Beirut Shifting Grounds, a research initiative of the American University of Beirut (AUB), was included in the Co-Habitats segment of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, “How can we live together?” from May 22 to November 21, 2021.
This project was made achievable by the Department of Architecture and Design (ArD) and the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) at the American University of Beirut (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).
Beirut Shifting Grounds took place over two years, at a time when Beirut’s economy was collapsing, a pandemic was spreading, and the Beirut Port was exploding. In the face of overwhelming adversity, this time was ripe with unparalleled activism, collective self-organization, and bottom-up mobilization.
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’s all on the streets – is a collection of four short films that explore the act of “being” in Beirut’s public domain as it changes due to privatization, revolt, and post-bombing activism.
The urban lens, improvisation, depicts the lives of seven Beirut neighborhoods during transformative moments, narrating their urban transformations, improvisations on the ground, and indicators that remind the city’s pulse. After the Port blast, during the relief and reconstruction era, this lens traces how improvisations develop into structured networks of solidarity.
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 is made up of two overlapping volumes, one of which rises from the ground and the other of which hangs from the ceiling. Three videos are projected on the foundation, one each for the urban, architectural, and temporal lenses. The project title and design note are featured on the suspended volume, as well as a timeline of change for Beirut from 2000 to 2020 and QR codes that can be scanned to access the four films of the human lens.