Beirut city can be regarded as a complex stratigraphy, a rich palimpsest in which the past is not erased, but instead forms a series of layers, which can interact with layers from later or earlier historical periods.
Starting 1840, Beirut, a small walled coastal town outgrew its walls when local bourgeois families move outside the city walls creating the first garden suburbs. The development of Beirut Harbor encouraged the use of different building materials and construction methods, and until 1940, the architecture of Beirut presented a fusion of traditional, modern, and imported crafts.
The Heritage houses that survived the development pressures and perils of the following decades were still standing as monuments for Beirutrs"s rise until August 4th, 2020.
The blast of August 4th, considered one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, happened in one of the most critical phases of Lebanon's modern history, taking the lives of more than 220 people and injuring 6000 while leaving 300.000 people homeless.
The explosion severely damaged the rich architectural heritage carrying social, historical, and architectural significance. The areas where destructions occurred were inhabited by mixed wealthy and modest households and presented the rare remaining historical clusters in Beirut, an essential part of its collective memory.
The brutal destruction of the city made urgent rescuing an imperative.
What started on August 5th as a spontaneous volunteering reaction by the Restoration School alumni, became within two days, a systematic and organized mission under the direction of the Ministry of Culture - Directorate General of Antiquities, with the support of Beirut UNESCO office, ICCROM-Sharjah, ICOMOS Lebanon, and APSAD.
Forty architects and engineers restorers joined by two hundred architects and architecture students started operating under the name of BBHR2020, and on August 6th, the locus of the collective memory became the field for the big urgent rescuing operation of Beirut heritage, the BACH project.
Fifteen units were operating within BBHR, and covering various aspects; data collection, reporting, documentation and archiving, communication, 3D modeling and GIS, mapping, restoration phase planning, sheltering, coordination with the contractors, propping, preparation of the study files, items rescue missions, administration and organization, executive group and the technical assistance group. After forty-five days, eight units got support from the German Archaeological Institute and were able to proceed for five additional months.
The urgent intervention consisted of four steps; Decoding and identifying the heritage buildings, assessing their condition, identifying the level of risk and informing the authorities in case of danger of collapse, proposing a propping method and supervising the works of the pro-bono contractors, and finally recording and completing the map and the inventory table for future records.
The team divided the city into zones, depending on the level of risk. The BBHR experts covered the endangered zones, and the architects and students the less risky zones. A matrix of the damages versus the typology of the houses was prepared to define the categories and the approximate cost of the restoration works. The structural engineers set a typology of the damages and their basic immediate interventions. Assessment data sheets were filled on site, with propping sketches and method statements. The first proposal was ready on the 4th day, and on the 6th the pro-bono contractors were on site. By the end of the urgent propping and sheltering mission, ninety heritage houses risking imminent collapse were saved and covered. Initiatives, NGOs, and institutions participated in the roofing actions, and donors offered the needed materials.
The recording result was a map of Beirut, where one thousand six hundreds heritage houses were identified. The built and unbuilt, the tangible and intangible were recorded, and became for the first time a documented reality in the city.
The documentation covered 2D and 3D laser scanning surveys of two hundred and fourteen heritage houses for their eventual rehabilitation. Following this successful experience, UNESCOrs"s Heritage Emergency Fund covered the project of creating a 3D digital twin of Beirutrs"s historic neighborhoods, providing experts with precious information for reconstruction.
This urgent rescuing mission pushed towards the constitution of a GIS map where all the gathered data during the first six months after the blast was collected and processed.
The recovery planning consisted on preparing files and detailed reports for heritage clusters and cost estimation for three hundred houses.
In parallel, various rescue missions for works of arts were accomplished by BACH and the Lebanese university architecture students; While assembling the scattered parts of the artefacts, students were able to put together the elements and understand their connections and materials, but above all, rescue them for the future of Beirut. This experience tackled competences that cannot be easily developed inside the campus walls.
The local NGOs played a major role in the rehabilitation of the heritage houses in Beirut; BACH tried to guide those NGOs in their work and a map of their zones of activities was set. Around two hundred follow-up site visits were achieved by BBHR experts, and guidelines for minor damages reparations were prepared.
« Rebuilding Beirutrs"s houses by rebuilding its people » was launched by BACH and supported by experts and NGOs to build a skilled craftsmanship in Beirut.
The vocational trainings took place in the damaged historical houses and represented the first professional efforts to preserve disappearing craftsmanship. They covered the traditional timber carpentry and timber roofs, lime plastering, and stone masonry and were funded by French, British, German and Japanese cultural institutions.
BACH was meant as an inclusive initiative; UNESCOrs"s Heritage Emergency Fund, UNHCR, UNDP, UNHABITAT, ALIPH and several European Governments, mainly France, Germany and Italy, supported Lebanon in the emergency rescuing of the endangered heritage where funds covered public buildings such as schools, churches, libraries and museums as well as private housing.
Finally, BACH project showed the will of both people and stakeholders in redefining their cultural values, particularly the ones related to heritage. It led the Lebanese to think about the meaning of history, but also about the dimensions and the characteristics of the heritage to be preserved. It showed at the same time, a strong will, and an unconditioned love for the country.
Without BACH project, historic houses and works of art, witnesses of the richness of Beirut's past, and evocative of feelings of identity and belonging would have been lost to the world forever.
BACH experience was shared worldwide as a unique example of a community who gathered less than 24 hours following one of the biggest explosions in the world, driven by the love of their city and its heritage.
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