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Voices from Shatila: Dissecting the Urban Apparatus of Beirut’s Southern Suburbs

Part 2 Dissertation 2008
Stefanos Gkougkoustamos
University of Greenwich | UK
Through personal observations, testimonials and interviews, the essay documents the place of residence of the Palestinian refugees of Beirut’s southern suburbs, and identifies those political and participatory relations that make of them a city – a polis.

The documentary representation has as its starting point the context of the city of Beirut, a field of convulsions surrounding the southern suburbs, and the camps established both inside and around the city. Those camps have produced a new “city” in Beirut’s periphery that constantly grows and extends towards every available space, without rules or boundaries. This construction is the result of both war and indifference, or decline of each government; it is a developing city inside Beirut’s metropolitan area that neglects urban planning and order, and has based its “sustenance” on the eternal expansion of its inhabitant populations and its urban fabric.

The investigation following the observations and documentation, cuts a section through the Palestinian community (refugees), drawing the line of their nomadic movement in the urban context of the city, or the disorientation of their course by the different “forces” of this region, which both lead them in one way or another to the Shatila refugee camp - a location, or the ending point of the line, that lies in the field of Beirut’s periphery.

Finally, the observation of the framework of the Palestinian refugee camps, set on the borders of both the natural and the cultural scene of southern Beirut, and more specifically the exploration of the refugee camp of Shatila, reveals the total lack of all those visible and invisible elements that denote the quality of Architecture.

The paper is an attempt to identify this space through the spectrum of its social body, which, based not only on blood ties or on the temporary “power” – physical or social – that regulates its relations, transforms this settlement into a “city” inside the City fabric.

Stefanos Gkougkoustamos

This work combines a solid historical account of the refugee camps of Beirut – based on archival research and site interviews - with a daring first-hand exploration of the sites, visited in January 2008 in the company of a professional photo-reporter whose images provide a visual counterpoint to the text. The narrative intentionally refrains from the personal tone of the interview or the travel journal, and remains dry and matter-of-fact to focus on the spatial and architectural aspects of the Shatila camp, proving by contrast that architecture and urbanism are indeed inextricably linked to life, politics, violence, inhabitation, memory.

Dr Teresa Stoppani
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