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Building Yacoubian, A Social Biopsy of Modernist Architecture

Aug 5, 2017 – Aug 19, 2017
Beirut, Lebanon
Research Question
As a sequel to last summer’s Beirut workshop (Hamra Street a case of urban resilience), this summer’s workshop continues to focus on documenting and narrating the project of modernism on the ‘periphery’. Instead of focusing on a street morphology (Hamra Street), this summer workshop studied the parallel history of the modern city through that of a building: The large Yacoubian housing block, a modernist slab building par excellence, in the Caracas Hill of Beirut.
Students were asked to survey the building, document the evolution of its generic modernist architecture through the gradual, soft and hard transformation of its façade elements: like rails, balconies glass enclosures, signage, electric cables, AC units and water tanks, etc. When possible students interrogated and talked to its inhabitants; visited and mapped the interior hallways, stairways and the rich apartments types and units, depicting the territorial demarcations and transformation of its spaces with the floating furniture, flower pots, gates and fences.
Output and Findings

The two-week workshop culminated in two interpretive axonometric drawings of Yacoubian building, capturing it in a moment in time: August 2017. The drawings are conceived at a 1/75 scale, that does away with the architectural understanding of the building as a freestanding object. From afar, it operates as a small city. At a close distance, it performs as a continuous interior: the building is a frame for furniture and other domestic elements. The drawing aims to meticulously capture the small details indicative of the massive concrete slab building’s ad hoc transformation. Apartment unit cut-outs reveal what the facade sometimes cannot: the historical and social depth of the building’s occupancy. A third drawing lays out the total building material quantities in one three-dimensional metric diagram. Here, the weight of the concrete and rebar forming the initial frame is balanced against the array of light architectural units accumulated by the residents.

The once exclusive stand-alone Yacoubian building on top of the hill slowly made its way into Beirut’s everyday architecture; no longer an outsider, or a copy of western modernist architecture as it was believed to be. Surrounded by the new city towers, it almost appears small and familiar. 30 years of violent war history of the city of Beirut, interrupted by pockets of peace, have tamed the Yacoubian building and integrated it into its context. The generous 3m tall ceilings and13 m wide by 150 m long concrete slabs host an evolving microcosm of Lebanese society through contradiction and sameness, militarized socialism and vicious capitalism, but above all through the war.

The Workshop attempts to to capture this architecture and its history.


Ziad Jamaleddine, Makram El Kadi, Sabine Aoun

Adede Amenyah, James Brillon, Laura Wu, Matthew Davis, Shuosong Zhang, Veronica Watson, Xiao Wei Lim, Zachary White with Elie Zeinoun, Julia Abi Saab, Marc Matta.

Special thanks to…
Marwan Rechmaoui for generously sharing with us his research and inspiring artwork about the Yacoubian Building; Abdul Halim Jabr for taking us on an informative tour of Hamra and its layered architectural history; George Arbid and the ACA for their wealth of knowledge and archive on Lebanese modern Architecture period; Guy Ghosn, Rafik El Khoury and Partners, for building material quantification; The various tenants of the Yacoubian Building for being helpful and welcoming during site visits, surveying, documenting and narrating Yacoubian buildings stories; Eritrea, whose embassy generously welcomed us into their headquarters;

Drawings Disclaimer
This drawing of Yacoubian building, produced over a period of 10 days, is interpretive and in no way aims to be totalizing or final. It is incomplete due to simple absence of information, workshop duration and physical inaccessibility into some of the spaces of the building. We have learned to accept and endorse this gap in knowledge, as it has informed the spontaneous and momentary nature of this exercise.

Other 2017 workshops

Burning man summer workshop 2017
Burning Man
Black Rock City, Nevada
Aug 7, 2017 – Sep 2, 2017
Hudson river workshop 3 copy
Justice in Place: Downtown Regeneration in the Shadow of Urban Renewal in Hudson River Valley, NY
Poughkeepsie, New York
Aug 1, 2017 – Aug 18, 2017
Shenzhen summer workshop 2017
Data-Mining China: Urban Village in Shenzhen
Shenzhen, China
Jul 15, 2017 – Aug 12, 2017
Tokyo Summer Workshop 2017
Aging Tokyo in Japan
Tokyo, Japan
Jul 24, 2017 – Aug 4, 2017
Harare Summer Workshop 2017
Afro-Imaginaries in Harare, Zimbabwe
Harare, Zimbabwe
Jun 26, 2017 – Jul 13, 2017
Madrid summer workshop image
The Environmentalist Dilemma: Reducing the economic and social costs of a low carbon city in Madrid
Madrid, Spain
Jun 10, 2017 – Jul 9, 2017
Jordan trail 4
Heritage Sites of the Jordan Trail: Documenting and Interpreting 7,000 Years of Urban Living in Jordan
Jordan Trail, Jordan
Jun 13, 2017 – Jun 26, 2017
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