Pavilion of Lebanon at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia

The Lebanese Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura 2018 is the first national participation of Lebanon at the International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia. It takes place under the title: “The Place That Remains, recounting the unbuilt territory.”

The project has been developed by curator Hala Younes, Assistant Professor at the Lebanese American University (LAU).

“In this first national participation, our intention as a group of architects, educators and scholars is to draw the attention of both the related professional body and the public as a whole to the conditions of architecture in our country. Lebanon has abundant human capital in the fields of architecture and engineering—700 newly graduated architects annually—yet its landscape and built environment are losing their meaning day after day. The attention of practitioners is focused on built objects, and hardly on open spaces and unbuilt territory—on the “space between things”: The Place That Remains. This concern syncs perfectly with the theme of Freespace, set by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara for the Biennale Architettura 2018.”

The first Lebanese Pavilion aims to provide an assessment of our territory, an identification of what remains, and a reflection on the built environment through an inventory of unbuilt land. Our territory, described since Antiquity as “the idyllic place”, is our last monument, and this is what we have decided to take with us to Venice, the city of cultural heritage. The area of focus is a terrain highly at risk and intensively surveyed, namely, the watershed of the Beirut River.

The material employed in the exhibition uses several formats that traditionally reveal the nature of a given territory: relief maps, photographs of the landscape, and aerial surveys.

In order to evaluate the place that remains, “the place that could still host our dreams and expectations”, the main installation is a cartographic inventory, consisting of a series of maps projected on a wooden, 3D topographic model.

Even though maps are only interpretations of reality, they nonetheless make the territory visible. By drawing its transformations, they also restructure our understanding of and relation to it. Each of the exhibited maps asks a question, raises problems and unveils multiple alternate futures. Three are diachronic assessments, where two milestones were chosen:

1956, and the related aerial photographic survey, almost one generation after the great famine of WW 1, whose traces are still present in the landscape. This milestone occurs a few years before the first series of large-scale topographic maps at a scale 1/20 000, created by the Lebanese army in 1963.

2015, the date of the first systematic updating of the topographic maps by the Directorate of Geographic Affairs.

Between 1956 and 2015, two generations were born: the first one was raised within the “Lebanese miracle”, and the second during our ongoing wars.

The Pavilion also features the work of six photographers living and working in Lebanon. The photograph of the landscape, through the blinkers that frame the setting, selects what needs to be said, and what needs to be seen: it expresses the preoccupation with and interpretation of the theme by each of the six invited contributors. Their common concern is a critical point of view on the relation of the Lebanese to nature and landscape, and to what remains in the valley of Nahr Beirut.

Gregory Buchakjian describes the territory as a collection of traces and fragments; Catherine Cattaruzza explores the landscapes abandoned by agriculture and documents the architecture of their grounds; Gilbert Hage offers a suspended and monumental vision of the geomorphological features, rifts, faults and cliffs of the vertical territory; Houda Kassatly inventories the vernacular gardens and settings around domestic spaces; Ieva Saudargaitė Douaihi proposes a systematic survey of leisure amenities and their problematic relation to nature and landscape; and, finally, Talal Khoury follows the journey of the river from its sources to the estuary, and traces all the narratives it carries.

Project contributors and supporters

The pavilion is placed is under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture. It has been initiated with the support of the Department of Urbanism at the Lebanese University (LU), the School of Architecture and Design at the Lebanese American University (LAU), the Arab Center for Architecture (ACA), the Lebanese Landscape Association (LELA), the Department of Geography at Saint Joseph University (USJ), and the Directorate of Geographic Affairs of the Lebanese Army.