British artist Tom Young's ‘At The Rose House’ has attracted a lot of attention since it opened to the public on November 19. As blogger Sietske Galama puts it: “Everyone in town is talking about it…‘The Rose House is opening up its doors? Have you seen it?’”

On the heels of last year’s Carousel exhibit at Villa Paradiso, Young calls the site “probably the most iconic house in Beirut.” Yet, for all its prominence, most of us know very little about the place: “apart from the personal friends of the families who lived there, no one has ever been inside,” he told

(Image by Karim Sakr)

While sheer curiosity to peek inside this famous building is certainly one factor behind all the buzz, there is also an air of urgency to it. Indeed, Fayza El Khazen, whose family had rented the house for decades, only invited Young inside because -- like the nearby black-and-white lighthouse that gives the neighborhood its name -- the Rose House has lost its original function. The Rose House is no longer a home.

According to Josef Haddad, of the Association for the Protection of Lebanese Heritage (APLH), “the entire hill along with the Rose House” has been bought by one man. There are whispers of a pledge to restore the House, and a promise to bring it back to life as a cultural center, but we are still in the midst of a delicate transition, and the house’s future is unclear. Young’s paintings reflect this uncertainty. There is an air of impermanence and loss to many of the works; in some scenes, the shapes barely hold together, as if the memory of the place was already fading away. In others, the whole landscape looks like it’s about to fly off the canvas, as though the room itself is spinning in despair.

According to Haddad, “Young has managed to create a sense of dread resulting from the ongoing demolition of Lebanon's past and its conversion into 'template' towers we can find anywhere in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore or Sydney. People make rare appearances in his paintings; instead, we mainly see the invasion of generic giant blocks with no identity, just differing sizes, giants from elsewhere, stepping unceremoniously over our own artistically-crafted traditional houses.”

(Image by Eric Deeb)

In this sense, ‘At The Rose House’ is more than just the story of a single house on a hill in Manara; it is also a chapter in a much larger narrative. Haddad has the numbers to back up the bleak picture it paints: “We have more than 1,600 houses classified as ‘traditional,’ from which now less than 250 survive,” he told In addition to this, “we have 300 archaeological sites uncovered since the end of the civil war, from which six or seven are preserved. These statistics tell us plainly that the supposed protectors of Lebanese heritage -- the Lebanese government -- are its chief executioners.”

Yet, as Young explains in the video that accompanied the launch of the exhibit, ‘At The Rose House’ is not meant to be a gesture of defeat, or farewell. Rather, it is wholeheartedly an act of creative resistance. As a figure and color palate, the Rose House appears in several paintings like “distant lightning that makes a brief opening into the stormy gray sky,” as Haddad eloquently described it. And as a project, ‘At The Rose House’ is a symbol of hope; in performing the roles of artist, historian, curator and urban developer, enacting a potential use for the building in the present, Young is seeking to directly alter the building’s fate.

“I hope I can change the way developers and politicians think about urban development,” Young said. "To help them see that if they protect heritage and promote public/green space for people of all classes and backgrounds, then that will lead to a happier and more cohesive society, which in turn will bring about more affluent and peaceful conditions, which in turn will bring more investment, which will ultimately help them and all of our children. These are big dreams. Maybe in the end big business and short-term greed will win (as usual), but we have to try.”

In effect, to save the Rose House, Young has turned it inside out, and laid it flat, like a blueprint for the city, as if to say: if it cannot be a private home anymore, then it must become a public space, and a matter of public concern.

(Image by Karim Sakr)

This move is similar to the one the APHL is currently making, on a much grander scale. Recently, they launched a campaign to designate Beirut as a “terminally endangered” city, officially nominating it for inclusion in the “2016 World Monuments Watch list, to foster international community support for its protection.” To save Beirut’s architectural heritage, and its local character, as they see it, they are wagering on its becoming a global priority.

Young is enlisting the help of major players, as well: “I feel that I need high level political support for this project, because of the house’s importance, and was pleased that the Prime Minister’s wife, Lama Tammam Salam, accepted our invitation to be a patron of the exhibition. The Minister of Culture, Raymond Areiji, and the head of the United Nations in Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, also attended the opening. The British Ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, is also very supportive. I think art can connect directly to high level politics and affect positive change, or at least influence it.”

“All art is political in some way,” he explained, “and if you’re not saying something, you’re saying something. But the heart of my work is emotional.”

‘At the Rose House’ will be showing until the end of December. For a look at opening hours head to the event page on our website. You can also find out more about the project on Facebook.

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'The Rose House' Exhibition Exhibition (Construction)


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