Walking around Hamra today and seeing the new and under construction building stock I feel that we have already lost the social and economic heterogeneity in Hamra. Today the building stock is made up 220 to 350m2 net areas for each apartment. In addition each ‘high-end' apartment has its own core (elevator + staircase). The building law has set up through its formulas of allowable net and gross areas a homogeneous building stock for what used to be one of the most diverse areas in Beirut.
|Original image taken as part of a research project in AUB 2003 with BASTA|
The flowing is a snapshot of a mixed tenure building in Beirut.
X star narrative:
X star is nicknamed "بناية الأشباح “ , the ghosts building". There is a rumor that the walls speak and talk about the fleeting partitions, gazes, and the eroticism of friction, movement, proximity, contact, suspicion, and an attempt at obliviousness.
The three by three meter grid on the facade produced by the generic balconies and vertical concrete partitions entice the passer by with voyeuristic gazes from the semi transparent balcony doors. Different intensities of light, saturation of color, transparency, amount of laundry, and exhibited utilitarian objects, fragment the screen and hint at the invisible affairs of the separated partitions. The ephemeral is the myth of the building.
|It is illegal to rent a room for less than a month. Yet that can happen. Prices may range from hour, day, month|
Its assembly has been composed due to the economic, political, and contextual pressures of Ain Al Mressieh, which had introduced the diverse users in one space. The context allows the ability for different users to exist with close proximity to each other, while still maintaining the capacity to define themselves, and shape their routine and movement; not only in reaction to the 'other' but also in relation to their existing habits. This makes the assemblage unique. Proximity does not enforce contact; and the characters traits create specific perceptions of their spaces in which they move around and engulf or are engulfed by them. The building seems to house misplaced individuals, all with different backgrounds, that occupy the space on the margins of the center. Fragments of contradictions, produce within the building a set of momentary veins (relationships), pulsing with emotions and reactions intoxicated by the constant redefinition of the 'other'.
|Original image taken as part of a research project in AUB 2003 with BASTA|
In the romanticizing of the building that encompasses and defies boundaries and zones that separate user groups, I find myself having introduced my fascination and intrigue with the social relationships produced. This de-zoning of the space functions with user groups that discriminate against each other, but through a continuous negotiation of space, and fluidity of experiences, continue to live within the same building.
Living within a city that used to allow this mix to occur, I find that the utilization of this phenomenon is a missed opportunity. At no point am I suggesting that this mix will enforce any type of relationship, but rather I do the opposite in highlighting my interest in how proximity will not impose connection. None the less I recognize that it injects the chance of an encounter.
As an architect who has appreciated the observation of mixed tenure in one building, while they all maintain their own lives, intersecting and disconnecting accordingly, I realize that planning policies and building law need to find a way to encourage mixed use and economy to occur.
It is important to indulge with the documentation of such relationships introduced within the space of the building and to understand the building through their words. I will represent six occupants, that attempt to make home in a space they do not feel attached to.
ALL THE FOLLOWING NARRATIVES ARE BASED ON INTERVIEWS HELD IN 2005 FOR MY UNPUBLISHED BARCH THESIS. ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED.
The doorman, an illegal migrant worker from Egypt, called H, lives on the 1st floor of the building and has a small office in the entrance. H states that he is the man in power as he watches and questions everyone walking in and out of the building. He holds the keys to all the rooms, and will take you around. His job encompasses all legal work needed for the rental process, and if they don't exist, well, he smiles and invites you into his office.
His working habits have been readjusted and formed according to the desires of his paying clients. "It is busy here at night and I need more control than during the day. Sometime I have my walks in the corridor at odd hours, like noon ... One needs to know how and where to position ones self, sometimes to show others that you are watching, and sometimes not to. Watching here can never be boring someone is always doing something."
The single woman on the first floor, D, says she is a prostitute. There was no need to knock on the door as it was half open. You could peak in; the colors were so strong, that the second you reach the corridor, the enticement is so powerful, as if she invites the voyeur.
She calls me in but I remain outside. She explains that I can look at her house and pick where I want to be seated. Her 5m by 5m apartment is divided into parts. The 1st part is where she entertains the visitors, and where I can choose to sit; the other space is a room divided from the entrance by a curtain with a bed. She entertains 'others' there. When she is bored she takes her walks, and causes some disorder or gets some work.
