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Jad Baaklini 07 Apr 2014

Five of Lebanon’s Most Underrated Buildings

Architecture is one of very few fields that is both extremely technical, taking students years of sleepless study for even basic qualification, and intensely personal, as even non-architects will fall in love with a building or geek out over particular styles. Doctors work just as hard, but very few people will be as fascinated by what they do, and unlike most artwork that can be appreciated by non-experts, architecture is by definition in public; if you can get into the driveway, you’ve paid the price of at least the trailer. This combination of art and science, engineering and everyday life, makes architecture a very rich field for anyone to get lost in — both literally and figuratively.

(Source: Wissam Shekhani)

With the increased visibility of groups like Save Beirut Heritage and the Association for the Protection of the Lebanese Heritage, many Lebanese people are becoming more aware of the cultural value of architecture. But you don’t have to be an archi-nerd to appreciate individual buildings; with so many interesting specimens to choose from, it’s almost impossible not to!

Here’s a look at five underrated buildings you may not have known about or that are easy to miss.

1. EDL Building

(Source: Plan Bey)

The Electricité Du Liban building is number one on this list precisely because it seems like it shouldn’t be here. Today, the building only shows up in articles complaining about the lack of electricity; one popular trend has been to document the various ways the EDL sign has been partially lit, representing for many the perfect metaphor of the state of our country.

And yet, when you look past all of that, you can’t help but appreciate the building’s striking design. Today, not only is it neglected, but the public space at the foot of the building is fenced off, contrary to its original design. Given the EDL’s central location in one of the most popular neighborhoods to hang out in Beirut, wouldn’t it be great if that fence was removed?

2. Interdesign Building

(Source: Abitare)

The Interdesign Building is a strange beast. Located on Rome Street, in the Hamra neighborhood of Beirut, and looking like a giant F- You to everything around it, it’s hard to miss — and yet, not many people know about it. While I personally find it hideous, there’s no denying the sheer power of its presence. For some people, its brutal design is more meaningful than that, however; a friend of mine told me that walking by that building lifts his spirits, as it represents, in his view, the possibility of doing something daring and different in a country with so many constraints.

3. The Concrete Chalet

(Source: Mashallah News)

Like the Interdesign Building, this odd structure in Faraya is, for me, more significant as a symbol than as a design. Like the better-known Holiday Inn, Burj Al Murr and ‘The Egg,’ this building is an accidental monument to lives interrupted and lost by violence.

I wonder what other strange gems with similar stories are scattered across Lebanon, and how many more sad symbols of loss are being created every day as new generations give up and leave.

4. Yacoubian Building

(Source: Book Crossing)

While Cairo’s Yacoubian Building may be more famous, this former home of The Venus nightclub, located in the Caracas neighborhood of Ras Beirut, is slowly regaining its renown. Marwan Rechmaoui immortalized it in an installation after the lives of its occupants were disrupted by yet another violent chapter in Beirut’s history, and many photographers are still drawn to its subtle curves.

(Source: Instagram Blog)

While much of its beauty is in its original design, I also think that the building has aged in an interesting way, and that much of its charm is how its mismatched curtains mess with the orderliness of that original design.

5. Our Lady of the Fortress Church

(Photo by Christine Bingham)

You’ll have to travel way up north to see this strange church. Sometimes I feel that photos don’t really do this place any justice; removed from its location on the highest peak in Ehden, the building looks a bit ridiculous, like something out of an old sci-fi movie. You really have to be there to get the full effect.

As this blogger puts it, “there is something mysterious and spiritual happening over that mountain.” Go experience it for yourself.