The stratified architecture of the Barakat Building, first war memory museum in Beirut, Lebanon
+ A selection of this work, combined with the interview made by Camillo Boano and Dalia Chabarek to the curator Mona El Hallak, appearead in an article published by Domus online.
Beit Beirut is a museum and an urban cultural center celebrating the history of Beirut and the memory of the civil war.
The cultural center has his location in the restored Barakat building, a historic landmark designed by Architect Youssef Aftimus that stands in Damascus road, former path of the Green Line that divided Beirut during the war.
The Barakat building is built in the Ottoman revivalist style with ochre colored Deir el Qamar limestone which gave the building its name. The building consists of two four-story high-end residential blocks in addition to a roof terrace. The two blocks’ facades are joined together by an open colonnade adorned with wrought iron work. The blocks are separated by a central atrium connecting to the main entrance to the landscaped garden in the backyard and to the buildings’ staircases.
Middle-class families lived in the building until the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, when Christian militiamen moved in.
The Barakat building became a vantage point for snipers overlooking a combat zone; it ensured the control of the Sodeco crossroad because of its airy architecture and due to its location on the demarcation line.
The civil war devastated the Barakat building and neglect took its toll on the structure. It was sentenced for demolition in 1997 when the owners decided to sell the property but saved by Lebanese heritage activists Architect Mona El Hallak who first investigated the house in 1994.
In 2003 the municipality of Beirut issued a decree of expropriation for public interest. The project saw the collaboration between the municipality of Beirut, the City of Paris and the French embassy in Lebanon. In 2009, Lebanese architect Youssef Haider was commissioned by the Beirut municipality to lead the building’s restoration works.
From the words of Mona El Hallak:
"In 1994, I saw the sky through the bullet ridden Barakat building on the demarcation line of Beirut, and entered to discover its unique avant-garde architecture.
I was amazed by the way the building’s visual transparency, designed by the architect to connect the building and its people to the city, was so abused during the civil war by the snipers to disconnect the city and its people.
Since that day, I started touring the building with people to support my fight to save it from demolition. To me it represented Beirut: before the war through the archives I found under the dust and debris, during the war through the sniper additions, graffiti and bullet holes covering its walls, and after the war through my fight for the preservation of our heritage, identity and memory against the sweeping amnesia."