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Public Life-Open Space

Part 2 Project 2002
George Bizios
Dariusz Sadowski
University of Toronto Toronto Canada
Unfinished War

My thesis examines the physical destructions of war, as it alters the understanding of public space; this shift in the perception of public space has lead to new ways of understanding the city. Specifically, I am focusing on how public space can be re-claimed and re-integrated into the understanding of a post-war Beirut.

I chose the souks of Beirut as the vehicle for examining public space for one specific reason. It is the same site that emphasized the notion of absence of publicness. The homogeneity and neutrality of the site had been replaced with a voided centre, a sublime reminder of 15 years of war. The notion of void transcends physical registrations and looks more closely to a collective amnesia that has left Beirut without an identity. The destruction of the souks and more importantly the public domain also meant the erasure of meaning associated with it. The site is thus transformed in its destruction into a ruin devoid of any previous meaning. I will focus on the reconstitution of public space back into Beirut’s urban fabric through four distinct and interrelated operations.

Firstly, to preserve the notion of void as a new layer to the understanding of publicness in post war Beirut. The idea of war is now understood as the intersection between the collective consciousness of the people of Beirut and the void. The reconstruction of the northern souks is duplicated in this negative space along with the idea of public domain.

The traditional vernacular of Lebanese architecture has always been rooted in the idea of landscape and architecture being one. There are three elements: nature, buildings and roads and their co-existence in flexible relationships.

Secondly, the reconciliation of the void as public space and programme as infrastructure will be through the examination of strata. The notion of fragmented territories / sub centres created during the war, are layered as masses of strata in order to create a language of homogeneity of publicness as one territory.
The idea of centre and periphery, inside and outside and figure/ground are erased. The city is understood as a continuous typology, a modulated urban topography.

Thirdly, to reintegrate the notion of street (as a layer of strata) back into the urban fabric in order to better understand the city as a continuous typology. The idea of street is one that is not a registered as a two dimensional surface that links differing spaces. Instead the idea of street is one that is understood as being three dimensional as it is continuous and an extension of the urban landscape.

The fourth part of my investigation looks into program of the site which will be a Cultural Centre as a focus for Public Life – Open Space. This program will serve to hold exhibitions, produce commercial/educative activities, and have open galleries and leisure areas. Unity is found in the continuous typology of the public space void and strata programme; as diversity is understood the cultivation of life that will come to inhabit the landscape.

George Bizios
Dariusz Sadowski

George's project is sited in the old commercial district of Beirut, the “Souks.” The site poses several challenges that are handled very successfully.

There is a great demand for open space in the congested fabric of Post-war Beirut. There is also a concomitant pressure for restoring the intense commercial and civic activities that animated the downtown core. George’s proposal combines program and open space in a kind of landscape/building. Urban density and open space are both accommodated in a hybrid structure that orchestrates complex patterns of movement and inhabitation into a seamless and unprecedented environment.

The old Souks are situated along the wartime demarcation line; they came to symbolize the devastation and contested territories of the Lebanese civil struggle. Reconstruction efforts here inevitably struggle with questions of identity and architectural representation. The problem of building iconography in institutional buildings is brilliantly handled in George’s project with neutral geological references substituting for a culturally encoded architectural language. The structure is shaped into a great landmass with tectonic articulations recalling characteristic features of a collectively venerated Lebanese landscape.

George’s project is indeed most impressive in its engagement with problems of identity and memory on such a politically and culturally charged site. Consider for instance the catacomb-like open space that collects on several levels the major traffic flows on the site. This is a room of Piranesian proportions and character. It is meant to preformatively facilitate the process of reconciliation and recovery by intensifying traffic across the old demarcation line and accommodating for large public gatherings. In its sublime quality it also holds the disquieting memory of the site’s terrible history.

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