July 11, 2018 - Lebanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale - The Place That Remains: Recounting the Unbuilt Territory
e-flux Architecture
July 11, 2018
July 11, 2018

Lebanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Three maps from the pavilion highlighting the density of the road network, the scale of the new territorial city, and the Place that Remains, a constellation of possibilities. © Hala Younes. Assistant for cartography, Ali Dhainy. 

The Place That Remains: Recounting the Unbuilt Territory
Catalogue of the Lebanese Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018

lebanesepavilionvenice2018.com
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The Place That Remains: Recounting the Unbuilt Territory
Catalogue of the Lebanese Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018

lebanesepavilionvenice2018.com
Facebook / Instagram

The catalogue of the Lebanese Pavilion is a bilingual book published by Skira. It documents the different phases of the first Lebanese participation in the Architecture Biennale and displays the outcomes of this initiative.

The project of the Lebanese Pavilion is an assessment of the national territory and the conditions of its “build-ability”: a reflection on the built environment through an inventory of the remaining unbuilt land. The catalogue unfolds the aforementioned in three different formats: a conference on landscape challenges involving 26 contributors, six photography projects, and an extensive cartographic research project on a territory spanning 400 square kilometers.

The first milestone of the pavilion was a conference held in Beirut in March 2018, which focused on four overlapping themes related to territorial challenges in Lebanon, namely: (1) Contemporary landscape transformations: emerging landscapes of the urban development and rural abandonment; (2) Cultural landscapes heritage and landscape management policies; (3) Communal lands, their usage and legislative framework; and (4) “Architecture of the ground,” or the design and management of unbuilt spaces. The catalogue includes the program of the conference, the biographies of all contributors, as well as three selected contributions. The complete proceedings, which constitute an inseparable part of the catalogue, are available online.

While the themes of the conference relate to all of Lebanon’s territory, the photography projects and the cartographic research focus on the hinterland of Beirut, more specifically the catchment area of the Beirut River. This valley, in the immediate vicinity of the metropolitan area, has been relatively unaffected by the urban sprawl extending into the coastal areas and the mountainous ridgelines of Lebanon.

The project commissioned the works of six photographers living and working in Lebanon. The photographs convey different interpretations of territorial challenges in the watershed of the Beirut River. In parallel, and in collaboration with the Lebanese Army’s Directorate of Geographic Affairs, the pavilion features a cartographic research project that illustrates the new urban reality occurring in the hinterland of Beirut. A series of maps projected on a 3D wooden model raise matters of concern in that territory, and unfold multiple future visions for the valley.

The maps of this strategic portion of Lebanon are printed at a scale of 1:50,000 in the catalogue, and are inserted as fold-outs into each of the chapters. The topics illustrated by the seven maps relate to the concerns raised by either the photographic reports or the essays.

Taking water as a symbol of the public good, the first map illustrates the catchment area of the river and its conflictual relation to administrative limits: surface water is both a symbol of territorial continuities and an indicator of their separation. Map 1, titled “Logic of Water and Logic of Governance,” precedes the keynote article by Michael F. Davie, “The Un-Built Lebanon: From the Romantic Gaze to Deferred Urbanization (and back again)?

The second map presents the road network as a “reservoir of public spaces.” This network testifies to the ancient and dense occupation of the mountain. It recounts its social and economic history and its different temporalities. “The Road Network, a Reservoir of Public Spaces’” is followed by a selection of ten photographs from Gregory Buchakjian’s project, “Fragments from the Ridgeline,” a collection of ordinary places extracted from a road trip along the limits of the watershed.

Ieva Saudargaité Douaihi gave her project the ironic title “The National Park and Reserve of Nahr Beirut.” It documents the contradictory relationship between the leisure amenities that have been built in the valley and the landscapes they are supposed to feature or to frame. This project is accompanied by a map illustrating the geomorphological features of the valley and the pine forest that occupies its heart; it states that “The Territory is our Last Monument.

As a matter of fact, the valley of Nahr Beirut—especially its northern and southern ridges—has been the traditional summer resort of Beirut’s residents. Today, villages and towns have expanded, and a new way of living is emerging, intertwined with nature in a spontaneous and yet unperceived and unthought-of manner. The following map shows the relation of urban settlements to nature in the extended city. The map complements Houda Kassatly’s project, “Sacred and Private Gardens.” Kassatly describes the domestic relationship to landscape and the way the use of ornamental plants as well as religious figures mediates the relationship between nature and the built environment.

Through the map and chapter that follow, Catherine Cattaruzza and Carole Lévesque elaborate on the theme of the landscape of agricultural abandonment and its possible re-appreciation. Cattaruzza’s project, “The Thin Lines between the River and Me,” documents all traces, even the slightest, of past agricultural and pastoral activity. It reveals the overlapping layers of the landscape, while using the metaphor of radiography. Correspondingly, a map with a chromatic inversion shows the urbanized areas in green, and the remaining agricultural realm in warm browns.

The project of Gilbert Hage develops at two diverging scales and in two different directions. On the one hand, there is a monumental vision of the vertical territory, the cliffs and faults of the unbuildable vertical lands; with a panoramic landscape photo, Hage shows the ultimate limit of the urban sprawl and the abyssal distance that separates us from our motherland. On the other hand, as a seeming counterpoint, he proposes a series of standing frontal and hieratic portraits; 20 inhabitants of the Nahr Beirut Valley pose with an “attribute” of their choice, symbolizing their relationship to nature.

The last chapter includes two contributions about the extremities of the watershed: the first is an article by Yasmina El Chami about the jurd (barren or overgrown land), “The Place Beyond the Coast,” or what she calls “Mount Lebanon’s Interior.” The second is a video project by Talal Khoury, titled “Tormented Waters…,” in which he follows the journey of the river from its sources to its sad ending in a polluted and disfigured estuary. As in the beautiful 1869 essay “Histoire d’un Ruisseau” of French geographer and anarchist Elisée Reclus, in which the flow of water is often a metaphor of the social body, in Khoury’s work, the destiny of water is comparable to our own.

The catalogue ends with the last map, “The City of Tomorrow,” where all the places that remain, the “white of the maps,” become a fertile land of a “constellation of possibilities.”

Hala Younes
Curator of the Lebanese Pavilion
16th Venice Architecture Biennale, Italy

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