BEIRUT: Culture Minister Gaby Layyoun said the Maalouf family gave him their consent for the demolition of the Medawar Building in Beirut’s Badaro neighborhood Monday.
The approval to pull down the historic building was given to the construction firm after notifying the Maalouf family, Layyoun said, referring to famous Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf’s family who lived on the second floor for almost five decades.
“I received great praise from the family for what I did throughout the months and I did not approve of the destruction before notifying them,” added Layyoun.
Speaking during a news conference at the ministry to clarify the reasons for the building’s destruction, Layyoun said the country’s heritage was in danger “not because of the ministry but because the state does not want to preserve the heritage.”
But a source from the Maalouf family told The Daily Star that the family never agreed to the building’s demolition and that it was working to ensure that it was preserved.
“Although the family is not the decision-maker of whether a building should be preserved or not, we never gave Mr. Layyoun any consent to demolish the building,” said the source.
“On the contrary what we wanted was to preserve it, but they didn’t give us the time necessary.”
The source also said recalled previously approving of Layyoun’s decision when he rejected the construction firm’s request to demolish the building.
In a decision sent to Kettaneh Group on June 22 last year, Layyoun rejected the firm’s request to replace the three-story building with a skyscraper on the grounds of “architectural significance.”
Four months later, however, Layyoun revised his decision in a letter to the firm, saying the building no longer held any historic value in the city.
“As Lebanese citizens we were trying to preserve the building. The responsibility to preserve a historic building lies with the minister and not the building’s tenants,” the source said.
Responding to critics, Layyoun said that the media was biased in its coverage of the issue: “I have been the biggest defender of heritage, but no one else in the country other than the Culture Ministry has been working to save the country’s heritage.”
Raja Noujaim, a civil society activist and a member of the Association for the Protection of the Lebanese Heritage said Layyoun’s conference gave no clear answers to justify last year’s two controversial decisions.