Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Dream City

The medieval Beirut with the walls and gates

A utopian plan that was never implemented

the dream city

This is Beirut; a distance for the dream

and everybody marched towards the distant city;
in that city they lit a fire
and in that fire, they die
and in the fire, they fear
they write a story that starts where it is supposed to end
and that ends like it had never started

Elias Khoury "the city doors"

This is not a city
this is Beirut
a distance for the dream

slowness invades the city in the weekends
like the sea
little noises and lovely voids
a resting void
a waiting void
a postponed calamity
I patrol the empty streets alone
for the first time I notice the details of Beirut
this city is like a well
it gives life to life
and like a well it takes it away endlessly
this city craves for destruction
the image of its upcoming catastrophe is already here
... total devastation

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Beirut: A city to live through

Going there

Project proposal / March 2007

''The current revolution of interactive transmissions is

promoting an alteration of urban

environment. "Images" win over the "things" they are said to represent:

the city of the past slowly becomes a paradoxical agglomeration in which relations of immediate

proximity give way to interrelations over distances.”

Paul Virilio, “The third interval: a critical transition in re-thinking technologies

Beirut today is undergoing a brutal spatial alternation instigated by political and sectarian motives, discernible in mass demonstrations and public upheaval. The city has failed, during the so-called ‘period of peace’ or the Lebanese ‘cold war’ which began in 1992 as the cold war ended, to create for itself a certain logic of sane mobility that was partially due to a collective behavior of hasty and disconnected transportation patterns. The false, spurious interactivity of the city is a commotion marked by a sense of disorientation and catastrophic ruptures that have led to fragmented, demographic control-zones.

This crippled mobility and ever-present civil war memories were the ground for various ‘insane’ social behaviors. The demography of the city and its suburbs is moving ever more towards cleansed, social subgroups creating closed, sect-pure, geographic entities around diverse ‘center/s’ of the city, with public spaces becoming hard to find. New power oases have emerged around the city and signs of clashes are rising on the surface.

This situation has manifested itself in several violent incidents: The first was a demonstration against the Danish embassy on Feb 5th 2006, which is situated in Ashrafieh, a ‘Christian’ area of Beirut. This incident proved an indicator of the level of congestion that lies beneath the surface, especially as extremist ‘Sunnis’ violently destroyed public and private property. Another incident occurred three months later. On May 3rd 2006, ‘Shiite’ groups demonstrated in the same area against the poking fun at, or so-called humiliation, of the Hizbollah leader, Nasrallah, on a local TV show. Two subsequent incidents, on Jan 23rd and 25th 2007, took place in the form of clashes between the supporters of the ‘opposition’, among which were ‘Shiites’ and ‘Maronite Christians’, and the ‘loyalists’ composed mainly of ‘Sunnis’ and other political arms of the ‘Maronite Christian’ sect. These violent incidents occurred mostly in suburban areas, both Christian and Muslim, and escalated around the country before they edged towards the fringes of the city, and then the center.

Karen Piper wrote in “Cartographic Fictions”, “… the history of cartography has been a history of coding the enemy, making a ‘them’ and ‘us’ that can be defined with a clear border. It has been a history of pushing ‘them’ out of territory that is considered ‘ours’ denying their existence, deleting their maps, drawing lines in the sand. But the enemy has always been us, and so the project has been destined to fail, forced to reinvent itself again and again in search of better and more elaborate methods of detection”. Based on this ‘cartographic’ understanding, the project will attempt to re-map Beirut city – a social cartographic process to understand the complexity of the city, a trial to claim some of the public sphere.

