American Univesity of Beirut

Beirut Shifting Grounds at the 17th International Venice Architecture Biennale

​​​ Sally Abou Melhem, Office of Communications,​​

Beirut Shifting Grounds, an AUB research project, was presented at the Co-Habitats section at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, “How will we live together?" held in Venice Biennale from May 22 to November 21, 2021.

This project came to life with the support of the Department of Architecture and Design ​(ArD) and the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB, led by Sandra Frem (AUB / platau - platform for architecture and urbanism), Boulos Doueihy (platau), with ArD faculty Carla Aramouny, Nicolas Fayad, and Rana Haddad, and the contributions of Nayla Al-Akl (Department of Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management at AUB), Joanne Hayek (ArD) and Ahmad Nouraldeen (ArD).

The project

Beirut Shifting Grounds spanned over two years, simultaneously as Beirut was going downhill with the collapse of its economy, pandemic outbreak, and finally the Beirut Port explosion. This very same period was ripe with unprecedented activism, collective self-organization, and bottom-up mobilization in the face of the pervading adversity.

In such context, the project probes “how will we live together" by foregrounding spatial practices at the ground level of Beirut that allow people to adapt through uncertainty and change. Through four parallel narratives, the research focuses on manifestations of improvisation, reclamation, and production that offer lessons of adaptation and solidarity for the uncertain future.

The human lens - it is all on the streets - presents four short films that encounter the act of “being" in Beirut's public realm through shifting conditions: privatization, revolution, and post-blast activism.

The urban lens - improvisation - projects the life of seven neighborhoods in Beirut through transitional moments; narrating their urban transformation, improvisations at their ground level, as well as indicators that inform their urban pulse. This lens traces how improvisations evolve to organized networks of solidarity after the Port blast, during the relief and reconstruction period.

The architecture lens - production - narrates Beirut's built environment through specific buildings and typologies of sections, reflecting on the spatial modes of production that shaped Beirut's ground until the Port blast, and calling for new modes of collective production amid the post-blast reconstruction.

The temporal lens – reclamation - emphasize the agency of urban space to accommodate public expression through a time-lapse of Martyrs' square, focusing on the metamorphosis of its urban form, activities, public mobilization, and its capacity to reinvent itself through the different periods.

Together, the four lenses raise an open speculation on the architecture of the ground and its proclivity to support collective appropriation, offering the possibility of a city that still belongs to its inhabitants amid shifting conditions.

The installation comprises two overlapping volumes: one that emerges from the ground and one that is suspended from the ceiling. The base hosts three videos projecting respectively the urban, architecture, and temporal lenses. The suspended volume features the project title and concept note, a timeline of change for Beirut from 2000 until 2020 and QR codes meant to be scanned to access the four films of the human lens.​

The event

Beirut Shifting Grounds is featured in the Co-Habitats section of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, “How will we live together?" curated by Hashim Sarkis and organized by La Biennale di Venezia. This section includes 12 Co-Habitats projects focusing on the themes of the Biennale Architettura, developed by selected researchers in collaboration with academic institutions from around the world. 

“We need a new spatial contract," said Hashim Sarkis. “In the context of widening political divides and growing economic inequalities, we call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together. The architects invited to participate in the Biennale Architettura 2021 are encouraged to include other professions and constituencies—artists, builders, and craftspeople, but also politicians, journalists, social scientists, and everyday citizens."

In the context of COVID travel restrictions, the launching combined the hybrid opening of the physical pavilion in Venice and the virtual exhibition on the website.  functions as an online exhibition during the biennale, to make the research accessible to the general public.

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