Reclaiming Beirut - From the port to the city

Ana Beatriz Fonseca, Carlota Garcez, Diogo Maia Nunes, Tiago Neves
ISCTE, Department of Architecture, Lisbon

Project idea

Through a historical analysis of the city of Beirut, it is noticeable that throughout its growth the presence of the tram and the train were lost. The analysis started in 1936, the year when the tramway lines ran through the city. Passing through 1961, when there is no more tramway line, and ending today, when none of these lines, neither tram or train are active or even exist.
Through historical photographs it is possible to see that Beirut was a city that benefited from the presence of both transportation infrastructures, making it a city more connected to each other and to the outside world. Along these transport lines it is possible to find the presence of buildings that supported these functions, such as the Électricité du Liban building and the Mar Mikhael station, which with the reactivation of the lines, consequently, would be rehabilitated with support and complementary functions that would also serve the city.
With the creation of a connecting line, its potential to not only transport people but also energy is understood, thus solving two problems raised during a deeper analysis of the population’s needs: a network of organized means of transportation and an efficient electricity distribution, therefore arriving at the third problem which boils down to the lack of waste treatment in Beirut, with the intention of transforming it into an essential good for the population: electricity. This line has the capacity to also create and organize the space through which it passes, forming different areas with different functions.
Although this network is perceived as a linear element, the goal is to be based on a closed circular element, thus containing the energy that constantly circulates through its elements and that is distributed to its users, for such, it is not assumed only its “starting point” as the only energy source, but there is also the possibility of connection to renewable energy sources throughout the city, such as photovoltaic panels on building roofs, therefore circumventing the problem of energy storage.

Project description

Thinking about the people of Beirut and their needs as inhabitants of a coastal city, some morphological changes were made to the port in order for it to offer a waterfront experience and to enhance a sustainable development of the Beirut river mouth.
Seeing this moment of reconstruction of the port as an opportunity to benefit Beirut, the project’s intentions question the port’s boundary areas, expanding its intervention into some places of the city. With this and referring to the morphological changes made to the port, the existing promenade on the Normandy landfill, when it is limited by water, is extended by the pontoon, also gaining more sea area belonging to the port.
Since the waterfront is a privileged area that is currently difficult to access, two distinct cores are created, one public and the other private, intending to maintain the economic practice of an industrial port while offering the city an easily accessible waterfront. This division is made when the tram and train lines meet, which happens in the center of the port next to the electricity company building. This hinge defines not only the division of public space and private space on land, but also at sea, and it is at this point that the tram line advances into the sea, creating a bridge over the water, which works as a clear barrier that intends to hierarchize the boats.
The public domain core offers the community the ability to access the sea in a way that is not possible in any other waterfront area on Beirut’s waterfront. It contains a large urban park on the blast pond, which dares to respect the lives lost at that site, and, with more economic intentions, the fish market is relocated near the city center, where the Martyrs’ square meets the port, offering the possibility of easy access by both the population and the fishermen, with the creation of a fishing port to support the market.
The private area contains the essentials for the economic sector regarding imports and exports to continue to function, keeping in its program a container terminal, a truck parking lot, and an area for empty containers. It is also here that the energy line that runs through the city begins to be developed, starting with the electricity-producing building that uses the garbage collected throughout the city for incineration.
By giving part of the harbor to the city, a permeability that previously did not exist is created through surgical interventions in the city. Two main accesses are created, one being at Martyrs’ Square and the other through the Électricité du Liban building.
The access through the Martyrs’ Square is defined as a path along with the ruins present, starting near the mosque, using an already planned garden from the SOLIDERE (Garden of Forgiveness), then following to the Samir Kassir memorial or the Petit Serail, which will lead to the Martyrs’ Square, where the ruins are used to create space, giving way to squares, spaces of gathering, cafes, etc… where the space is used as people feel like it should be used. It’s here where the tram line starts to create a bridge which can be used by foot too, letting people cross the street that separates the Martyrs’ Square and the port, finally reaching the waterfront.
The other way of entering the port is through the Électricité du Liban building, which will be the administration of the port, due to its privileged location and being currently abandoned. The first floor of this building is permeable and contains a square that invites the inhabitants to access the port, being an open space in the middle of a historic street with a high density of buildings, the Armenian street. This entrance is intended to be seen as an extension of the public domain of the port into the city, containing: a commercial area, as it was intended to be in the initial design of the Électricité du Liban building; and green space, where the plateaux are worked in order to direct people to an underground passage, under the Charles Helou highway, which also has a connection with the tram that crosses the tunnel.
The memory of those who saw their lives taken by the explosion is addressed in the design of this memorial by leaving the area of the explosion as it is, representing not only religious and symbolic issues, but also brings into discussion the controversy of this issue in the country, by the fact that the remnants of human lives are at that site. The crater caused by the explosion draws emptiness, maintaining the symbolic memory of the site and representing the absence of happiness felt by loved ones. This crater space is closed with the streetcar line that forms, in its structure, a mural with the faces of those who lost their lives, eternalizing their memory through the work of local artists.
Facing the situation of the silos, it is understood that their structure is in slow decay, however, the symbol that this structure represents is taken into consideration. One of the park’s mounds is used to contain part of the silos’ structure, thus leaving the possibility for these to be revisited. Responding to both opinions, keeping part of the silos for those who want to visit them and not leaving them in open view for those who do not intend to remember the tragedy experienced.
The park is organized by the hills formed by residues from the explosion, which create different moments, from an amphitheater to leisure and sport spaces. The great role of this park will be to serve a city that lacks green spaces in its extension, turning a place that was the scene of a tragedy that took many lives, into a place for the community to live their lives in a more dignified way.

Technical information

The material of the building is undetermined because the aim of the project was to resolve problems in a bigger scale and the material was a less relevant asset to the concept

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