superchat beirut: bernard khoury

beirut is making headlines once again. the city has bounced back, ridding itself from gloomy, if not dark connotations while adding new superlatives that even inspired the new york times to declare it the top travel destination of 2009. superfuture was in town, checking out the obvious sights and glitzy places, but also attempted to dig a little deeper and see what else is there. so, we asked a few beirut creatives about their city and their craft. bernard khoury arguably is lebanon's best known architect. considered controversial by some and brilliant by others, his work has an edge and often gives food for thought. superfuture had the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

after graduating from harvard you chose to return to beirut. why did you decide to do so? in the early 1990s beirut just seemed fascinating as an experimental platform for an architect.

what was it like to establish an architecture practice in post-war beirut? between 1993 and 1997 i went through 16 contractual engagements with clients, 16 projects that died in drawers. project number 17 was b018, the first project i ever built was for the entertainment industry.

professional life in lebanon seems very much intertwined with politics. how does that affect your work as an architect? architecture can be a political act, in lebanon but also anywhere else. however, the situations i was confronted with in beirut were particularly explosive.

what is the current state of lebanese architecture according to you? there's no such thing as lebanese architecture. architects of my generation didn't produce anything relevant during the so-called post-war era. our fathers' generation was more politically engaged.

in an interview conducted by the new york times we read that you strongly criticize solidere's commercial approach regarding the reconstruction of downtown beirut. has your opinion or the situation changed since then? i don't criticize solidere's commercial approach. after all, the reconstruction of downtown beirut has been conducted by the private sector therefore it had to be financially viable. what i do criticize is their inability to produce contextual contemporary interventions. the problem of solidere is that they are prisoners of an over-simplified past, a sugar-coated history and a sterile non-contextual future. this translates on the one hand, to a rehabilitation and bland replication of pre-french mandate architecture, and on the other hand, erecting sterile corporate buildings. they don't create buildings that actually relate to the present.

we visited three of your structures here in town: b018, yabani and centrale. all three seem to engage in a dialogue with their respective surroundings. could you explain why you find that important? b018, centrale and yabani were the first buildings i built. they are contextual interventions as they engage very clearly with their immediate social and political context. since then we have completed the construction of many other projects in different sectors. working for the banking or residential sectors allowed us to engage with more complex contextual parameters.

are there any contemporary lebanese architects that you admire? i have hopes for the younger generation, those who haven't yet got the chance to build. contemporary lebanese architects of my generation are producing crap.

how do you relate to the city professionally? and do you view the city differently from a personal point of view? i don't see a difference between my professional or personal views. besides, beirut is very difficult to capture in general terms.

what will downtown beirut look like 10 years from now? it'll look as polished and manicured as it does today.

are you an avid shopper? if so, what kind of stores or establishments do you regularly visit? i am not an avid shopper.

© bernard khoury / dw5