Beirut Martyrs Square

  • projectcompetitions2004Beirut
    competition, urban design, landscaping, public, mixed use, regeneration, postwar, event

    Sum over histories or the Garden of Forking Paths

    According to the Many-Worlds concept that evolved from Quantum Physics, the universe continuously splinters into parallel worlds representing each a different configuration of its elements. Every instant a forking in the road of history appears, the whole universe goes into both directions at the same time, and we continue to be aware of only the universe we are in.

    In the words of Jorge Louis Borjes, "We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words but I am a mistake, a ghost..."

    "Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures. In one of them I am your enemy." (JLB, The Garden of Forking Paths).

    In addition, the strange world of Quantum theory also says that quantum particles go from A to B by going through every potential path simultaneously - and it is the "Sum over Histories" of these paths that allows us to understand what is going on.

    What brings Borjes and Quantum theory together to Beirut is the realisation that Martyrs Square represents the opportunity to address the complex histories and hence, identities, that make up the Lebanese social and urban reality.

    In addition to the different histories that this land has gone through, in the archeological sense, there are the geological, political, cultural, and confessional histories that together make up this constantly fluctuating identity at a social level; add to that the personal, subjective histories of each individual crossed with her group histories, and you can quickly see how valid the metaphor of a garden of forking paths that define a sum over histories would be for such a site.

    We adopted this metaphor to answer the following specific objectives (also addressing the competition brief's general objectives):

    1           To create an urban experience that encourages and enhances the healing process, both social and spatial, to fulfil the real potential of the BCD as a catalyst for cohesion.

    2           To create an urban identity that recognises the complexity of Beirut's socio-cultural, spatial, and historical identities, in response to the perceived notion of the BCD being an exclusive social scene, with over-sanitised and sterile architectures, hidden away inside "Fortress Solidere".

    3           To propose this experience and identity as a major selling point in the positioning of Beirut in the regional and global contexts.

    In a sense we propose to treat the whole project as an event-led public relations campaign where the goal would be to enhance the relations (and create new ones) between the BCD and Beirut, between Solidere and the citizens, and between the citizens themselves, between Beirut and the rest of the country, and the country and the rest of the world. Because this is an urban space of national importance, the ambition needs to go beyond the mere image or money making exercise urban designers and developers tend to limit themselves to.

    We need an event that would galvanise the activities and emotions of all the population, that goes beyond Martyr's Square spatial confines, and beyond Beirut, yet focuses back on Beirut and on Martyr's Square.


      "What statue? Of who? If you want to start having war memorials, you should have a statue for every dead. The whole street would be filled with statues!" - anonymous interviewee near Martyr's square.

    We propose a Martyr's Festival as an annual event in May and a popular competition not too dissimilar of street festivals and carnivals. It would start in the heart of the Lebanese hinterland, inside each town and village, where each community designs and builds its own competition entry (a flower parade float, a martyr's memorial statue, etc... let us call is a "Statue" for now) over the course of the year, and it is then "brought down" to Beirut to begin a ceremonial procession that would parade it around the square.

    It is a process reminiscent of the Rio Carnival, or the procession of the Virgin Mary statue across towns, of Ashourah, of the procession of David in the streets of Florence before it was put up, or of the Martyr's Statue when it was brought in after restoration.

    The "Statues" then find their place on the "plinths" of the Square, on show for a few weeks. People vote for them, and a few could be chosen to become permanent fixtures, or taken back to perhaps be used in their hometowns as public monuments or public art.

    It will be an event of great social significance, a proactive communal act of remembrance, but also an act of catharsis, an essential défoulement; an empowering event that allows anyone, however briefly, to claim a piece of the BCD as their own.

    It is also a very iconic event that could be easily merchandised, and create a major economic/touristic attraction. Imagine the souvenir shops now selling miniature replicas and postcards of all the kitsch creations over the years... it could provide Beirut with a very powerful new kind of landmark: a dynamic, city-scale, constantly moving statue park. Trafalgar Square's biannual Fourth Plinth competition is becoming an increasingly famous art venue; Beirut would have 17 such plinths!

    Martyr's Festival is a secular procession, a secular Carne-vale, that can with time transcend its political dimension, just as the Rio Carnival transcended its religious dimension, to become a true catalyst for social cohesion, economic growth, and cultural identification through diversification.

    Between the 13 th of April (Lebanese war anniversary) and the 6 th of May (Martyr's Day), Martyr's Festival ties back with the Shopping Festival, activates and animates the Spring tourist season.

