We Need a Smarter Conversation About Preserving Lebanese Architecture
(Gondol building. A remarkable landmark that Lebanon has lost forever. Photo credit: Beirut the Fantastic)
Sandra Rishani didn’t quite say this, but there’s a certain vulgarity in the way Lebanese preservation activists are choosing which old Lebanese structures deserve to be protected:
How do we define historic preservation? Is it everything that’s over 80 years old regardless of their spatial and or historical qualities?
In her blog post about the issue, typical in breadth and scope to her exposés, the Beirut architect makes a wonderful comparison to the current Lebanese debate about the history book:
If the public does not define ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ it wants to preserve an edifice, the history of our cities will become like our history books- they stop at Independence Day.
Other architects have weighed in on the issue before. That’s because anyone who knows his or her history of Architecture will understand why there’s a frustration with Lebanon’s current generation of preservation activists, activists who focus uniquely on very old architecture and ignore the gems produced by more contemporary movements.
To understand this frustration, imagine an effort to preserve the world’s music heritage because for some reason the world’s music is being threatened. How would you feel if that effort only included classical music of the great masters (Beethoven, Bach, Chopin..etc) and ignored every other genre? Rock, Reggae, Jazz, Pop, funk, World, Alternative, Country.. All these “contemporary” genres would be deemed unimportant and passed over, doomed to eternal oblivion. This is how it feels today in Lebanon with the preservation activism.
In a way, this is indicative of a larger Lebanese problem. The fact that what unites the Lebanese always seems to be related to very old history, a history that is more nostalgia than substance. Roman Architecture, Phoenician alphabets, prehistoric geological formations, these are the things we’re all proud off. It is truly worth pondering why we don’t care as much about more recent achievements…