Could Landscape Architecture Help Rehabilitate a War-Ravaged City’s Social Fabric : Gebran Tueni Memorial, Beirut, Lebanon
Gebran Tueni Memorial, Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture, Beirut, Lebanon
A memorial to an outspoken politician and journalist
The Gebran Tueni Memorial, opened in December 2011, is located in Beirut, Lebanon, a city once ravaged by civil war, but now being rebuilt and undergoing a social and economic transformation. The award-winning memorial (including a 2014 ASLA award) was designed by Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architects. Djurovic, whose mother is from Lebanon, grew up in the city and calls it his home.
The memorial celebrates the life and times of Gebran Tueni, a former journalist and politician who was killed by a car bomb in 2005. Tueni was passionate about independence from foreign interference, freedom, cooperation, and unity for his country.
In addition to being a physical work of landscape architecture, the memorial — through its symbolism, unique design, and message — could be helping the city to heal the rips in its social fabric.
Pebbles with meaning
Djurovic adopts a three-tiered approach to his projects. He first needs to feel a connection with the clients, which he describes as “chemistry”. He next visits the site to “absorb” it and, if those elements are to his satisfaction, he finally retires to his office and lets the creative process unfold.
One of the results of his creative process is the Tueni memorial, which is located opposite the An Nahar building that houses the offices of the family-owned An Nahar newspaper that Tueni used to work for. The memorial contains the monument, which includes granite bands of different widths inspired by Tueni’s birth date. Surrounding planting include an olive tree, as well as oak trees and thyme, all of which are culturally significant to Lebanon and hint at Tueni’s patriotism.
Loose pebbles, each engraved with Tueni’s name, are arranged beneath the olive tree and are available to visitors as mementos. They are frequently replenished by the An Nahar newspaper offices across the street as an act of ongoing remembrance.
Lighting used as powerful symbolism of renewed social fabric
At one end of the memorial is a 4.9-meter granite monolith that bears Gebran’s oath, which was delivered shortly prior to his assassination. The monolith is divided into 10 panels, each of them 49 centimeters, relating to Gebran’s age at death.2 The word An Nahar means “the day”; the group that claimed responsibility for Tueni’s assassination is said to have stated that they had turned his newspaper from day into a dark night. Today, words of Tueni that are engraved on the memorial are lit up at night as if in symbolic defiance of the threats and the ultimate violence of the assassination.
Strategic location at the edge of the central district
The memorial strategically placed at one end of newly built downtown Beirut is now one of its key public spaces and lies at the crossroads of the city. To its east lies the new, trendy, mixed commercial and residential district of Bemmayzeh, with its bars, cafes, and buildings reminiscent of the French colonial era. To its south lies Nejmeh Square, a critical node dating back thousands of years, lying in a district that includes the museum, parliament, places of worship, commercial buildings, and recreational spaces. To its north lies another area dominated by businesses and office buildings.
A restorative and unifying symbol for a once war-ravaged city heals the urban fabric
Located at the crossroads between key districts — historical and modern, commercial and residential — the memorial could be considered a unifying symbol for a city physically and socially torn apart by war and conflict. As well as being a key public space, it also serves as a reminder of the city’s violent recent past and as a psychological focus for the ideals of Tueni. His words are permanently engraved into the granite of the monument as a testament to his resilience in the face of violent opposition.
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The words, the symbolism of the memorial, and its recreational value serve as a catalyst for the city to come to terms with its past and to help rebuild its torn social fabric just as the city itself is being physically rebuilt and renewed.
All photographs by Matteo Piazza and Lola Claeys Bouuaert
Article by Gerard de Silva
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- The Urban Design Handbook: Techniques and Working Methods (Second Edition) by Urban Design Associates
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