|image by Caroline Tabet of Theater of Beirut ground, mezzanine and first floor seating from stage|
Our insistence to remember the value of heritage and the built environment has impelled us to continue to question the reconstruction of the downtown area in Beirut. Recently images of the partial destruction of the grand theater in Beirut created a mass of rumors that resulted in nothing else but that. The recent demolition of a section of the Grand Theater complex was perceived by many as a prelude to the demolition of the entire building.
|image by Habib Battah of the back building on the same block as Grand Theater Beirut|
Solidere informed everyone that they are only removing parts that are not 'valuable', specifically the block attached to the theater, and will rebuild and so on. First let us establish that in such cases the government is accountable and not Solidere, a private company. Having said that I do not approve how and what the private company has established. Yet I think that we have over exhausted our rumors and need to publicly debate and critically evaluate heritage and reconstruction. Issues of ownership of heritage buildings need to be dealt with, and addressing questions such as :
|image by Caroline Tabet of Theater of Beirut from mezzanine looking towards the stage|
Who heritage is for?
Why and to whom is it significant ?
How do we decide what to preserve?
What and how do the tensions of global historic preservation agendas fostered by international donors affect the embeddedness of monuments in local historical and social contexts?
How much do public initiatives play a role in urban heritage and preservation?
How much of the recreation of the past in the present is a political act that we should avoid by integrating heritage preservation in the present and the future instead?
Do we preserve a building spatial production and program or its facade as a poster?
Do we preserve an urban quarter or just a building?
Most importantly what are the implications of such decisions on local and national economies?
We can start by discussing those questions so please feel free to comment and start the debate below.
In the case of the Grand Theater I have decided to start an investigation and publish both plans, sections, photos and parts of a movie that tackle the grand theater in Beirut.
Please find these below so that we can start discussing what and why and if the grand theater is valuable to us and understand how and what the grand Theater was and can be.
We can start by watching the 'Grand Theater: A Tale of Beirut' which is a 30 minute documentary film produced and directed by Omar Naim. The documentary actually has a very strong view about heritage and the importance of such structures as it examines the Lebanese civil war through the microcosm of the Grand Theater, a historic structure which found itself on the green line between East and West Beirut. It features interviews with various witnesses.
APPRECIATING WHAT EXISTED:
|the entrance of the grand theater source:unknown|
|from the mezzanine and the first floor looking at stage source:unknown|
|Shows mezzanine and floor 1 that has the projection room source:unknown|
|image by Habib Battah of the arcades outlined by shops that lead you to the main entrance of the theater|
The ground floor plans below, a result of a survey conducted post war, shows the two main entrances. One was to the theater and the other smaller lobby took you to the hotel/apartments. An arcade with shops also outline the street level of the building. It is clear that the building mixed public and more accessible programs successfully by providing multiple entrances. The first floor shows the private and public programs separated yet both functioning.
Below the surveyed plans show the second, third and fourth floor. Those floors only include the flyover the stage and the private hotel and apartment spaces. The ability for the centerpiece of the scheme - the original auditorium - to be employed for public use, while remaining integral to the hotel proposal should therefor be maintained in the future development of the Grand Theater building . This will ensure that the cultural significance of the building is not lost.
|2nd 3rd and fourth floors showing the private parts of the theater|
|section AA and section BB|
My take on the Grand Theaters future:
Until today, the economic value of urban cultural heritage is the predominant force in Beirut's preservation and reconstruction process. The socio-political and 'public' fabric of the city by contrast is undermined. This commercialized and globalized identity subordinates any other quality left in the urban fabric of Beirut and more specifically downtown.
The Grand Theater building which is a mixed use building that includes apartments, hotel rooms, shops and the theater itself is an outstanding example of the cultural production of Beirut in the 1930s which should be preserved as such. I am not against adding a floor to the hotel space, enlarging shops, improving acoustics.... but I am against the theater space existing as a space within the hotel lobby. If such spatial relations, as access, are altered we would have destroyed the socio-political identity of this specific building. This buildings multiple program, user groups, income groups, and spatial moments, should not become a tourist attraction or a consumerist product but a source of inspiration for generations to interact in.
What do you think? What of the building should be preserved?