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Georges Chamoun

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What architectural program does a forgotten street in the capital need in order to come back to life again?

As an architecture masters student, I chose the field of arts to be the subject of my diploma project. I want to conceive a project that would work as a platform that connects the artists and the art-lovers, a focal point for perpetual interaction between local as well as international artists and the public. That would give birth to a cross-cultural artistic dialogue.
I chose Rue Monot, a sort of forgotten street with value in the capital Beirut. Small empty pieces of land (With an average area of 600m2 for each) are available on both sides of the street along with a 3000m2 land (Relatively big).
My proposition: A hub and a network that pivot around it.
The hub will obviously be conceived in the bigger land and other less important functions will form the "network" and take place in the small lands.
The concept of the hub and network would transform the forgotten street into a live public pedestrian space for exchange and interaction.
------>The network:
- Art galleries
- Workshops
- Retail
- Dorms for international artists
- Spaces for performing arts
- Mediatheque
------>The hub: That is the part where I need your ideas and opinions the most.
I propose conceiving a Museum of contemporary arts since Lebanon in general lacks such spaces. That would be the center of my project. The other functions would pivot around it.
I want you guys to hit me up with your suggestions and comments as soon as possible. Thank you in advance!

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    Nov 26 2013: So far the most vivid and colorful districts I ever encountered have always been a slightly chaotic mixture of anything what all people need to life their daily lives and this at close range to stay in walkable distance, which to me would be the best 'hub' to any 'conceptual add-on'.

    And if you wish your 'cross-cultural artistic dialog' to 'breathe within', it may help to integrate it straight away instead of 'ghettoizing' it artificially in a new build yet separate district at its very beginning.

    Yet either way, constant affordable prices, especially for unknown artists, would be key.
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      Nov 26 2013: I know exactly what you are talking about. This would normally generate problems but not in my case.
      Beirut is really expensive. All of it. The street I chose is already expensive and is not the place for artists or people with low income to stay. This is the case in almost all Beirut. That is the sad part because if we go back in history, Beirut was for everyone and not only for the rich. Nowadays, only millionaires can afford buying in Beirut (But let us keep in mind that the citizens that already have houses/ lands in Beirut are not necessarily that rich). However, some areas in Beirut like Hamra and Achrafieh especially Mar Mkhayel area attracts people from all the classes especially at night. Point is, when other streets are flourishing, Rue Monot _which is the street I chose _ is dying.
      I suggest to fix three problems:
      - Reviving the dying street which has value because of the traditional architecture and the history which it holds.
      - Taking advantage of the small forgotten lands that cannot host big programs.
      - Creating a place to encourage the artists since Lebanon requires communication, motivation, tools and space when it comes to the art scene. When I say arts, I mean everyone and that is a fact that studies have proven. When there is art, everyone is attracted. Maybe the artists and art-lovers at first, but everyone the soonest. Take for example le quartier du Centre Pompidou, Paris and Amsterdam-Noord which is a newer.

      Arts would be the key but the aim is all the people and not only the artist. Nevertheless, I will keep in mind the point you've given in what I called "the network" which means I will include functions that are not directly related to arts.
      Thank your for your advice! This debate is really fruitful.
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        Nov 26 2013: So much about keys and constant affordable prices ... :o)

        And the entry ticked for a cross-cultural artistic dialog - at least for unknown foreign artists - seems to have just risen. So without consequent funding of some friendly millionaires, the art exchange you have in mind may be more of local character, which after all, is still better than no arts at all.

        Reading somewhat on and between your last lines, are those 'other streets' mainly attracting by a more vivid night life, provided by an infrastructure of bars and clubs? Or are there other reasons for their new grown popularity?

        And if this was case, could you imagine a combination of clubbing and 'do it yourself' art environment?

        Looking at other peoples work of art is one thing, making your own art and showing it, another. So instead of wasting the whole night in dancing to modern dance music, why not use some of this mood the people are in to encourage them to make some art in remaining forms, such as small paintings, performances or clay work? And whatever may turn out of more than individual interest could be at display in your infrastructure and its 'amateurish' artist maybe encouraged into more ...

