Executive Magazine - - Executive Life - Words by Olga Habre

one thinks of ar­chi­tec­ture as the de­sign of build­ings, which, of course, it is. But an o en over­looked part of an ar­chi­tect’s job is con­sid­er­ing the space be­tween build­ings, and the land on which struc­tures are built, not just in terms of ur­ban plan­ning, but go­ing be­yond that to ge­og­ra­phy.

Le­banon was once a lush green land, with vast veg­e­ta­tion thanks to its many rivers and un­der­ground springs. To­day, hu­man set­tle­ments are eat­ing away at na­ture, and the lack of reg­u­la­tion, poor en­force­ment of what does ex­ist, and ap­a­thy to­ward the con­se­quences means that Le­banon’s en­vi­ron­ment and fu­ture is slowly be­ing de­stroyed.

Pre­serv­ing what re­mains is the sub­ject of the project that is be­ing ex­hib­ited at the rst-ever Le­banese na­tional pavil­ion at La Bi­en­nale di Venezia for ar­chi­tec­ture in the past, Le­banon has had na­tional pavil­ions in the Bi­en­nale’s art expo . The pres­ti­gious annu- al in­ter­na­tional event is in its 16th edi­tion, and will be run­ning from May 2 to Novem­ber 26 in Venice, Italy.

The theme of this year’s Bi­en­nale is “Freespace,” with Le­banon’s ar­chi­tec­tural project en­ti­tled, “The Place that Re­mains.” Le­banese ar­chi­tect and pro­fes­sor of ar­chi­tec­ture at the Le­banese Amer­i­can Univer­sity, Hala ounes, is cu­rat­ing the pavil­lion, a er tak­ing the ini­tia­tive to ap­proach the Le­banese Min­istry of Cul­ture to pro­pose Le­banon’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. She has worked with a team of ar­chi­tects, pho­tog­ra­phers, academics, and ex­perts, along­side the Direc­torate of Geo­graphic A airs of the Le­banese Army, to cre­ate the work dis­played in Le­banon’s ex­hi­bi­tion.

ounes ar­gues that the ideas ex­plored in the ar­chi­tec­tural project should be of na­tional pri­or­ity. She ex­plains, “Le­banon is be­ing de­stroyed with need­less roads, need­less build­ings, need­less quar­ries, ma­chines carv­ing moun­tains. We don’t rec­og­nize the coun­try an-

ymore, we don’t have any place to re­late to, and we’re re­ally eras­ing all the as­sets that we have.” The ex­hi­bi­tion aims to show not the ac­tual ar­chi­tec­ture but what is be­yond, or rather, be­neath it, and thus raise aware­ness of the dan­gers erod­ing the coun­try’s nat­u­ral her­itage and iden­tify what still re­mains of Le­banon to stop fur­ther de­struc­tion. “Her­itage is not just in build­ings but also in land­scapes,” she says.

The pavil­ion con­sists of var­i­ous sec­tions. In one part of the space there is a large-scale wooden 3D model of the wa­ter­shed of the Beirut River mean­ing not just the area im­me­di­ately around the river but the en­tire val­ley and moun­tains on both sides . Archival ae­rial pho­tos of the area from 1956 are pro­jected on the model to show what Le­banon looked like back then. This is con­trasted with re­cent pho­tos of the same area, also taken from a bird’s eye view.

An­other part of the space show­cases the work of six pho­tog­ra­phers from Le­banon who were asked to cap­ture the re­gion, as well as his­tor­i­cal pho­tos gath­ered from di er­ent col­lec­tions. The project also in­cludes 25 sci­enti c pa­pers from ex­perts study­ing var­i­ous sub­jects in­clud­ing ru­ral aban­don­ment, the ex­pan­sion of the con­tem­po­rary city, land­scape as her­itage, pub­lic spaces, and con­struc­tion law.

Though these kinds of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns are a world­wide prob­lem, ounes says it’s acute in Le­banon partly be­cause it is “a very dense coun­try and most of the land is build­able.” The ques­tion of why Le­banon is be­ing de­stroyed is not just an aes­thetic or artis­tic one but also very much po­lit­i­cal. ounes says the sub­jects of ar­chi­tec­ture, build­ing, and ur­ban plan­ning pose cru­cial po­lit­i­cal and so­ci­o­log­i­cal ques­tions. “We have to ad­dress the con­di­tion of ar­chi­tec­ture. Not just de­sign, but man­ag­ing to have build­ings re­lated to their en­vi­ron­ment,” she ex­plains, adding that this means we need to fo­cus on that en­vi­ron­ment: “We need the ground be­cause it’s the con­di­tion of our liv­ing.”

The Beirut River wa­ter­shed was cho­sen be­cause of the signi cance of wa­ter re­sources to the land. Ad­di­tion­ally, it’s home to the Metn forest, which is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from Beirut and o ers a break from city life in na­ture.

Her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence as a pro­fes­sor is what has her fear­ing for the fu­ture. “I see the ref­er­ences of my stu­dents and what’s in their minds. I have a very hard time get­ting stu­dents to re­ally do a very thor­ough anal­y­sis of a site be­fore build­ing it. They are go­ing to build to­mor­row and it’s a cul­ture that has to change,” she says.

That said, the geo­graphic re­al­ity of Le­banon is not as bleak as it might seem. ounes, at least, is rel­a­tively hope­ful: “Le­banon is a beau­ti­ful coun­try. What we are try­ing to say is that al­though a lot of spaces have been ru­ined, we still have po­ten­tial. A lot of spaces de­serve to be pro­tected so let’s not aban­don those.”

Right: ART_ar­chit_ Prepara­tory sketch, Pro­jec­tion, 2018, ©Hala Younes

Above: ART_ar­chit_ Per­spec­tive View of the Le­banese Pavil­ion, © Hala Younes

Above: ART_ar­chit_Prepara­tory Sketch, Beirut River wa­ter­shed, 2018, ©Hala Younes

Right: ART_ar­chit_Cather­ine Cat­taruzza, The thin lines be­tween the river and me, 2018, cour­tesy of the artist

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