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Shared Pain Inspires Palestinian Team’s Proposal for Rebuilding Beirut Port

/ 14 Jul 2021

Shared Pain Inspires Palestinian Team’s Proposal for Rebuilding Beirut Port

Four Palestinian architects, all graduates of Birzeit University in the West Bank, have won first place in an international competition for ideas on how to design and rebuild the destroyed port of Beirut in Lebanon.

The team won the 2021 Phoenix Prize presented by iDAR-Jerusalem, a Palestinian nonprofit organization that promotes innovative architectural design ideas for reconstructing stricken areas.

The winning team included three female architects—Ala’a Abu Awad, Diala Andonia and Mais Bani Odeh—and Majd Malki. Their design, which is named  “The Aftermath—Productive Beirut,” focuses on building three models of temporary housing for 300,000 people whose homes were destroyed by the August 4, 2020, explosion. (See the related articles “Beirut Blast Cripples an Educational and Cultural Capital and “Dust Left by Beirut’s Massive Explosion May Be a Major Danger to Health.”)

The design also proposes building a productive industrial city with workshops, factories, and vocational and agricultural schools to contribute to solving Beirut’s unemployment crisis and business-continuity problems. It also allocates large areas of land for wheat cultivation in order to bridge the food gap in the crop, after a decrease in the volume of production in recent years.

Architecture That Meets People’s Needs

“The proposed design meets the needs of the Lebanese citizen, and reinforces the conviction that architecture is a patriotic message.”

Ala’a Abu Awad  

Abu Awad said that “the proposed design meets the needs of the Lebanese citizen, and reinforces the conviction that architecture is a patriotic message.”

Abu Awad believes that the similarity between the tragedies of the Palestinian and Lebanese societies pushed the team to come up with an architectural design that meets people’s economic and psychological needs.

“The idea of permanent demolition and destruction that we live in Palestine,” she said, “makes us think about the permanent and temporary in the nature of the design of the proposed buildings, taking into account the long-term developments of society.”

She noted that she has personally experienced other explosions that took place in Ramallah, where she lives. She remembers an incident that occurred during the second Palestinian Intifada in the year 2000, when an explosion rocked the walls of Khalil al-Rahman School near an Israeli settlement and destroyed parts of it in a scene similar to what Beirut experienced during the port explosion.

Architecture as Resistance

This is not the first time that members of the winning team have designed engineering projects for devastated areas, as the ongoing war in most Palestinian cities has pushed architecture students to focus on projects for the reconstruction of dilapidated areas.

“The Aftermath—Productive Beirut,” designed by a team of four Palestinian architects, was the first-place winner of the Phoenix Prize, presented by the Palestinian nonprofit organization iDAR-Jerusalem.
“The Aftermath—Productive Beirut,” designed by a team of four Palestinian architects, was the first-place winner of the Phoenix Prize, presented by the Palestinian nonprofit organization iDAR-Jerusalem.

Nadia Habash, a professor of architecture at Birzeit University, said in a telephone interview, “The general Palestinian situation is always present in teaching, because we are raising a generation that uses architecture for resistance and steadfastness, and therefore most competitions with its different subjects focus on these concepts.”

Habash, who was chosen by the magazine Middle East Architect as one of the 50 most influential architects in the region for 2019, is also one of the founders of the Department of Architecture at Birzeit University. She always advises her students, she says, to focus on content and goals to produce “an authentic, productive architecture that respects and serves its environment, contributes to its development and is characterized by creative form compatible with this environment and keeping pace with the latest technological developments.”

Majd Malki, one of the team members, agreed with that point. “There is a great tendency within the university to make us think that architecture is not just a building, and what is required is to understand the surrounding with its different contexts before building,” he said in a telephone interview.

The Port Is for Everybody

The team was also inspired by the forms of daily life in Palestine, where private spaces are absent due to Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian-owned lands, and the Palestinian authorities’ adoption of a land-use classification system.

“The design made the port open to the city through the residential area to enhance the citizens’ sense of ownership of the port.”

Diala Andonia   ِِِA team member

“The trend towards privatization was reflected in our understanding of the city, and the right of the Lebanese citizen to a public space, especially after we discovered that Beirut’s waterfront was entirely allocated to the private sector. Therefore, it confirms our determination that citizens can access and enjoy the waterfront without having to pay for it,” Malki said. (See the related articles “New Battle in One of the World’s Oldest Cities and “Arab Protests Move Back to the Streets From Social Media.”)

“The design made the port open to the city through the residential area to enhance the citizens’ sense of ownership of the port,” said Diala Andonia, another of the team members, in a telephone interview. “However, we were also attentive to the realism of the design, far from ideal, so that this destruction could be turned into production and life at the lowest cost, taking into account the social context of the Lebanese society.”

Andonia, who lives in Bethlehem, met her three teammates during their work after graduation, as researchers and teachers in the Department of Architecture at Birzeit University. Later, the four left the university, and some of them set up private engineering offices to enhance their work experience.

Another entry in the Phoenix Prize competition, designed by a team in Russia, won second place.
Another entry in the Phoenix Prize competition, designed by a team in Russia, won second place.

The team had to overcome a number of difficulties, Andonia says.  They included “gathering information and getting access to sources that we use in research and analysis about the economic needs of Lebanese citizens, and the change in their relationship with the port before and after the explosion, especially since we have not visited Beirut before, as well as the difficulty of meeting under the shutdown conditions because of the coronavirus.

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Today, the team members are seeking to communicate with officials in Lebanon in hopes they will approve and implement the project for the reconstruction of the port, which is of course not an easy matter given the current political and economic conditions in the country. (See a related article, “For Many Universities in Lebanon, Survival May Be at Stake.”

“We have the energy and enthusiasm to do so much and we strive to be part of the change, and drive communities for the better by influencing their lives through our architectural designs,” said Andonia.




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