I will be using directional maps of the type usually found on brochures and flyers in the purpose of re-constructing the city from fragments. These maps are a metaphor of a mandatory need of the Beiruties to be guided in their own city, the need for a preset and defined trajectory in the maze of different territories. The project will focus on the gaps that remain between the fragments in a way to fit the incidents mentioned previously within those gaps, along with other fictional stories, which narrate the city from within such blank areas of a lost public space; A trial not to represent the city as such, but to stress the impossibility of representation or as Tony Chakar wrote “… a representation of Beirut that takes into account the complexity of the city and, hopefully, that would point out the impossibility of taking a 'snapshot' of it, or of dwelling in it. Beirut – or at least some of it – transforms its citizens into permanent tourists, into urban nomadic masses that are always ready to perform in a spectacle that is yet to see the light. The status of performing tourists makes dwelling impossiblewhy did they choose to float (…)? The answer might seem simple, but it isn't: it was the war. But not the violence of the war, rather the war as a symbol of a world coming to an end and the beginning of a new era”.

The project will act as a historical timeline of the city simulating a parallel narration of the societal based on a Frankensteinist collection of events, incidents and fictional stories. Visually, it will appear as a complex labyrinth of connected/disrupted groups of directional maps and insane trajectories that might, or might not, ‘direct’ to pre-defined places were time and distances overlap to produce a complex urban vernacular.

Beirut displaced

Dekwaneh in Ras Beirut

Moving a fragment of the suburbs into one of the centralities of Ras Beirut

Death is a bird’s eye

that hovers the sky of the city

It got devoured by the traffic, the congested alleys

and the sealed tall buildings

oh Lord, grant us another day to obliterate life

only few hours Lord

كنا صغارا أنا وأخي في العام 1982 عندما اجتاحت القوات الإسرائيلية بيروت. خرجنا إلى الشارع بعد أن هدأت أصوات النار. رأينا أكواما كبيرة من النفايات، ورأينا الجنود في كل مكان، على الأرصفة ممددين. كانوا صغارا في السن، وهيأ لنا Align Rightأنهم ضعاف... كيف تمكنوا منAlign Right دخول المدينة؟ رأينا أعلاما بيضاء مرفوعة وسط شارع كراكاس، غضب أخي ونزع الأعلام ورماها أرضا ووقفنا نتفرج على دبابة ميركافا متوقفة أمام كنتكي على الروشة. طلب منا الجنود أن نبتعد قليلا ونسد أذنينا. وبدأوا القصف باتجاه كورنيش المزرعة، منطقة جامع عبد الناصر

Beirut Metro Map

I created a fictional Metro map for an underground network lines in Beirut to add another virtual layer to the psychological and physical labyrinth of the city, focusing on the ever-present demarcation lines that were splitting Beirut during the long period of the civil war, and its relation to the social environment in post-war Beirut.

The circulation flow is illogical and irrelevant to the geographical urban structure of the city, in a way that all the metro lines will stop at the old demarcation lines, and passengers will have to change to another line in order for them to cross to the other side. Still up until now people taking ‘service’ cab have to take another cab on the old ‘crossings’ to continue to the other side, the driver on the west side of Beirut will not go to the east side and vice versa, even the buses have their major stops on the old crossing points of the old green zone.

Beirut is passing through a situation of ending a phase and waiting on the steps of another, while still passing through a reconstruction period, living a utopian dream of prosperity that is yet to come. The post-war Beirut is marked by a feeling of emptiness, uncertainties and insecurities, and has undergo some abrupt changes, it is becoming a new urban space where the spatial intersect with the social and where flexibility and mobility become key qualities; new spatial orders with a transnational range are being superimposed on the familiar territorial lines. When the city itself becomes a transit place, in a transitional phase waiting in the void, on the edge of another era, it becomes a ‘non-place’.

The new architecture of non-places consist of spatial flows, movement and transitional zones, where the physical body fails to cope with the new urban vernacular, as Bilal Khbeiz wrote in his book ‘globalization and the manufacture of transient events’: “…absenting the physical body, effacing the face to dissimilate in a virtual existence behind a reconstructed image. (…) With globalization the body fails to cope with the imagination, and is quickly expelled and replaced by another body made of the imagined and the fantasized”, as such the non-place imposes itself on the inhabitant of the city leading to a collective behavior of abrupt mobility.

