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In the eye of the storm
transforming an iconic ruin in Beirut
The way we rebuild our buildings and cities show how we address, acknowledge and accept our history. Buildings with scars hold the power to communicate the stories of the past. Especially in war-damaged cities, it can be an added value to reveal a difficult history through the built environment. In the heart of Beirut stands such a building that has seen and experienced many transformations.
Built as a modernist commercial complex the ‘City Center,’ it was a symbol of the prosperous '60s before it was turned into a sniper hideout during the 15 years of civil war. The building was largely deconstructed in the post-war time, as well as its surrounding context, leaving just the ‘Egg’ shaped structure standing. Most recently the building was adopted as the icon of the revolution that started in October last year. My position in the treatment of heritage is to acknowledge all transformations the building has known, and use their qualities.
To revive the building I propose to add a functional program allowing different people from society to enter the building and find their personal relation to its history. To make the building truly public and accessible, it will be transformed into a multi-modal transport hub. Upgraded with an electric city bus, regional bus, cable car and ferry line, the system will serve different economic classes. This will generate activity in an otherwise deserted part of the city, thus bringing back the former identity of lively heart of the city.
In line with the transformations that the building has undergone, the removal of matter is the main architectural method for intervention. First the removing of two underground layers create space for the transport. Cuts in the shape of the trajectories of the sun, bring in light deep into the building and create visual connections between the different layers. Lastly ridges are cut into the large concrete surfaces to guide visitors through the building.
In contrast to the concrete mass that most of the buildings consists of, the added elements will be light and steel. First there are staircases and elevators added for the functionality and accessibility of the transport hub. Secondly there is a light steel portico structure added on the ground floor layer to define the building in the urban space. Steel mesh curtains are added to create a sense off inside and outside, and on the interior of the building to create intimate space. On all edges of the cuts, the reinforcement steel is transformed into balustrade that sometimes allows to sit on, or for plants to grow.
The way we rebuild our buildings and cities show the way we address, acknowledge and accept our history. Each transformation of the ‘Egg’ building is representative for the changes that the city of Beirut has experienced. By reactivating and transforming it into a transport hub, everyone is stimulated to actively participate in its future history.
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