Monday, December 11, 2006


Two projects I’d like to bring to your attention taking their cue from the context of post-destructed Beirut: Unbuilt & Unrentable.

is a collaboration with Archis, Partizan Publik and Pearl, and from what I have gathered, different crews in Amsterdam and Beirut. Their aim is to help re-imagine the contemporary landscape of Beirut following the tragedy of it’s recent urban obliteration, and according to their website sounds like some cool projects are being kicked around.

Let me quote from one of the posts about the conceptual mission of Unbuilt:
When starting the Unbuilt blog, unbuilt meant for me destroyed, as in un-building, un-doing what a joint effort of people, different civilizations over the course of history constructed through the brutalities of war or other inhumane usages of technology, capital and energy. Now unbuilt started to mean something else to, it’s first meaning is still true, but after destruction there is work to be done. Sites unbuilt, waiting for the arrival of new endeavors. Dialogues to be established and common ground to be found.

In this situation it is important to find ways of working below official radars.

With an event recently held in Lebanon that has resulted in a Think Tank to churn over ideas, some interesting proposals have been put forth to help identify an Unbuilt platform for working in Beirut. If you are really interested, go to the site and browse it yourself, and if you want to get more involved this sounds like the perfect time. The group is working towards a presentation in the De Balie cultural centre in Amsterdam for February 2007 in order to formerly anoint their strategic cooperation.

Quickly, to sum up some of what is being kicked around: There’s been talk of hosting an international competition “to reconstruct the badly damaged neighborhood of Haret Hreyk in South-Beirut.” Competitions are always good, but often times fall short with just ideas gathering dust on paper. Nevertheless, critical thinking and ideas are sorely needed right now, and if even to just get diverse groups of people together to pay attention and consider rethinking urban efforts to rebuild community, suture identity, recast cultural history in new architecture, would be good. There’s a possible plan for “a public space watchdog institute and web-based platform that researches, documents and questions the ‘exclusive’ use of the public space of Lebanon.” Sounds useful, especially now when public space is so wounded and fetters in kind of amputated state of civic limbomania.

Makes me wonder, how should public space regeneration be looked at in times following intense conflict, where pubic space was but a few months ago a battleground? How are cities being transformed both by and for the purposes of militarization, occupation, foreign control? Public space as a political refuge, political territory, an ongoing civic war field? How can cities reclaim themselves from warfare, remake their streets into representing something epically anti-confrontational? In the folds of conflict and destruction, what are the types of projects, practices of urban design, directions of architectural healing, that should be explored to help overcome the urban corpus of war? Intense.

Two mentions that most piqued my interest are for a billboard reclamation project and a mobile architecture office. The Public Space Invaders can be glimpsed here, starting with a stencil and spray can the goal is simply to start and remind people that -- with a most basic claim -- the public space is indeed public and requires their treatment of it as such in order to begin to rebuild from there.

The bus project sounds excellent. A kind of mobile infill regenerative public space vehicle, that drives around and deploys, or adapts new public spaces out of the ruins, the ash. The essence of the bus is that ‘The public space will come to you,’ and will visit different (mixed) regions in Lebanon to create an instant sprout of new public sphere; a ‘Mobile architecture office for creative energy and architectural intelligence’ that initiates dialogue and focuses on the architect’s social responsibilities and how to work on a local level in close conversation with the population.”

And check this out, Bullet Lights:

All across Beirut you can find walls covered with bullets holes. Reminders of past violence, conflict and war. Moving through the city they are an all too familiar backdrop for any urban scene. This proposal that I called ‘bullet lights’ is reversing the meaning and experience of the ‘bullet hole wallpaper’ at diverse locations in the city. Introducing unexpected poetic moments of beauty. Beauty, ambivalently mixed with the physical testimonies of violence. The project doesn’t want to make a point it just invites people to look at things differently. Seeing things from more than one perspective is the starting point for empathy.

So, if you are in Beirut, or not, in Amsterdam, or not – wherever you are, if you have ideas I am sure Unbuilt would be down with hearing them. Maybe they should host some sort of discussion board on their website for online international conversation. I know I would be very interested in at least following along.

• • •

The other project which sort of leans in the same direction of re-examining the nature of public space in a post-war-torn ambiance of Beirut, calls for the public’s participation to gather and assemble photographs/films and/or images of utopian spaces in and amidst the universal dystopian wreckage. Ivan Niedermair from Austria calls the project "Unrentable" and describes it as follows:

“In the dystopic moment when all selectable positions loose themselves in undifferentiating panic, their own contours get blurred and a distinction among them isn’t possible anymore as well. All ways are open, all utopias can ‘rent; me and implant me into their clockwork. I am as rentable as the urban structure around me, rechargeable with any utopistic, idealistic… content. The city is a field of containers, overflowing me permanently with their contents. I need unrentable space!”
The project consists of the exploration of Urban structure in Beirut loaded with utopias etc. and the documentation in form of photography and/or film. The more different views on such “rentable spaces”, the more connections and in-betweens among them.

So, again, if you are in Beirut, camera in hand, snap a few and send them his way. I would be very curious to see what typology of space will come together from the public’s myriad angles.

Unbuilt / Unrentable.


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