Architecture, Archaeology and Beirut: A Scenario for a Dialogue - Antoine Atallah's Final Project at AUB-2011

Type: Graduation project - Cultural
Architect: Antoine Atallah

Architecture, Archaeology and Beirut: A Scenario for a Dialogue by Antoine Atallah at the American University of Beirut, 2011. Images and text are provided by the architect

The aim of this project is to present an alternative dialogue between an archaeological landscape, the city that surrounds it and an architectural intervention that needs to happen in its midst.

The site is located in Downtown Beirut; north of Martyrs’ Square, on the archaeological tell. It has many layers of occupation which were differentially and selectively revealed by different excavations. As a result, the site became a fragmented landscape, punctuated by many deep voids containing a variety of archaeological remain such as Phoenician fortification and roads, Hellenistic houses, the tower and walls of a medieval castle or Ottoman pavements. The site is surrounded on three sides by wide highways which prevent infiltration, and is adjacent to large parking areas from which few people choose to enter.
Even though it is sided by the pedestrian Foch-Allenby district, the archaeological tell is in a state of disuse and total abandonment. It is currently dead and is, in the words of Aldo Rossi, in a state of “Pathological Permanence”: its archaeology constitutes remains of the past which are disconnected from the city and its dwellers, whose site is not practiced and thus does not exist on the map of Beirut’s urban practices.
The architecture that is introduced will bring it to a state of “propelling permanence” that is inviting to the people of Beirut and will turn it into a platform for urban practices and habits to be inscribed within it, bringing it back to life and adding a new layer of occupation and practice to its palimpsest of historical layers. This project refuses a strategy which would objectify the historical remains, would turn them into elements to gaze upon, with which no direct relation is permitted. Instead, people will be brought among the ruins, allowed to approach them as they randomly stroll or practice an activity from the several functions that will be introduced in the landscape. It is through experience and discovery, in close contact with the ruins, within the depth of its voids, that visitors will start building a story.
A variety of functions is introduced, to make the site alive with different user groups and across several usage patterns. The choice of functions is made in relation to past and present functions of the area.
The performance hall is thought as a new space of spectacle that replaces the destroyed Rivoli Cinema. The entertainment venue is in continuity with the surrounding bars and nightclubs while being in counterpoint to the crematorium, itself a memory of the cemetery which previously existed and that reminds of the fragility of life in an area dominated by consumerism. A truncated Phoenician road becomes again a track to the library, connecting it to the existing streets while the base of a destroyed medieval tower carries observation platforms. A museum, market and NGO centre all complete this scenario.
These functions are placed strategically across the landscape, in the spaces between the voids, which become all interconnected through the architecture, forming a continuous network of circulation, a labyrinth that needs to be discovered. These are furthermore built mostly underground, to connect with the bottom of the voids, creating an underground city whose expression on ground level is only made of abstract gestures which hint at, but hide what is happening below. Furthermore, a park and underground parking are introduced, acting as buffers between the highways and the archaeological tell. The park will attract people for random leisure and for activities such as concerts, markets or festivals. The large parking will serve both the functions of the site and the entire downtown area which can then only be reached by crossing the tell. The park and parking will thus gather people before spreading them into the archaeological landscape. The surface of the park, flat and planted with groves of trees, contrasts with the fractured and barren terrain of the tell, but merges with it through sets of ramps and stairs. This appendage, along with the many access points that face the pedestrian streets of the Foch-Allenby district, all become flow directing elements that will animate the landscape, that will activate the labyrinth and the architecture that are imbedded within it.

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