Tag Archives: solidere

Architecture and politics are very much interconnected. Looking at Lebanon through it’s built environment illustrates the political system of the country and how much it is both shaped and shapes the people around it.

The most prominent architectural symbol in Lebanon is the reconstruction of Downtown Beirut. Solidere have remarkably and rapidly reconstructed the once ruined Downtown area of Beirut a defiant gesture against the destruction of the civil war. A mark of Lebanese resilience to what has happened to them during the civil war but also an illustration of what is still happening to them. Solidere is of course mired in scandal after scandal as to misappropriation of land and of course the major issue that many Lebanese (living in Lebanon) can neither afford to buy/rent/shop in their own central district. It is intriguing to walk around Downtown Beirut to find it is almost built for Gulf and European tourists and used as such. An articulation of Lebanese politics and politicians who practice, or maybe perfect, political realism par excellence.

Currently, Lebanon is experiencing a real estate bonanza; massive towers of glass and steel are rising everywhere and uncontrolled development is rampant. What the built environment tells you about Lebanon is that the private sector here is flourishing able to build large scale high quality developments but the floundering state leaves a sense of anarchy about the environment. The individual can flourish, the family can flourish but the national collective cannot.

The lack of planning laws is evident; huge buildings being built completely out of context from its surroundings and effectively destroying the urban fabric. Here the big man rules. If you happen to live in a four story building then enjoy the view, the sunlight and the air while you can because it could be taken away from you at any moment. The only way to be safe from the terror of construction is to be high and to be big.

The intellectual prowess of the Lebanese also shines through in the built environment but also the nihilism. Only Egypt can compete in the nearby states to Lebanon’s recent architectural heritage. The Egg is one such example of this substantial contribution; designed by Lebanese architect Joseph-Philippe Karam, who also trained in Lebanon, this unique example of Lebanese modernist architecture lays in tatters with the threat  destruction for another tower that tells of another side to Lebanon. Although many Lebanese want to save the Egg and see it as a battle of what they rightly call the Dubaification of Lebanon, Solidere effectively sold away to Abu Dhabi Investment House the chance for the Lebanese tohave a say in the preservation or destruction of the Egg.

This is yet another story of Lebanese politics tied into the built environment: Foreign Interference and Foreign Investment. The Habtoor Hotel in Sin el-Fil (just outside Beirut) and the Ain Mresseih area are just two of the most obvious visual expression of how Gulf capital is transforming Lebanon where the large amounts of foreign capital are enabling massive developments of steel and glass that are wiping away previous architecture mainly of Ottoman and French heritage. One foreign master’s legacy is wiped away by the next. While the Gulf masters build their mega-structures the Iranian masters also make their contribution to Lebanon’s built environment through financing the reconstruction in the Southern Suburbs.

The Gulf and Iranian investments into the Lebanese built environment reveal one very interesting fact that both build predominately in the Western style. The idea of reinventing an Islamic or Arab architectural language or even one that makes reference to such an idea has been done away with. However, my interview with Rifat Chadirji, for Bespoke magazine, tried to articulate that a vision for this fusion or more reflective architectural language has been created by the architectural movers and shakers it just needed developers with the will to implement such a style.

In the built environment the “West is Best” is being followed in Lebanon but not always ensuring that the “Best of the West”. Originality is certainly a force that drives the “West” and this is not something that is being strived for enough in the built environment and much the same can be said for the political sphere. Maybe one here or there. In Solidere an unofficial list of international architects, of which there are no Lebanese and only a small number of Arab architects, that are allowed to design buildings in the Solidere area gives an upsetting account of the lack of confidence of the sons and daughters of Lebanon. This has been described to me by one of Beirut’s most prominent architects as policy as a throw back to the darkest days of colonialism.

This is some of what I have found from the brick and mortar, the steel and glass of Beirut and its environs….

For those of the social democratic persuasion, like me, it will not come as a shock that neo-liberal fundamentalists such as Bush and Co feed off disaster to spread their ideology.

Klein destroys the theory of Milton Freidman’s free market ideology and that the state should be as minimal as possible. Klein exposes how proponents of free market fundamentalism far from extending freedom as they claim. The proponents of totally free markets use extreme measures of oppression to ensure that their privatization schemes and rolling back of social welfare can be implemented. Klein illustrates her theory in country after country starting from Chile and Argentina in South America, and then to Russia, China, South Africa, Sri Lanka…

In the Middle East Klien focuses on Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

In Iraq Klein notes that it was the Freidmanite economic policies that the Bush regime was pushing through in Iraq that really got the insurgency going. The reduction of the state that included the now famous “de-Baathification” that left 500,000 Iraqis jobless, angry and ready to fight. Further to this, Klein documents how most of the reconstruction work went not to Iraqis or the Iraqi state but to private contractors from the US again leaving hundreds of thousand of Iraqis frustrated and jobless.

In Israel Klein remarks how since the Oslo accord Israel has never been interested in peace but security. This Klein argues is primarily becuase Israel moved from a country that relied on high tech computer technologies in the global economy to security, especially in the world of 9/11.  While a convincing argument Israel did not suddenly come up with the idea of security as the main goal, as opposed to peace, in 1993. If Klein picked up a copy of the Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim she will find that ‘security’ has been Israel driving ideology since its inception, with Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his Revisionist Zionism that has dominated Zionist thinking since Israels inception.

As for Lebanon Klein does not give the country the time it deserves and in fact misunderstands the very nature of the beast. Klein rightfully praises Hezbollah for the efficient way they were able to deliver Iranian funds to their constituents after the July 06 war. But Klein  does not grasp that Hezbollah are the representatives of the Shia in Lebanon. Thus, stating that the Shia population took Hezbollah’s money because if they did not they would be left to the mercy of privatization and Solidere, while not wrong does not really grasp what was and is happening in Lebanon. “If the residents of Lebanon were grateful for the results, it was also becuase they knew the alternative. The alternative was Solidere.”

It must be said that many residents of Lebanon were not ‘grateful for the results’ (mainly the non-Shia) and that Lebanon was left bitterly divided that led to a crisis that is only just beginning to be solved today. There was not a Kenysian vs. Friedman economic debate/war. Instead it was while Bush was in power a confrontation between the US, Israeli and Saudi axis against the Syrian and Iranian one. In short there was to economics than what was going on in Lebanon during and after this period, even if Klein can strongly argue that Israel went to war with Hezbollah for economic reasons.