"The building to me is just my room and the corridors are part of the street. I wouldn't mind if the others come and visit, but the women are scared for their husbands and kids". The wood piece at the door is to stop the kids from trying to sneak in, "what's forbidden is desired'" she says with a loud and vulgar laugh. "Look at him standing out waiting I have to pass by so many of these useless walls to get to my door.'"
L the Migrant Family
The family, a migrant Guanine/Philippine women, who is married to an Egyptian man, with two children, occupy a room within the building. She is reduced, because of her nationality, to clean households. She says her furnished apartment building corridors are no place for a family to be a part off, they have been ignored and they ignore.
In a desperate attempt to belong somewhere L has turned her house into a shrine where the walls have disappeared behind religious symbols and signs. The house contains about two hundred statues of saints, in different sizes, some with traces of deterioration yet extremely clean.
The walls of L and her family seem to be the only attachment they have managed to construct and she belongs between them.
P The pimp:
The businessman’s room is nothing like the others. Newly painted and well designed, to accommodate a high income standard of furnishing partitions and objects. A color palette of strong red and seductive paintings makes the space suspicious. He sits with a sly smile, and this time H enters, and sits too. He says 'I live here because I love it; the greatest writers lived in slums. I had office in another building but it's easier to work from here. I help get some women living here money and I manage a few of the 'bars'. I am well located.
W the owner/ alcoholic
Mr. W is the owner's brother. He occupies the last floor. He moves from the corridor to his bed. He is an alcoholic and everyone says that he was married to Miss France. When she dumped him he became depressed and nearly drinks himself to death everyday.
"He is helpless on the last floor it's like he is imprisoned up there. He might be trying to escape. Sometimes we see really well dressed men come to visit…he was a big shot."
Nobody lives on the last floor…no one will rent a room up there he occupies the circulation space.
The Transient: rents for an hour or day
H, the doorman says, "These are the rooms we rent for a short period of time. We are not allowed to rent the rooms for a period less than a month by law…. Each of the people in control in the building and area have their clients and connections…sometimes we rent for less….we provide bed, bed sheet closet soap and a towel.....the empty rooms are located on specific floors… you know people coming in for short periods of time do not connect with the building. they make a lot of noise and since they will not live here they don't care about the neighbors…sometimes in a hurry they don't close the doors! We've had some problems."
Questioning the case:
The building houses their lives and its de-zoning and large corridors allow and encourage them to continuously negotiate with each other, recognize each other yet not necessarily accept each other. Relationships are made not all necessarily healthy yet full of potential .
Research has highlighted several benefits to mixed tenure that results in such buildings. The benefits include changing the perception and image of an area, changing the approach to the quality of access to services and avoiding postcode discrimination. In addition there is this assumption that the mix will add potential for networking and employment opportunities.
Yet can we enforce such mixed tenure?
The purposefully planned:
The notions of engineered society exist if mixed tenure is to be adopted as a policy. Yet, the policy does increase the frequency in contact which can facilitate interaction and the building of relations and social support between people from different income groups. It also blurs the “us and them” conception. Shared public spaces and the need to maintain them, plus neighborhood problems might require building groups to meet. This requires the use of shared gardens stairways and car parks to provide this contact and promote interaction.
Is there more tolerance to social difference due to tenure mix?
The observations readings and research including site visits to varying neighborhoods in London, were this policy is adopted, made it clear that ‘social mix’ may reproduce the social exclusivity, deprivation and discrimination due to the geographic proximity of extremes.
It seems that the situation on the ground is very unclear and contradictory to the aims of the provision of affordable housing through social mix in the case of London.
Imagine Mixed Tenure in Beirut
Imagine how these ideals could have played in the space of very exclusive neighborhoods through the reconstruction process in Beirut?
As a result, within the city of Beirut social mix might require more than just the mix of tenure and income groups which partially already exists. According to graham Hindes (2008,southwark London walk), chief executive of Octavia housing and Care in the UK, different family make-ups have been purposefully mixed in housing compounds to avoid a building filled with kids or single mothers !
In this case of Beirut that would then mean policies that would encourage mixed religious or political affiliations?!
Could this policy become operational on other identifiable characteristics besides income group or will we end up engineering another exclusionary society? Is dividing people 'alike' strengthening or weakening them? The thought is scary ...
Do you think we should encourage a mixed tenure policy for Beirut based on income?
The research on the building is part of my undergraduate thesis in fulfillment of my BArch
Photos of building are by a group of students which I was a part of named BASTA unless otherwise indicated
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