This map is conceived by Hassan Choubassi /

Produced by: The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan, in conjunction with Home Works III: A Forum on Cultural Practices /

A project within DasArts study program, Block 20, Amsterdam /

Bchara ElKhoury/ Sodeco

To go from Beirut theater to Sassine square take Metro line W2 in the direction of Saida, stop at Bchara ElKhoury. A police officer was shot by a sniper; he survived after being left for hours before anybody could take care of him. Walk the way to Sodeco line E5 in the direction of Tripoli and go out at Sassine. The internal security investigation reported that the sniper was taking position on a building in Bachoura and he probably belongs to the “Palestinian Liberation Army”.

Khandaq Gamiq/Monnot

To go from Clemenceau to Monnot, take Metro line W3 from the central Bank in the direction of the Airport, stop at Khandaq Gamiq. Mustapha Hamoud drove his pickup truck heading to Ashrafieh in the intention to smuggle back benzene to the other side of the city. Walk the way to Monnot line E1. He was stopped on a “Lebanese forces” checkpoint, and was arrested, he never came back.


To go from Sioufi to Café Rawda in Manara, take Metro line E2 in the direction of Electricity, step out at Tabaris. Nadim Chablak and his family were forced to turn back while trying to reach their home on the other side of the city. Walk the way to Ring line W3 in the direction of Rawda the end of the line. They had to send their christian friend Emile Sfeir to get their stuff from their occupied house and bring it over to their new house that they had occupied on their new side of the city, where they presumably belong.


To go from UL Fine Arts II to Bareometer in Hamra region; take Metro line E1 in the direction of Charles Helou-Port until you reach the Hippodrome. Jamila Haboush crossed to west Beirut, through the Museum crossing point, to collect the body of her husband the taxi driver who was killed while driving some people to the airport on the other side of the city. You have to walk the way to Barbir line W2 in the direction of the Light House and go out at Barometer after 10 stops. She walked the length of the hippodrome in the shades of the pine trees It was a beautiful hot sunny day.

Chiyah/Ain Rommaneh

To go from Gallery Semaan to the Arab University, take Metro line E1 in the direction of Charles Helou-Port, step out at Ain Rommaneh. Hisham Shamess Eddine encountered, with a bunch of his friends, Joseph Tayar and his group. Walk the way to Chiyah line W2 in the direction of the Light House. Both groups were playing war in the no-man’s land near their houses taking the real barricades as their playground. Step out at Barbir and take line W1 in the direction of Nahda Staduim, next stop is the Arab University. They started a stone throwing fight that lasted for few hours, nobody was injured.

Ras En Nabeh/USJ

To go from Furn Ech Chebek to Basta take line E3 in the direction of Karantina- Masslakh. Tanios Farah was trying to take a shortcut escaping the traffic at the Lycee Français. Step out at the Museum stop and take line E1 in the direction of Charles Helou-Port. He found himself intruding a street in Ras En Nabeh, the martyr’s pictures on the walls were so much different. Step out at USJ and walk the way to Ras En Nabeh line W2 in the direction of the Light House, next stop is Basta. Unrecognized, he drove back to USJ.


To go from St. George to the Port take Metro line W2 in the direction of Saida. The An-nahar photographer George Khoury walked all the way from Zokak ElBlatt to Saifi. Stop at the Grand Serail and walk long the way to Gemmayezh. Passing by the devastated Martyrs square, taking pictures of the destructed buildings and deserted streets. Take line E1 in the direction of Charles Helou-Port the end of the line. He survived a land mine that had almost taken his life; he lost both his legs in that accident.


To go from Modca in Hamra to Sassine in Ashrafieh take Metro line W3 in the direction of the Airport. The Lebanese resistance fighter Adnan Kheshen was standing on the Domtex corner trying to ambush an upcoming Israeli tank with his RBJ missile launcher. Stop at the Ring and walk the way to Tabaris line E2 in the direction to Beit Meri. The tank passed in Makdessi Street near the British Bank and shut him from behind. Step out after 2 stops at Sassine. For 3 seconds he realized that he was going to die, for 3 seconds he experienced life while passing away.