American University of Beirut

Rehabilitation of the Gholam Heritage Cluster - Building 474

​​​​​To support heritage preservation efforts of buildings severely affected by the August 4, 2020 blast in the Beirut port, the AUB Neighborhood Initiative collaborated with Nusaned NGO, Save Beirut Old Houses (SBOH) initiative (lot 1137), and Arcenciel (lot 474) to rehabilitate the Gholam cluster on one of the typical heritage stairs in the Akkaoui area in Mar Mikhael. The two buildings on lots 1137 and 474 in Rmeil are beautiful examples of the architectural development in Beirut between 1870 and 1930. With work to be completed hopefully in late spring/summer 2021, five families will be coming back home, bringing life and hope back to the blast area.

The buildings were hit several times during the Lebanese civil war and restored each time by the owners hoping it would be the last time they would have to do this. This time, due to the buildings’ proximity to the port, the explosion caused structural cracks in the façades and walls and major damage to the internal and external plaster and woodwork including ceilings, doors and windows, and, in the case of lot 474, the traditional red-tiled roof.

Our contractors, CTI (lot 1137) and Distruct Solutions (lot 474), are following the highest standards and painstaking methods for the restoration of heritage buildings, in full coordination with the Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA). This dictates the use of lime plaster for the walls and lime injection for the cracks, alongside wire mesh casing and stainless steel reinforcement where needed. Together with Nusaned, the AUB Neighborhood​ Initiative performs weekly site visits to give design support and ensure the timely and proper execution of work, based on a participatory approach with the beneficiaries. Nusaned is responsible for financial and technical project management.

The cluster that was built by the Gholam family in different stages (1870-1930) has two architectural typologies: the four-floor triple-arch central-hall building and the two-floor double-arched red-tiled roof house. The street-level sandstone cross-vaulted shops on Gouraud Street were built by the great grandfather of the Gholam family in 1874 during the time of the Ottoman Empire and were the first “supermarket” in the area. The organic growth of this cluster according to the needs of the extended family and its unity with the public stairs make it a beautiful example of Beirut’s early residential architecture. These buildings hold together the memory and history of the city and its architectural and urban growth as well as the social layer through the intricate extended family structure of the different shop and apartment owners. Most importantly, this rehabilitation is an act of resilience against gentrification and real estate speculation that has - over the last three decades - changed the character of Beirut and destroyed its historical and architectural identity. The aim is not only to rehabilitate the building, but to bring back its original owners, who refused lucrative offers by developers to sell their destroyed apartment, a perfect pilot project of heritage preservation. 

The AUB Neighborhood Initiative began the historical analysis, architectural survey, and documentation of the Gholam Heritage Cluster led by AUB faculty architect Naji Assi and a group of AUB architecture alumni. The resulting documentation will be shared widely with the general public to spread awareness of the role of heritage especially after the devastating August 4 explosion. A publication will be produced, along with an interactive exhibition and public presentations on the stairs where the heritage cluster is located to reach many residents as well as professionals and NGO workers and volunteers who are involved in the rebuilding process. Sharing the collected stories, oral history, and architectural research will contribute to an inclusive and sustainable approach to our heritage preservation. This type of work is essential to highlight the importance of our heritage in preserving the collective memory and identity of our city Beirut in the face of real estate speculation and development vultures and in the absence of any heritage preservation law.

  • Facebook Video by Distruct Solutions
  • AnNahar article by Rosette Fadel
  • Restoration photos by Karim Nasser for Nusaned
  • Attic Photos by Distruct Solutions

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