        So if it was about this sort of creativity, spreading chances to act or to perform in arts would be one way, and to combine it with places where the crowd hangs out at night, may adds even more chance to it.

        And if those tired DIY artists can get a bottle of fresh milk and some bread on their way home, early in the morning, the circle of infrastructure would have closed nicely for their breakfast, and before final sleep ... :o)
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          Nov 26 2013: Actually, that is a great idea.
          I can conceive "the network" volumes in a more intelligent way. Spaces that can be transformed into "pubs" / "performance stages" at night; probably their ground floors. This way, I make sure the project would attract everyone, during all day.
          By the way, yes, the streets I mentioned earlier are famous mainly because of the nightlife.
          Thank you again! This debate is getting even more interesting and fruitful.
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        Nov 26 2013: Just make sure the beer is cold when all of us TED'sters are coming to take a look at and to dive into your realized diploma project. Good luck in any case and cheers! ;o)
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    Nov 26 2013: Georges, what is your connection to this street, do you live there, or work there? One thing I would suggest is walking a lot on the street and spending quite a bit of time talking to the people who live and work there and tapping their minds. And find out if there are people who own property there who perhaps are not there every day and contact and interview them, including the owners of the vacant land. Ask them all how they perceive the street. Do they agree that it is a "forgotten" street? What current value do they see there? Do they want more value to be added? What do they think would add value?

    I would say these people would have better ideas than an architect who doesn't live on the street, or a lot of people on TED who don't even live in the country.

    What would you do if most, or all, of the people who you talked to told you they liked the street just as it is? Or suggested improvements that did not emphasize the arts?
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      Nov 28 2013: Thank you Greg for pointing this out. I did not mention what the people would want because I have already asked the ones I met while checking the site a few questions. I work right next to this street. The people are not very happy with what the street has become. It used to be an attraction for the Lebanese and the tourists. Now it is slowly dying. Furthermore, the street is famous for the night clubs, pubs and restaurants that were once located there. So practically, I am only bringing back what was lost and adding value to the street. It is not like I am forcing a whole new program on the community that lives there. As for the "arts", Beirut needs it and the Lebanese people are really interested in arts which means anyone would support a project like this.
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        Nov 28 2013: well then maybe it is a good idea, Georges. If it were me, I would still ask the local people if they agree that the best solution is an art museum, there are other options, such as a retail mall or a multiple-screen cinema. Do people roller-skate in Beirut, here in the U.S. we have "roller rinks" where hundreds of people rent skates with wheels they can attach to their feet, then they all skate in a big circle on a wooden floor (indoors) while music plays and a host talks on the speakers. Of course some skaters are more skillful than others, and can skate backwards and do complicated dance moves on skates. It is quite fun, although not the largest part of the recreation sector.

        Another option is a museum devoted to music. Here in Los Angeles we have the Grammy Museum. The Grammys are an award the music industry gives for music, the biggest award in the industry, so the Grammy Museum celebrates both the Grammies, and the music industry in general. http://www.grammymuseum.org/ I would imagine across the country we have other museums for music. The most famous one is the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, this honors the top players in pop music historically, one has to be voted in and it is very difficult to get in. Like the Grammy Museum, this would have many exhibits, photos, clothing samples, chances to hear the music, speakers would come in, symposia. http://www.rockhall.com/

