We need beauty to survive

Open letter from Lina Ghotmeh

On the 4th of August 2020 just before 18h00, while I had just arrived to Beirut from Paris, a massive explosion hit the city, erasing its beating heart by the Port. Killing more than 191 persons, harming over 6500, displacing 300,000 people, destroying over 6000 homes, spilling in ashes many historical buildings and muting to a final term the history that these were still softly whispering.

While Beirut had been living an unprecedented economic crisis, with more than 50% of the population left under the poverty line – a crisis aggravated by the world sanitary Covid-19 turmoil- this explosion had come to erase the little hope that the city and its citizens had for a decent survival. At the time, where shelter, housing was all what people had been left with to be shielded from the worrisome life that had turned the country upside down in few months, this 4th world largest explosion ever recorded had dispossessed the population from the very basic rights humans shall have on our earth. Never had the call for a world solidarity been so meaningful for the population in Lebanon. Citizens, non-governmental associations, are more than ever engaged with fraternal actions on the ground, with the little means at hand. Civilians’ contributions have been admired by the press all over the world. At this occasion, all help whether yours or mine became of primary importance.

While touching upon one’s humanity, this event had also deeply called upon my vocation as an Architect. The irony of the situation wanted that this explosion falls along the same time I was ready to deliver my first design project “Stone Garden ” tower in my birthplace: a 10 years design work that crystallized all the passion I held both for architecture and for Beirut the city I had grown in.

Located barely a mile away from the port area, I drew this building as an expression of the city’s history, a reaction to the war-torn built scape that I strangely got accustomed to. I needed to draw an earthly presence amid the glass mirroring heights competing for the Mediterranean sky. Stone Garden attempted to quietly sit by the seaport, waving distantly at the sea visitors of the city. I wanted this ‘tower’ amorphous, as is the building regulations that helped me shape it. Hand sculpted, it emerges as a healing tool from the ground, or as I baptized it as an ‘Archeology of the Future’. Its architecture wants to belong to earth as to remain anchored in its terrain. It embraces with generosity its adjacent, yet modest, buildings. It transforms the hollowed skins born naked in Beirut into positive havens of life. Its asymmetrical windows, dance around its sculpted mass, harvesting nature at heights. From within, these windows, in various sizes, capture views towards Beirut. They are instances that are meant to be savored as snapshots, as if captured for a last time. And at the speed of these fleeting instances and seconds, the force of the explosion flurry had blown away the few glass that had just been completed to shield the inhabitants. The blow warped all pieces of metal and left bloodily bare yet intact the massive earthly body of “Stone Garden”. While the young trees held tightly to their ground at heights, this tower had transformed into a protective bunker and there it was : what had been the creative force behind my drawing consuming what I had thrived for years to complete. Every warp, every shatter, every broken part had echoed in me, deforming my own body, calling pain upon me. I wondered, are our spaces to this point so viscerally related to our bodies? I had always felt this attachment to my environment, to what I would design, create or construct; yet this took another dimension…

And now what? While conceptually, this moment plunged me into the perfect plot where the past had met the future within the same archeological body, where conception transformed into inception; I could not but tear.  I have worked voluntarily, with very little means for years to passionately complete this work to which I got attached; as if building my own wedding gown. But here I was faced with the melancholy of this ruin. The few broken hearted, injured tenants who had lived the building, told me: “rebuilding is a collective matter”. We call upon you to raise our voices and ask help from the world to stitch back what had been destroyed. We need support, we need patrons who are willing to revamp what had been blown to reinstate this contemporary creation we have been so proud of. We are left bare; we have no means. We need their generosity to help us, we will be here to work hand in hand, we will write their honorable names on the walls of your creation. Generations of this multicultural city will learn that there will always be those who extirpate and those who raise back and allow humanity a leap forward.

Publishing this project, the state of its complete construction, the state of its bitter destruction is of a great meaning today. This is an open call for attention to Beirut, this land of diversities, that still needs everyone’s support to rise. This is a call for solidarity and contribution from visionary Patrons in the world to bring back to life Stone Garden and allow it to heal the sore wounds of its inhabitants.