A number of images are appearing on social media today documenting the demolition of one of Lebanon’s first major factories and reportedly the oldest brewery in the Middle East.
Photographer Jad Ghorayeb posted this video this afternoon on Facebook:
Activists tell me the demolition of the old Laziza brewery in the very dense working class Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael could cause public health problems, as well as long term gentrification effects driving up the cost of living, and thus indirectly evicting residents and small family-owned businesses that have existed for generations.
The old sign has recently been removed, seen in this picture taken his morning:
And scaffolding went up last week:
So why is this happening, and if local residents are not a priority, who is?
The Laziza brewery, established in the early 1930s, will be demolished to create luxury flats by famous Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury, known for his exclusive nightclubs and appartments, affordable by a tiny fraction of the population.
According to the developer, Capstone Investment Group, the site will become “Mar Mikhael Village”
“Mar Mikhael Village entails the conversion of an old brewery into chic and trendy Lofts that exemplify contemporary city living in the hip area of Mar Mikhael.”
On his website, Khoury makes the argument that the height of the floors make it impossible for residential housing, lamenting its loss. He says a “ghost” of the building will be preserved, bringing back the sign and creating a small homage to part of the facade, dwarfed by a new massive superstructure.
Khoury says the demolition is “unfortunate” but inevitable: “The project’s relationship with the memory of its predecessor no longer lies in the mummification of the edifice that was to be recuperated, but instead rests on the acknowledgment of its unfortunate demolition, the tracing of its now-absent morphology and the poetry of its vital disappearance.”
But was a luxury residence really the only possibility here?
A piece that recently appeared in L’Orient Le Jour takes issue with Khoury’s comments, and questions their self-serving appearance. The piece argued that architects and investors bear a responsibility to the city beyond lip service and lamentation. Here is an excerpt translated from French via Google:
“But if the building is not suitable for housing, then the will to build should not be used as an excuse to demolish it. The problem does not lie in the inability of the Brewery to adapt, but in the choice of program which is unsuitable. Other programs, cultural, commercial, leisure, could indeed have been imagined there.”
The building should be preserved in its entirety and in all its parts whose composition is exceptional, witness of its rich history. But if it were nevertheless to concede to the financial reality, it would have been possible for example to preserve the central building and to allow itself to build on the rest of the ground. Real estate in Beirut is one of the most profitable in the world and even if this share of the 13,500m2 building is not exploited, the project will remain largely profitable.”
Yet this story is not just about the brewery but also the broader Mar Mikhael neighborhood, one of Beirut’s best preserved, and the dozens of developments and mega construction sites that are taking a toll on residents:
“The heritage situation in Beirut is indeed catastrophic: delusional real estate, absence of Masterplan, an obsolete heritage law that is struggling to be replaced by a modern law, blocked by politicians … As a result, demolished historic buildings and traditional neighborhoods Disfigured.However, the area where the Grande Brasserie du Levant is located is largely preserved and is a rare chance to preserve a historic quarter for the future. Such a massive project, replacing such an iconic building, is a violent act that will only initiate the disintegration of this precious urban fabric.”
Important questions raised by this project
What do local residents think of what is happening to their neighborhood? Why are their views rarely heard and why is the conversation on these mega projects frequently narrated by super wealthy real estate companies and starchitects? Why are people who own so much dominating a conversation over people who have barely a place to live?
How will projects like this one effect the residents health and livelihoods? What sort of pollution do these projects entail? How do they affect air quality, traffic, road closures and ability to do business? Do they also encourage other projects that will have similar effects, bringing more cars and pollution to the neighborhood?
Who are the developers, who owns Capstone Investment Group and what are there intentions, not just with the brewery but elsewhere in the city? Do big companies like this give back to the city, in terms of taxes and local development, or are the profits largely tax free?
What is the role of law and regulations? Are there laws to protect residents, average citizens living in the neighborhood? Do they have any rights to having their homes and livelihoods protected? Or were the laws and zoning regulations written to protect developers, who are often politically-connected elites?
What is the role of the ministry of culture? Some have said the previous minister opposed this project, has something changed? What about the urban planning departments, the municipality of Beirut, architecture and engineering syndicates? Are these government and professional bodies speaking on behalf of the country and the public or do they work in the interest of the powerful and well-funded?
Activists are planning to organize around this project so I will have more updates and background as it becomes available. Any insights from readers, residents, old photos, etc would also be appreciated.
A few hours after this post went up, a reader pointed out that there are actually two sets of plans for the “Mar Mikhael Village.” Although Bernard Khoury’s website and the Capstone Investment website both feature designs that incorporate part of the old brewery facade, Mar Mikhael Village also has their own website and Facebook page, where there is no sign of the old facade. In it’s place at the bottom center of the illustration, is a darkened, tilted modernist structure that has no resemblance to the original brewery:
And instead of the brewery sign, we have a similar shaped sign that reads “Mar Mikhael Village”:
Did Mar Mikhael Village just pull a fast one on us? Or are these old pictures? What happened to Bernard Khoury’s poetic “ghost” metaphor?
Also how did a single apartment complex already garner almost 14,000 likes on Facebook since it launched a few months ago?
Photographer Jad Ghorayeb has just posted a beautiful set of photos of the brewery’s interiors. It’s hard not to imagine the potential for a community space, library or cultural venue:
How often do we find a 1930s factory with spiral staircases?
Or a space that recalls an industrial and national heritage that is long forgotten. Thanks to the developers, any potential for reviving it will now be fully erased, replaced by an exclusive gated community. See more photos from Jad’s full album posted on Facebook and also be sure to follow him on instagram for more of his stunning heritage photography.