5 Major Projects To Take Place In Beirut: The City Losing Itself To Money

Between articles about how empty Downtown is and a reiteration of every form of the word “Phoenix” possible, there has been plenty that international publications have said about our capital. But there hasn’t been, in my opinion, as interesting an article as the one published in The Guardian today (link). In fact, it has taught me a few things about the city’s future that I felt should be shared.

Solidere’s view for Downtown Beirut is only halfway done. That empty but beautiful looking aggregation of charming but ultimately lifeless buildings is not where things end. Solidere’s view for how the center of Beirut should be is basically to get as many fancy worldwide architects as possible and have them build on one of the city’s plots.

As such, here are 5 projects that await the city in the future.

1 – Zaha Hadid’s Department Store in Beirut Souks

If you thought Zaha Hadid’s AUB building was bad, wait till you see this. Beirut Souks as they stand currently are not expensive nor are they enough for regular shoppers. So, naturally, they will expand in the future with the addition of a Zaha Hadid-designed department store that will also serve as a residential space in some of its floors. Why? Because money, I guess. The place will have be a 5-storey development of 26,370musable area (32,390m2 gross). And it looks ugly. For more information, check this.

2 – Norman Foster’s 3Beirut:

In the “Minet el Hosn” area, behind the Four Seasons hotel and facing Phoenicia, 3 towers are currently under construction, and nearing completion. The 3 towers are basically a staggered face that rises up to 120 meters. And here I thought urban planning in the city had a limit on how many “high-rises” you can have. They are considered “luxury apartments” and as such, add this to the list 99% of the Lebanese population can’t afford but will spend the rest of their days looking at. For more information, check this.

3 – Herzog & de Meuron’s “Beirut Terrace”:

Also in the “Minet el Hosn” area, facing Phoenicia, the “Beirut Terrace” project is currently under construction. An architect friend of mine once said he found the design to be impressive, so I would assume that this one of the better ones from an architectural point of view. In 2013, this project ranked 3rd among 36 projects worldwide in the MIPIM Awards. Of course, this apartments complex is also not within your budget, or almost anyone’s budget for that matter. The penthouse is $13 million. For more information, check this.

4 – Peter Marino’s  1338 Mina El Hosn:

Seeing as that same area isn’t saturated with wellness centers and shopping spaces already, here’s another one. The project includes retail, restaurants and cafés, high-end serviced apartments and a wellness center, the future Beirut Spa and Wellness Center. It will be a continuation of the Beirut Souks project and serve to connect the hotels area (Phoenicia, Four Seasons, Monroe) with the commercial district (Souks, Downtown). Located along Patriarch Howayek Street, it will cover an area of 17,173m2. For more information, check this.

5 – Renzo Piano’s “Pinwheel”:

Sama Beirut, which is nearing completion, won’t be the country’s tallest structure for long. “Pinwheel” is the name of the glass tower to be built at Wafiq Sinno avenue, near Biel, effectively blocking the view for most of the buildings behind it.  The towers will have a department store and ballroom in their lower levels, and a hotel with serviced apartments in the higher levels. For more information on the project, check this.

Bonus – Jean Nouvel’s “Landmark”:

We’ve all heard about this one when the plot on which it was built turned out to have Lebanon’s first Church. Naturally, everyone was outraged. Except this time, because it was a religious building, the outrage ended up putting the project on hold. As it looks now, this will be the project out of the 5 listed never to see the light of day. It was supposed to be a hotel, shopping center – because downtown doesn’t have enough of those – as well as a spa. For more information, click here.

They wonder why we feel disconnected with the city’s heart, and ultimately with the city itself. Beirut is not meant for us anymore. Even the less “fancy” development is not something most of us can afford. The Beirut that our parents told us stories about is nowhere to be found anymore, and if you thought the future would move retrogradely towards a city that’s more accessible to Lebanese, and less aimed at wealthy expats and Saudi sheikhs, you thought terribly wrong.

The Lebanon-Israel Battle We’re Losing

We have oil… we will strengthen our army.

We have oil… we will upgrade our transportation system.

We have oil… we will have universal healthcare, retirement systems, etc…

Our highway is flooded with pictures from Lebanon’s ministry of energy to “celebrate” the presence of copious amounts of natural gas and oil under Lebanese waters. Of course, any talk about potential economic benefits for such wealth is still purely theoretical because we won’t know the extent of our reserves until we start digging.

The best and most optimistic estimates as to when Lebanon starts capitalizing on its natural reserves is 2017-2018. Such estimates assume the following:

  1. A smooth security situation,
  2. No bureaucratic hassle that would pose delays,
  3. A decent political environment with no dead-locks on the matter
  4. International cooperation with the upcoming venture,
  5. No drastic governmental changes that could affect the bidding process which is essential in early stages.

I don’t know about you but those 2017-2018 hopes are looking to be more and more far-fetched to me. The government already collapsed. We need to wait on a new one to form in order to proceed with the bidding on whoever’s going to get drilling rights in our waters. That’s not to mention any near-certain precipitations of the Syrian war over here or, as usual, political blocks that lead to a handful of laws being passed in any parliament’s given lifetime or even the sectarian calculations that have to go in with every single oil-related decision. You can call that the “Orthodox Oil Law.”

These oil reserves were discovered back in 2009 across three countries in the region: Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel. I don’t know about Cyprus – they might be too busy with their credit problems at the moment – but when it comes to Lebanon and Israel, we are at the losing end of this economic battle in our ongoing conflict with our most hated enemy.

From 2009 till 2013, we managed to ratify one law and form a committee regarding the oil matter. The committee took a long time to be formed because we had to find the proper sectarian balance. The law took an almost equally long time as well to be ratified by parliament.

Meanwhile, our neighbor to the South had started drilling and as of March 31st, 2013 has actually started storing the natural gas being extracted in its quest to reach energy independence. It has already started making billions off its reserves with deals surpassing $20 billion.

Many seem to disregard the fact that there are more aspects to our conflict with Israel than military gains or losses here and there. The economical aspect of the conflict, which is one of the main motives behind certain Israeli policies, is more dangerous and far more reaching.

The economic aspect of these natural reserves isn’t restricted to who gets there first. As of now, Lebanon doesn’t have a strategy to how our oil money will be used: are we going to use it to lessen the national debt? Are we going to use it for some much-needed developments that go beyond Beirut? How will we use the fund that will be set up for profits from these sources?

Our politicians believe it’s too early to discuss such things. We, as a nation, never plan ahead. We rarely try to build towards the future as opposed to things that bring profit here and now because it’s always too early for us to plan. Instead of forming a road-map to clearly illustrate how the benefits from Lebanon’s natural resources will be used, we go by the common Lebanese saying “bass neje 3laya, mensalle 3laya.” (We’ll see once we get there) .The problem is that we will eventually “neje 3laya” and history has taught us that dead-ends is all we’ll manage to build.

Instead of being one of the more pressing matters facing this country, Lebanon’s oil reserves have been dropped down to something second-rate. Our political class is keeping its head firmly stuck in sand, with hopes of a better future years from now, ignoring how an economically-growing Israel with clear plans for its development and sustainability will negatively affect any Lebanese attempt at growth of an economy that is in dire need of any form of extra income it can find.

But doesn’t that train look absolutely beautiful on those billboards?