• The Small Old House by the Sea
    Ala Tannir
    Beirut Heritage Initiative, Beirut
    Spring 2023
    Ala Tannir

“The Small Old House by the Sea,” Beirut, 2021. Photo: Ala Tannir

This project reintroduces a dilapidated coastal building from the 1930s back into the collective memory and lives of Beiruti citizens. The massive port explosion of August 4, 2020 tore through Beirut’s urban fabric. Yet the eradication of Beirut’s Ottoman, French mandate, and modern built heritage has been primarily the consequence of an intentional lack of planning on the metropolitan and national levels. Regulations give little to no incentive to preserve buildings, encouraging owners to demolish or sell their properties to developers for higher revenue. Consequently, protecting the city’s heritage faces serious challenges. Through setting up a pilot exhibition of in-situ interventions in a vacant floor of “The Small Old House by the Sea,” the project—in collaboration with the Beirut Heritage Initiative and local craftspeople, designers, and architectural collectives—aims to produce a record of and then restore the damages endured by the space, in order to establish and house a new cultural platform. Future public programming—of exhibitions, screenings, talks, etc.—is designed to engage local communities in conversations around urban inclusion and the right to the city. It is also meant to facilitate multidisciplinary research about the Mediterranean landscape, focusing on its Eastern and Southern geographies. Ultimately, the project seeks to creatively preserve the architecture of the building, the spatial and social ecosystem it enables, and the histories of the city—recent and distant—that it represents.

Ala Tannir is an independent architect and curator from Beirut, and is currently the inaugural Curatorial Fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center. She was part of the curatorial team and managing editor of publications for the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale (2021), How will we live together? where she coedited two publications titled Expansions and Co-Habitats (La Biennale di Venezia, 2021). In 2019, she coorganized the XXII Triennale di Milano, Broken Nature and coauthored its accompanying catalogue. She was previously involved in the organizing of several exhibitions, installations, and publications including Design and Violence and This is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her research and writings have been published in English, Arabic, Italian, and French, and have been featured in Migrant Journal and Bidayat Magazine, among others. She holds a bachelor’s of architecture from the American University of Beirut, and a master’s in industrial design from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Due to the urgency posed by the Beirut Port blast of August 4, 2020, the Beirut Heritage Initiative (BHI) was launched as an independent and inclusive collective, in favor of restoring the built and cultural heritage of Beirut. BHI was born out of necessity, to bridge a vital gap of funding and coordination that exists between the owners and residents of heritage structures stricken by the August 4, 2020 explosion, and the public departments essential to facilitate legal permits for reconstruction works. BHI is organized around a team of experts and professionals with complementary skills, such as the Order of Engineers and Architects of Beirut (OEA), the Beirut Built Heritage Rescue 2020 (BBHR20), and NGOs specialized in cultural heritage.