A Phoenix No More: Rehabilitation After the Beirut Blast

A Phoenix No More: Rehabilitation After the Beirut Blast

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The explosion of over 2,500 metric tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020 immediately displaced over 300,000 people. It comes in the wake of a global pandemic and national economic crisis that has devalued the Lebanese Lira by as much as 85%. Historic neighborhoods damaged by the blast such as Mar Mikhael and Geitawi have since been favored by opportunistic investors looking to buy up prime real estate at the lowest possible price. Having already been at the mercy of intense gentrification for years, the invitation of new, large-scale projects threaten to both oust local tenants reliant on old rent agreements and demolish heritage buildings in favor of commercially profitable design.

The earliest rehabilitation efforts conducted so far have been largely grassroots initiatives aimed at fundraising and assessing and documenting damages. Beyond that, much is uncertain about the future of these neighborhoods. A collective rejection of the existing narratives of pride and resiliency that politicians draw on to offset unrest – most famously, Beirut as a phoenix rising from the ashes – will need to be overhauled in the process of reconstruction. Designers are thus also tasked with creating a new, forward looking narrative that can both unite and answer to the demands of a sorely disillusioned public.

This paper seeks to trace early manifestations of these efforts as they unfold across Beirut post-blast. It draws on grassroots initiatives and independent reporting to track the interplay of foreign and local actors in reshaping the city. The aftermath of the city’s past conflict is dissected both architecturally and narratively to propose approaches to rehabilitation that are not similarly founded in permanent forced displacement. It draws on an extensive body of literature detailing the inextricable link between the city’s urban form and tourism and builds on urban theory put forth by architects Mona Fawaz, Robert Saliba, and Howayda al Harithy.

Corresponding Author

Meriam Soltan

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Meriam Soltan

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Preferred Track

7. Urban competitiveness and social challenges

Second Preferred Track

6. Urban policies