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BEIRUT: A few facts about Ciudad Juarez: Once known as "Paso del Norte" (Northern Pass), the Mexican border city was designated murder capital of the world in 2009, making it the most violent city outside active war zones.Ghassan Maasri, an artist and architecture graduate, has been fascinated by the potential posed by Beirut's abandoned structures since the late 1990s. After stumbling across the building on long walks through the city, he approached the owner, who agreed to allow the villa to be used as a cultural center rent-free. As time passes, Maasri explains, Mansion is being reintegrated into the social fabric of the neighborhood. The owner and his wife often attend events with friends and family, and neighbors increasingly come around.An anomaly in central Beirut, where extortionate rents have forced many artists to work from home or abandon the city altogether, Mansion demonstrates the potential for abandoned buildings, many of which housed squatters during the war and have stood empty ever since, to be reintegrated into the urban fabric.For the moment, Maasri says, the future of Mansion is uncertain, but he and Mansion's community of artists are working on developing plans for it to remain an active part of the city.
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