Emerging Trends in Urbanism: The Beirut Post-War Experience

An Essay on a presentation made by Robert Saliba to Diwan al-Mimar on April 20, 2000

Prepared by Mohammad al-Asad and Majd Musa in association with Robert Saliba, 2001




Saliba adds that generally it has been very difficult to successfully implement planning models in Beirut. To him, there has been a profound reluctance among Beirutis to accept planning models in the different periods of the city's modern history, a phenomenon that mainly can be attributed to the city's mercantile-sectarian underlying order. This has resulted in a situation of "planning chaos" in Beirut and also in Lebanon, and this difficulty in the implementation of planning rules and regulations in the specific socioeconomic context of Beirut is one of the issues that Saliba explored in this presentation.

 Addressing the Destruction of Beirut's Colonial Heritage
Saliba mentions that one of the most controversial aspects of recent planning developments in Beirut has been linked to the concentration of colonial era structures in Beirut's center. What is taking place is that buildings located in the periphery of Beirut's Central District, mainly those dating back to the colonial period, are being demolished and replaced with new developments. Those developments consist mainly of high rise structures that take advantage of the excessive built-up to lot area ratio permitted under the still applicable pre-war zoning regulations. The new developments are stimulated by the rise in the prices of land and real estate located in the periphery of the city's Central District, which can be attributed to the reconstruction of Beirut's Central Business District according to international standards. In response to the crisis of the continuing destruction of the city's colonial heritage, new reactions to the issue of conservation have evolved. Those reactions have included research projects and academic studies on the one hand, and practical approaches on the other. Since 1990, considerable urban and architectural historical research and surveys on colonial architecture and planning in Lebanon have been carried out. Saliba expects that this development will help integrate the colonial period into the Lebanese "national heritage," although he adds that there still is resistance to such integration.

 Traditional Planning - the Level of Neighborhood Planning
One of the practical reactions to the ongoing destruction of Beirut's colonial heritage has been the emergence of comprehensive planning studies being carried out - for the first time in Beirut - at a micro-scale, i.e. the urban neighborhood scale. Before 1990, planning studies in Beirut dealt with the city as a whole, and addressed the municipal and metropolitan scales. In 1990, Saliba and some of his colleagues started a series of studies on districts located at the periphery of the city center. Those studies were stimulated by the expected negative impact that the reconstruction of the center would have in terms of separating the center from the rest of the city.


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