    Such an event would be truly unique in the region because no other nation can claim the diversity in culture and identities and histories that such an even would require.

    It ties back into the Gardens of Forgiveness, the abundance of religious edifices, the presence of the mountain and the sea, with the pre-war, pre-independence histories of the Lebanese nation... It would initiate a debate on memory, on civic pride, and on public space. It would create a heightened awareness of public space in towns and villages, as Solidere finally re-injects its experience into the rest of the Lebanese territory...

    It would require a leap of faith and great political courage to trigger it, but would show the mark of a great social vision.


    The design solution effectively stems from the objectives outlined above and the need for the new space to accommodate the Martyr's Festival.

    The project responds by creating the following elements:

    New Fractal Eastern Edge:

    Diluting the "Fortress Solidere" Effect.

    A more permeable series of blocks, 4 new E-W pedestrian streets with fixed volume control and relatively small plot sizes to encourage quick acquisition and investment by small to medium capital. Mainly residential, with raised roof gardens, penthouse villas and staggered heights (max 40m). Small neighbourhood shops (grocers, flowers,...) at street level. The new streets also mean better flow in and out of the festival area for crowd dispersal.

    Echoing the urban grain and fractal dimension of the rest of the city, in particular the nearby Gemmayzeh area, while providing a more controlled quality of build and a colour palette more in tune with the Saifi Village: it encourages the rest of the city to "Learn From the BCD" while the BCD can also learn from the complexity of the rest of the city...

    Buildings facing the square are encouraged to have wide terraces to be rented out for viewing of the events, but also for terrace cafés and restaurants.

    The tip of the Eastern side of the square extends into the sea to form a terraced ferry terminal topped by a 150m2 hotel. It is part of a giant complex block, the Seagate Complex, framing the N-E entrances to the BCD. The complex includes the archaeology museum with a canopy extending over the tell.

    The Western edge of the axis continues the trend of object-like buildings started with the Virgin MegaStore, the UAP building, the Nahar Building, and the "Egg" Building, by proposing this becomes an "Architecture Parade".

    New Architectural Parade:

    Showcasing the variety of contemporary large-scale architectures

    The Western Edge of the axis is made up of a collection of large-scale, high capital investment buildings creating a brochette of architectural "gems". Investors will be contractually required to use approved architects of international stature.

    Buildings include industry and commerce HQ's, cultural, religious and public buildings (we propose the Police Station be reconstructed on that side. All street wall controls and height restrictions are removed for these plots and/or considered individually.

    This edge contrasts and complements the fine-grain, more neighbourhood feel of the Fractal Eastern Edge.

    The Arts Forum Building:

    Reclaiming the secularity of the square

    At the heart of this parade is the Arts Forum, a very special XL building that hovers above ground, creating a 12 meter high canopy and a direct flow between the Garden of Forgiveness and the Garden of Forking Paths.

    The Forum houses Art, Architecture and Design schools and activities, a 5000 seat auditorium, plenty of terrace cafés overlooking both Martyr's Square to the East and the Garden of Forgiveness to the West.

    The underbelly of the megastructure is a giant electronic screen upon which multimedia events could be held, or advertising shown, etc.

    Conceptually, the space of the axis is occupied by a flow of people and emotions and ideas flowing from and into the Mediterranean:

    The Garden of Forking Paths:

    An incredible structure of fascinating flow and complexity fills the space of the Martyr's Axis.

    This quantum garden is made up   of a collection of 15 particle-like Pavilions/plinths, one for each year of the Lebanese War, and 17 wave-like intertwining paths, one for each Lebanese community.

    Metaphorically it complements the Garden of Forgiveness, and provides a less poetic, and more active form of memorial, intrinsically linked with the every day life of the city.

    The Pavilions function programmatically as cafés, kiosks, galleries, souvenir shops, etc. to activate the outdoor spaces between them. Spatially they bring a human scale to the main piazza. Climbable and appropriatable, they are the equivalent of Trafalgar Square's Lion plinths and Fontana di Trevi's rocks.

    Their roofs are pedestals upon which more art, statues or memorials can be setup.

    Topographically and conceptually they are the stones that channel the flow of the   Forking Paths, which eventually break up into a chaotic pattern that pervades space and becomes bridges and promenades that lead over streets and through   archeology, they join with the archeology trails or go down to the quayside where they even transform into boardwalks to floating pavilions, reminiscent of fishermen's boats randomly spread onto the Mediterranean or Phoenician voyagers or the neverending movement of people migrating in and out of this fascinating and complex city of Beirut.