• 18 OCT 15
    • 0

    Competition focuses on public use of contested Beirut coastal site

    The grassroots Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh held a competition last month among architects and urbanists to gather proposals for the preservation and enhancement of what is called the last undeveloped stretch of Beirut coast, currently under threat of construction for luxury hotels and residences. Three entries were chosen to together provide an alternative vision for the site.

    “The final review was based on evaluating the strength and weaknesses of each submission according to the competition criteria: sensitivity to urban context; reaffirming historical identity of Dalieh as a space for the public; functionality, flexibility, and economic feasibility; ecological and environmental sustainability; institutional framework addressing property and managerial/administrative concerns; innovation and creativity; clarity and completeness of the submission,” noted the competition jury.

    The winning proposals included “Not just about Dalieh”, submitted by architect Adib Dada and associates. “We wanted to show people that there is an alternative to what is being proposed,” said Dada, who proposed ecotourism and boat tours. More information on the proposal is available via Dada’s website.

    “What is happening in Dalieh has been happening along the entire coast ever since the 1960s,” the Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh’s Abir Saksouk-Sasso told the VOA, citing efforts to attract tourists and a confluence of political and business interests as among the main causes.

    The Dalieh Coast (source: Facebook page of the Civil Campaign to Protect the Dalieh of Raouche)

    The Dalieh Coast (source: Facebook page of the Civil Campaign to Protect the Dalieh of Raouche)

    News of the involvement of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in developers’ plans for the Dalieh promontory led to a public exchange of letters between him and the activists in March.

    Developers have garnered the support of Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad, who indicated some understanding for activists’ concerns, stressing that public access would remain a priority, yet he seemed to confirm that developers had a green light to build “boutique hotels” and residences, expressing hopes that the project would create jobs. 

    “This is their project; it’s private property and they’re allowed to construct there as long as they abide by building law. However, they will respect the terrain and do something for the public,” Hamad said.

    Potentially contradictory policy statements are at the heart of the current struggles since the outset.  “Under the French Mandate, the cadaster attributed [ownership of Dalieh and adjacent waterfronts] to several leading Beirut families. This became private property, but under private use, since simultaneously Law No. 144 in 1925 made access to the sea an unalienable right, a right confirmed by the Law on the Environment No. 444 in 2002,” summarized urban planner Sarah Lily Yassine.

    The adjacent Ramlet al-Baida beach emerged as an additional flashpoint in the struggle in June, after a court allowed the hitherto public waterfront to be cordoned off at the behest of developers. Lebanon Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, however, vowed that the beach would stay open and urged other branches of government to join the struggle.

    “We are not here to revoke people’s ownership rights, but at the end of the day this beach is going to remain public,” Zeaiter said.

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