        A third option is some sort of school. Here in Los Angeles I saw an interesting combination where there is a big building that houses an upscale multiple-theater cinema, Arclight Hollywood, and next to that a four-story building housing a cooking school, Cordon Bleu. There is a large concrete walkway between the two that somewhat "joins" the two emotionally and leads to the main entrances of both buildings, plus a little central plaza with a water pool with low walls people can sit on. Maybe this is too large a project physically for your street?
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        Nov 28 2013: Georges, I'm afraid when I made these suggestions I was not thinking too much about the size of land available to you. I was just throwing out suggestions, things I would enjoy on a street. So I don't know if any would work. But 3000 meters x 3000 meters sounds huge to me. I think of a football field here in the U.S. as about 100 meters, so 3000 would be thirty times as big?, I find it hard to believe that much is available, are you sure?
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          Dec 1 2013: Greg Sorry for the late reply. What you suggested is amazing but I want you to know that what I will be conceiving is a modern version of a museum. It's a contemporary art hub. It will be a complex that blends exhibition (Museum) and performing arts (Event space / platforms). Trust me when I say Beirut needs both.
          And yes it is 3000m2 (Not meters). It has a rectangular shape and it is not as big as you think it is.
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        Dec 1 2013: Thanks, Georges. Well, I was not saying my ideas were better, only saying they were other possibilities. I would think you know better than I which is best, as you know the street, the city, the people. In a sense, aren't you doing more here than typical architecture duties, generally when you are working as an architect someone else decides what will go on a space, then they come to you and ask you to design it? But here you are also deciding what will go on a space? Possibly the question of deciding what will go on a space is a whole separate specialty, falling under marketing? Possibly you should contact marketing specialists to decide what should go on the space? I'm not sure how a marketing specialist works, if it were me I would walk the street and talk to the people there, perhaps talk to people throughout the city and ask what they think the city needs.

        This is not to say your idea is wrong, Georges. Even without an "official" marketing degree, someone could think intelligently about what would be best for a site. But the marketing background might take it up a notch?

        Not to strongly push my idea of a music museum, it does seem like music is extremely popular, when you start looking at Internet hits, you will see that it is the music videos that get the most hits, hundreds of millions or even over a billion. But of course music is not the only thing in the world, art museums are quite popular.

        When I have visited an art museum, I found that the experience was better when a docent gave me a tour, giving ideas and answering questions. Possibly you should make your museum docent-friendly? perhaps include a space for them to rest in or maybe give them lockers to store their possessions?

        Of all the possibilities listed, I myself patronize the cinema much more than any of the others. How about you, which do you go to the most?
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          Dec 4 2013: Actually what you are saying is 100% correct.
          I did ask the people living in that street and some of the people in the city. The survey is part of my project. The majority went for the arts. I agree with what you said about music but honestly, there are other students that are working on the theme and I prefer the arts since they are the more neglected in the city.
          As for me choosing the program, well yes. This is how the architecture diploma projects work. You get to choose the theme, the program and conceive the space and that is actually cool because that would probably your only chance to do what you want to do as an architect and try to fix a certain social problem with the project you're making. Marketing is important but that is a little too advanced for this project. Remember that this is conceptual. It won't be built in real life. That means that a reasonable program with an interesting approach and concept will do the job.
          I will be careful with what the museum will contain. The type of arts I mean. I am making a meticulous research and meeting up with Lebanese artists to find out what would the exhibition be built on.
          I am doing a good job so far but it is huge literally. I am barely sleeping. That explains the late replies by the way,
          I am really happy with the result of this debate. Thank you for your help Greg!
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        Dec 4 2013: Thank you, Georges. Sounds like you are doing great. But one question, if you were pretty convinced that you already had the right idea for the hub, why did you start the conversation, you were hoping someone would have some idea that was even better than yours, or.....?

        I hope they will have some paintings of the agricultural life of Lebanon as I'm fascinated by agriculture.
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          Dec 5 2013: I was not sure when I first started the conversation. Basically, Fritzie's references, my teacher's and Lejan's comments helped me make up my mind. Also, I wanted to hear opinions and as you said probably wait for someone to give a better idea. Your ideas were great, really. Mine is not even better. It is just that what you are suggesting is too advanced for a city that doesn't even have a museum of arts.
          As for the agriculture-related-piece of arts, I know artists who might have produced some. I will definitely contact them.
          Thank you again Greg. I really appreciate your comments.
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      Nov 26 2013: Yes of course. landscape is a crucial and fundamental part that I will definitely be working on. I did not mention because the Hub is my concern at the moment.
      Thank you!
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    Nov 26 2013: Your focus seems pretty much on the arts, at least in the network, which certainly is interesting, yet would it really generate enough public interest to become an integrated part, better an re-integrated part of common city life again?

