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New project examines Beirut suburbs

[photo]
The new PoroCity – Beirut Project examines the porosity of three areas with regard to permeability: Ouzai/Jnah, Bourj Hammoud/Qarantina, and Hadath/Haret Hreik. This image maps the population density of Bourj Hammoud/Qarantina.

[photo]
A land use map of the Hadath/Haret Hreik district.

January 24, 2011—

An ongoing research project on three areas surrounding Beirut may produce some gripping outcomes, as architecture students from LAU and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria, delve deep into the suburbs’ political and cultural history.

Around 20 students are engaged in this first-time project and are studying the porosity of the areas of Ouzai/Jnah, Bourj Hammoud/Qarantina, and Hadath/Haret Hreik as part of three courses to be taken over the course of three semesters.

In architecture, porosity may refer to a physically void space, though the students are taking a more conceptual approach by considering porosity in terms of permeability. As opposed to looking at the physical architectural attributes on an engineering scale, this approach will reveal what the areas offer in terms of elasticity, resilience and improvisation vis-à-vis the urban environment.

“We are using Beirut as an urban laboratory,” says Dr. Rachid G. Chamoun, director of LAU’s Urban Planning Institute and key developer of the project, called PoroCity - Beirut, which is being run by LAU in collaboration with the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. The project is also being developed with the assistance of Sandra Frem, a visiting assistant professor at LAU’s School of Architecture and Design.

“Each of these sites has urban particularities,” Chamoun says, explaining how understanding their porosities may allow students to propose solutions to some of the problems those areas face.

In the northeast of Beirut, the Bourj Hammoud/Qarantina area is noted as being a site of one of the earliest Armenian settlements in Lebanon, dating back to 1922, which today is also comprised of a significant number of Palestinian and Shiite residents. Its demographic makeup and history of receiving refugees have implications for the area’s porosity, infrastructure, density, public space and interactions, etc.

In the southwest, an interesting dynamic exists between Ouzai and Jnah. Both areas became densely inhabited by Shiites around the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War, but took sharply different turns in the 1990s during reconstruction. Ouzai remained an off-the-grid, informal installation as it resisted urban sprawl, while Jnah did the opposite.

“Ouzai has a maze of activities. … It could be considered a sustainable community; it has its own garbage sorting, resources, infrastructure, schools,” says Chamoun. “It is somehow more of a social city, a city that builds itself rather than a capitalist city [like Jnah],” he adds.

Aside from the political aspects of the areas, students will look at environmental issues, density and land use, with a goal of proposing solutions.

The project was launched in fall 2010. Chamoun visited the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in November 2010, where he led a three-day workshop for postgraduate students involved in the project. Those students will visit Beirut for 10 days in April to learn more about the sites.

The project will conclude with a comparative case study in Vienna over the summer, where LAU students will travel to learn about some of that city’s distinct characteristics.

For more information about the project, check this website.


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