attractive, will never bring the idea of a multireligious, multiethnic society ?back into business.? Lebanon?s reintegration is far too vast and complex a project to be limited to the relatively small piece of land that Solidere rules over.

Finally, and this is perhaps the anal Beirut inhabitant whining, there are additional little errors: The building where Virgin MegaStore is housed was not Beirut?s opera house, but a cinema called the Opera. As for the chances of bringing a Formula One race to town, that project virtually died when the Arab bid went to Bahrain.