Demolitions ongoing in Furn el Hayek

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This may be your last chance to see some of the oldest buildings in Furn El Hayek, including these early century storefronts, which are about to be demolished.

 

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The shops are built into an old stone wall that hugs a corner in the Achrafieh neighborhood, overflowing with greenery–an increasingly rare site in the concrete city Beirut has become.

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I was told by older residents that this was once a garden connected to two nearby buildings (seen at the right corner) built during the Art Deco period in the early 1900s.

Naji, an activist with Save Beirut Heritage, drew our attention to the endangered buildings about 10 days ago, when he posted some pictures on Facebook including this one:

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But when I visited the area yesterday, I found the same building covered in tarp with the balconies and window facades now torn out –valuable items in the antique market, one would suspect:

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The buildings were classified as “protected” by the Culture Ministry. However that designation was voided by the high court or Majlis el Shura, which reportedly ruled in favor of the landlord who had appealed against the designated protection. And apparently he won.

The second building behind it has already been gutted:

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Floors and ceilings broken through:

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Revealing the old sandstone construction pieces, now used as glorified paper weights, holding down the demolition panels on the sidewalk:

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The old sandstone walls are also revealed in the exterior property wall:

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Which neatly wraps around the block, near the shops:

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If you make it today or tomorrow, you might still catch a glimpse of the early 1900s architectural features that will be lost:

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As well as some of the contemporary graffiti, that has colored the abandoned block over recent years, as residents have died or moved out:

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When new towers are developed in the area, will there be any place for posters or street art?

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There are still a few old buildings in the neighborhood, from Art Deco and earlier eras:

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But they are rapidly being replaced, by the looming towers:

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Uniform facades, free of any ornamentation:

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No distinct balconies or metal work:

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Which city would you rather live in?

More importantly, why is this happening and what can be done? Similar demolitions are taking place across Achrafieh. So why are courts ruling in favor of the property owners despite the Culture Ministry’s designations, produced by expert architects? Does the Culture Ministry lack the lobbying power or capacity to appeal such high court decisions or to provide a legal framework for heritage protection that will have more influence in the courts?

I will try to tackle some of these questions in an upcoming column. Any feedback, particularly from people who know the laws, would be appreciated.

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If you would like to visit the area, it can be accessed from Charles Malik street, near the BLC bank (Tabaris area). Take the diagonal road (Chehade) that goes up the hill. It is just passed the restaurant Beirut Cellar, the green patch on the bottom right corner.

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