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Myriam Dalal 07 Oct 2013

From SoHo to SoAd: Adlieh’s Growing Arts and Culture District

Just a few years ago, Adlieh was simply an industrial neighborhood dotted with small warehouses, old factories, a few abandoned buses and graffiti-strewn walls situated along the Beirut River just outside the capital. But over the last five years, and with the entrance of a few new players on the block, the area is beginning to transform into what could soon become a significant cultural and artistic hub in the country.

It began with the opening of the Beirut Art Center in 2009 and followed with the establishment of Ashkal Alwan just around the corner in 2011. The latest art space to step onto the scene is Station Beirut, a multi-purpose venue dedicated to hosting progressive cultural events, which kicked off its inaugural show, Maripolorama, on September 20. Station earned some serious bragging rights for that exhibit, bringing to Beirut the iconic French artist, Maripol – a woman known for dressing Madonna two decades ago and rubbing elbows with pop art extraordinaire Andy Warhol as part of New York City’s burgeoning art scene in the 1980s.

“Since the area lends itself to this developmental and post-industrial feeling, we knew there was some kind of energy at work with this particular neighborhood,” Nabil Canaan, one of Station’s co-founders, told Beirut.com, adding, “cool neighbors like the Beirut Art Center and Ashkal Alwan have already initiated a great energy in Jisr El Wati’s district and we consider this our collective artistic contribution to Beirut’s art scene.”

The architecture of the place is magnificent. It was built inside an old wood factory, and consists of three modular ground floor spaces, plus a rooftop terrace. Canaan found that the space’s extra-large dimensions and high ceilings also played a definitive role in his choice to settle in Adlieh.

(Station Beirut, pictured above, is the newest art space to open up in the Adlieh neighborhood.)

Just down the alleyway from Station, real estate development company Loft Construction has begun plans to build residential and commercial loft buildings in the area. Ruba Matta, a sales and information executive at the company, compared the construction they’re doing in the area to the fabled NYC art scene of SoHo, a haven for artists and ambitious creatives. With the artistic groundwork already laid down by the Beirut Art Center, Ashkal Alwan and now, Station, the area is “perfectly suited for residential lofts… it’s cool to be among the first owners of what will surely become the next SoHo of Beirut,” she said.

(Artist Lofts, pictured above, are set to be finalized by early next year but are already sold out.)

A circular building with 360 degree views called the Artist Lofts won’t be finished until February 2014, but Matta says all 29 units, ranging from 110 square meter duplexes to 435 square meter panoramic lofts, are already sold out. Meanwhile, construction of a project dubbed the Warehouse, a combination of residential and commercial lofts located in two separate buildings but linked together by a bridge, is scheduled to begin in February 2014. Another development, the Factory, will consist of 100 lofts for living and/or working. The project is scheduled for construction in 2015. “Our upcoming projects will include a combination of residential and commercial spaces. On the ground floor of every residential building project there will be a supermarket, boutiques and a food court. All of these projects will be finalized in 2017,” Matta tells Beirut.com.

Since Loft Construction took the first steps to start drawing up plans for the area, Matta says more investors are coming in and buying additional property nearby. But not everyone who’s moved into the neighborhood has found success. Events venue Solea V was a short-lived attempt to bring Lebanon’s nightlife into the growing Adlieh district. It closed in April 2013 due to the high cost of rent in the area and “the deteriorating situation in Lebanon,” the rooftop’s former manager, Hassan Nasser, told Beirut.com.

And while galleries and construction firms vie to turn the area into an upscale arts and culture district, the realities on the ground remain. There are now 750,000 refugees in Lebanon. Among the 186,955 Individuals registered in Beirut, 200 are living in the Adlieh neighborhood. When asked about the observable poverty just across the street, including Syrians seen squatting under the Jisr el Wati bridge, Matta replied: ” The location of this project has been chosen with the idea in mind to target and attract open-minded and young urban professionals and artists who wish to have an original living quarter which fits their well-off status, while having more freedom and advantages than other common bourgeois areas in town.”

“Being in a more multi-cultural area surrounded by a more hip environment is something we and our clientele know. Why else would our slogan be: Why join the navy when you can be a pirate?” Matta said.