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




 Modern Planning

The second period of Beirut's modern history, which brought another model of planning to Beirut, is that extending from about 1940 to 1975. This is the period to which Saliba refers to as that of "modern planning." Here, Saliba mentions three main events that illustrate the establishment of modern planning in Beirut.

 The Ecochard Plan
The first event is the Ecochard plan, which was devised in 1943, and is named after Michel Ecochard (1905 - 1985), the French architect and urban planner responsible for it. The plan reflected a "functional rationalist" approach to planning based on the functional zoning of different activities. Although that plan was never implemented, Saliba mentioned that it has had a considerable "intellectual impact" on the planning models that followed it. Interestingly enough, the Ecochard plan has had more of an impact on planning in Damascus than in Beirut. Ecochard promoted his plan as one where the "technical expert defends the public interests," and he worked against the principles of "liberal capitalism," which prevailed in Lebanon and Syria under the French Mandate. Ecochard wanted to concentrate the decision-making process in the hands of the state and the municipality. Another important issue that Ecochard plan presented was the establishment of a "regional perspective" for Beirut, for he believed that planning concepts for Beirut should fit within an overall regional vision. (9)

 The 1954 Plan
The 1954 plan was the second event of modern planning in Beirut. It was devised by a group of Lebanese planning experts, who took a different approach than that of the Ecochard plan. According to Saliba, the 1954 plan was the most damaging plan to Beirut because it was the outcome of the numerous pressures that were exerted on the planners by politicians, businessmen, and property owners. That plan included the upgrading of existing zoning regulations, and it defined the city as five concentric zones, which decrease in density as one moves away from the center. That plan, however, did not take into consideration Beirut as part of its larger context, an issue that the Ecochard plan had addressed and emphasized.

 The 1964 Plan
In 1964, a Greater Beirut Plan was adopted with the help of Ecochard, and has been mistakenly referred to as the "Ecochard plan." In fact, Ecochard withdrew from participating in this plan when it began to undergo modifications with which he did not agree. According to Saliba, the 1964 plan was important because of its encompassing definition of Beirut. That plan did not deal with municipal Beirut, as was the case of the 1954 plan, but addressed a "Greater Beirut."

The 1964 plan also established new legislation that allowed planning processes to be carried out by joint public-private real estate companies. In such a case, the government would establish the joint company and would own 25% of its shares, whereas the owners of the involved real estate properties would own the remaining 75% of the shares. The company would then be responsible for the preparation of a master plan for the area, as well as selling the resulting new development. This joint public-private approach to planning was then opposed by the owners of real estate properties, and therefore was not implemented. Interestingly enough, the Lebanese businessman and current prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri (10), has reestablished that legislation in the early 1990s - but gave it a different scope - so as to establish Solidere.


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