2021 International Conference: 27th World Congress of Architects

Political Artifacts in Beirut: the story of Karm El-Zeitoun

International Proceedings

Author(s): Mohamad Nahleh

While political ambitions are embedded into urban design and architecture through the commission and planning of capitals, cities, monuments and buildings that convert the built environment into a spectacle of authority, they can also be understood at the scale of the artifact, as being encoded into seemingly mundane objects by dwellers navigating the repercussions of the power constructs around them. These artifacts embed meaning and political aims that unravel a complex history of displacement, migration, war, genocide, and obscure local and regional politics. ‘Designed artifacts’ are understood here as the prefabricated objects whose functions, locations, or meanings have been altered or manipulated by dwellers to channel particular aspirations. They are existing objects whose primary designs furthered their transformations into conduits of political ambitions. These objects trigger a representation of the city where covert negotiations of power and authority come to constitute the ordinary, where dwellers’ relationships with the spaces they inhabit define the city within which they choose – or are forced – to exist. This reading of the built environment produces a nuanced representation that rejects the construct that is the “architectural site”. It is conceptualized not as laboratory for the biopsy of Karm El Zeitoun and its surgical extraction from the rest of the city, but as a device that levitates the neighborhood just enough to understand its underlying associations – whether physical and infrastructural, personal or cultural – while retaining its material and immaterial ties to the larger city.

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