    What I have experienced so far, is, that art mainly attracts just a small group of people who are interested in it or drawn to it, yet in general stays mainly ignored by the majority. So the question would be, if a new infrastructure with a quite narrow population focus could accomplish what you have in mind.

    Many artist, especially newcomers, usually suffer from the lack of a stable income, which, at least in my country, often leads to the forming of artist sub-cultures in actually more shabby districts of cities where rents and cost of living are significantly lower and thus more affordable to them. Ironically, this price refuge tends to destroy itself the moment this art, or some artists, gain international recognition, because then it becomes 'hip' for other people to live there as well. Not to work as artists themselves, yet to be 'within' the atmosphere of this creative circle. And as rent prices rise the moment demand goes up, as well as the general cost of living, the district slowly becomes more and more expensive and finally prevent younger generation of artists to settle down there as well so they are forced to seek for new refuges elsewhere.

    As your 'network' seem to aim also at newcomer artists, how could you prevent those upward price spirals to push them out again on the longer run and how could you make a newly build infrastructure affordable from the beginning in the first place?

    Artists promotion programs usually work only fine in times of economical 'high tides' and are the ones cut first in economical 'low tides'. Which isn't a stable foundation to build upon.

    It also seems as more conceptual planning goes into a town district beforehand, as less space remains for 'street life' to organize itself within.
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    Nov 25 2013: George, I have three leads you should look at that I think will be fruitful.

    The website for Fast.Company often features such projects. You can read of the experience of others who have walked this path before you..

    The website and blogs of the Sustainable Cities Collective is another fruitful source. They have had an article in the last week, even, about the effects of typical revitalization projects that are designed to be attractors for the creative class every city most wants to attract and neglects or marginalizes others, often poor or less educated, who get gentrified out of their living spaces.

    A third site you might look at is the BMW-Guggenheim Lab site. Last year they spent about a month each in New York, then Berlin, and then Mumbai, looking at improving quality of life in cities and the various forces that affect residents. The Berlin aspect of the work may be of particular interest to you.

    It is a very interesting project and reflects what many cities are trying to do, I think, to form or revitalize an identity around arts.
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      Nov 26 2013: Thank you so much for the references. I spent hours reading articles; they were really helpful especially the Sustainable Cities Collective's. I now have strong arguments in my head.
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        Nov 26 2013: Oh, good. One of my favorite aspects of participating in TED Conversations is being able to direct people to really solid references. There is so much fluffy stuff that comes up when one just uses search engines that it can be difficult to sift through and find the gems.
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          Nov 26 2013: Exactly!
          I am really glad I got involved in this community.
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    Dec 8 2013: Hi Georges!
    I really enjoyed your project idea, and I wish you will succeed in it.
    For the hub, I thought of a kind of exposition hall destined exclusively to architecture student, so that they can expose their master’s project. That could reduce the intermediary between students and companies which are looking for hiring new architects. In that way, it would help students to find a job, and it would also help architecture cabinets or companies to find THE talent they are looking for. Finally, it could be interesting for people to come and see final projects of students who will be soon graduate (they could also directly be attracted by someone to build their house).
    I’m personally student in an engineer and architect school in France, and each year, master’s project of architecture student are exposed in a school’s hall.
    By exposing their projects in a public hall, it could encourage them and be a sort of recognition of the long months they have worked hard to hand out such projects.
    I hope my response will help you.
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    Dec 5 2013: Georges, As usual my friend Fritzie has provided you with excellent advice and references.

