No. 31 . 20 December 2000 
ArchitectureWeek
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Rebuilding Central Beirut

by Victor A. Khoueiry

For five millennia, Beirut, Lebanon has been evolving in response to the diverse cultures of its visitors and its invaders. Embedded in its urban fabric is a tradition of the dominant culture asserting its authority through spatial transformation.

Now reconstruction is underway in the aftermath of the civil-regional war of 1975-1990, but there is no peace among those debating how reconstruction should proceed.

Should Beirut replace its old fabric with a new one? Should it conserve some old elements? And if so, which ones? Should rebuilding be true to the original, or would such "non-transformation" of buildings risk a transformation of social relationships?

Prewar Beirut

The site of the Beirut Central District (BCD) has been continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years. Civilizations ranging from the Canaanite to the Ottoman, have left their mark on an ever-growing, culturally rich and sophisticated city.

Beirut's maritime trading dates back to the Phoenicians; its cultural tradition, to the celebrated Roman law school. The Ottomans developed its architectural style, and the French consecrated it as the seat for government institutions.

After gaining independence in 1943, Lebanon became a service country, thanks to its educated population and liberal political and economic system. Beirut became a regional focus for commerce, business, finance, and tourism. Then the economic boom was brutally interrupted by war.  

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