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Beirut, Paris municipalities begin restoration of Civil War ruin

Renovation works of Beit Beirut, a joint Lebanese-French venture, kicked off. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The municipalities of Beirut and Paris co-launched Tuesday evening the commencement of restoration work on Beit Beirut, the iconic Civil War ruin standing at Sodeco on the intersection of Damascus Street and Independence Street.

In a ceremony co-chaired by Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad, Deputy Mayor of Paris Pierre Schapira and French Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli, the culmination of four years of cooperation between the city councils of Beirut and Paris was showcased with the relaying of the building’s first stone.

“Beit Beirut is happy today to have its first stone relayed because it will be renewed once again with its dear memories,” Hamad said in his address.

The building, which is also known as the Yellow House or the Barakat Building, was constructed in 1924 by Lebanese architect Youssef Afandi Aftimos. Two extra floors were added in 1932 by architect Fouad Kozah, completing the four-story facade Beirutis are familiar with today.

Its location on the green line during the 1975-90 Civil War transformed Beit Beirut into a forward control post, sniper base and eventually the bullet-damaged shell it presently is.

Hamad Tuesday described the building as a symbol of resilience. “This historic building has seen violence and killing and madness, but despite all that destruction, despite its presence on the green line that forced even birds to flee, it has refused to fall and has decided to prevail against the waves.”

Moving to the topic of its restoration, he added: “Instead of being hit by killing bullets it will turn into a national museum and a cultural center in memory of Beirut.”

The restoration project, overseen by architect Youssef Haidar, will preserve the original character of the building while incorporating a contemporary architectural structure behind it. This new structure will house a museum; a cultural and artistic meeting place; an archive of research and studies on Beirut; an urban planning office for the city of Beirut; and an underground car park.

Offering a dynamic description of the future building, Hamad said: “It will have different halls and rooms for art exhibitions and also host forums and theatrical plays. Artists and lovers of art will visit this place to discover the origins of the capital Beirut.”

The deputy mayor of Paris for his part also praised the restoration project as an extraordinary challenge that he believes the Beirut and Paris teams can see through to completion.

However, while Paris brings its technical expertise to the project, the restoration is entirely funded by the City of Beirut. When it is completed, Beit Beirut will be the first municipal cultural center in Lebanon’s capital.

With the restoration work now under way, Beit Beirut is expected to open in late 2013 or 2014.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2012, on page 4.

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