    I wish to give you simple advice ... I read a travel report from a visitor to Beirut who said they went to Pigeon Rock, a walk along the shore, a pretty mosque, a burned out christian church, and signs of war everywhere (bullet holes). So here is the advice ... you can do the math and build a structure ... but you need to make it functional and something wanted ... walk the area ... ask what locals would support ... go to the big hotels and ask the tourists what they want to see .. or what they expected in Beirut that they could not find or was not available. Ask the schools what they would support ... how about the government department of antiquities ... ask tour guides what turns the tourists on and what turns them off ... most gripes most compliments. You get the idea. Incorporate these into your project.

    I wish you well .... come back in a year and tell us how it is going. Bob.
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      Dec 5 2013: Correct. Any similar project needs to be well studied. Knowing what the people/ tourists want is crucial. I have already started my survey, the results are in my favor which is great. I still have questions to ask though.
      Thank you Robert! Will update you when it gets more serious!
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    Nov 28 2013: I think you have the cultural side pretty much covered ;).
    I try get you in touch with a friend of mine. He told me about an area in Beirut where he/his family owns a factory that went out of use a long time ago, and is seriously thinking about building a cultural/arts center. How he explained me it might even be exactly that area! I sent him the link to this conversation, hope he contacts you and something comes out!

    A thought I have is inspired by this talk:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la.html

    it's not so much about culture as it is about cultivating. But at the same time an essential part of urban development i think?

    cheers
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      Dec 1 2013: Mike it will be really great if your friend contacts me. However, I have a feeling that his factory is located in another area since Rue Monot is factory-free. Either way, hearing about his plans would be amazing.
      The talk you shared is really inspiring but I need an architectural program since I am an architecture student. Also, South L.A is a whole different case.
      Thank you anyway! :)
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    Nov 28 2013: Georges, I note that elsewhere you have said that Rue Monot is dying. A few questions: Is that because people now find it unattractive, or is it because there are better attractions elsewhere? In other words, have they been pushed away through a sense of neglect, or pulled away from Rue Monot specifically - or even Beirut as a whole?

    What has happened to the night clubs, pubs and restaurants? Were they once vibrant places to visit because it epitomised Beirut social life and also felt like a safe gathering place?

    I'm just wondering, given the historical political unrest in Beirut, that the perceived safety issues (not helped by the media) may be putting a negative bias on attracting people back there?

    My own thoughts on such over-hyped safety concerns, is that architecture should, if at all possible, overrule the health and safety zealots with both courage and sensitivity towards ordinary residents of Beirut, who probably just want their local sense of place back again, free from barriers, barbed wire and insensitive identikit architecture.

    If residents are proud to use the place, tourists and other visitors are bound to follow. (Building specifically for tourism on the other hand, has a nasty habit of destroying once-popular destinations).

    The arts sounds like a fantastic springboard for your project, as it is inherently benign politically from start to end, and appeals to a hitherto neglected part of the human condition. Cities like Berlin have a profoundly attractive vibrancy to them, precisely because the arts have an important role to play in a 'sense of belonging'.

    I wish you the best of luck with this Georges. It sounds like a great project.
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      Dec 1 2013: Well, Beirut is peaceful. That is what the world does not know. However, some areas in its suburbs aren't and that is what is giving the city its bad reputation. Hamra and Mar Mkhayel, the areas I mentioned earlier are both in Beirut. They are more attractive and "trendy" than Rue Monot is. That is why I want it to beat that in a fruitful and modern way. War (which is not here anyway) is not the problem. It is just that Rue Monot has become boring and needs something to catalyze it and art is the best catalyst. Don't you agree?
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    Nov 27 2013: Dear Georges, you might want check out the project of Porto Madero i n Buenos Aires (Argentina).
    This is a success story of how one of the ugliest and most dangerous places in Buenos Aires was converted into one of the most (if not the most) expensive neighborhoods in Buenos Aires.
    This document might be a good place to start:
    http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/91885/rachsher.pdf;jsessionid=2F1F803970AC844D9590A91592D1A3CD?sequence=1
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      Nov 28 2013: Thank you Harald for sharing!
      Interesting intervention! Will keep what they did in mind!