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On location in Beirut.


The city of Beirut in Lebanon is the site of a new landscape project, where a lost city coastline has become the inspiration for the creation of a series of new urban spaces. The Shoreline Walk links four squares and gardens, which are part of the domain of Solidere, the Lebanese company for the development and reconstruction of Beirut Central District. Beirut faces the challenge of bringing a new population back to the heart of the city. The buildings and population of the city centre suffered extensive physical and emotional damage during the 15 year civil war, which began in 1975 and although Beirut is a melting pot of cultures and religions co-habiting in relative harmony, the war created the 'Green Line', a physical barrier splitting Beirut into the Christian east and the Muslim west. It was a physical and mental division that could have been hard to remove. However with the city centre devastated and empty by the end of the war, its rebuilding is an expression of the Beiruti people's resourceful character and resolve to share their city in a harmonious way.

The city had once prided itself on its rocky shoreline corniche lined with avenues of palms and cafes with views towards distant horizons, but during the war a vast rubbish mountain emerged from the daily tipping of waste into the Mediterranean. Guided by a new master plan, areas of the city have been preserved, others demolished, while the remediated landfill is set to become a vast new district projecting out into the sea.

The old coastline now runs through the centre of the city. Rather than leaving it land-locked and redundant, it was decided to create a leisurely pedestrian route that straddles the boundary and differences between the old and new cities. The Shoreline Walk is placed between the natural topography of the rationalised medieval street layout of the old city and the engineered grid of the new landfill. It is located between memories of the past and hopes for the future; between activities that made a connection to the rhythms of a natural coastline, to a new contemporary landscape that alludes to and reveals (those) past memories and events, whilst helping shape the new character and dynamism of a city shared by people of different faiths and cultural influences.

Research revealed that the shoreline of Beirut has continuously evolved throughout history. The first Phoenician settlers arrived in 1220 BC and were followed by the Romans in 64 BC, the Mamluks in 1291 (AD), the Crusaders in 1110, the Ottomans in 1516, the French in 1918, the landfill of the war in 1975 and finally the Solidere reconstruction works of today. Each successive culture has shaped and expanded the coastline to create harbours that brought wealth to the city.

Within the historic context of the evolving shoreline, Gustafson Porter has suggested a new line. The new line acts as a guide, revealing elements of the changing historical coastline and acting as a connective spine. On the ground it is marked by a continuous line of white limestone that is accompanied by a wide pedestrian promenade lined by an avenue of distinctive palms (Roystonia regia). This organic line of movement runs along the length of the Shoreline Walk, linking the four spaces (All Saints Square, Shoreline Gardens, Zeytoune Square, Santiyeh Garden) and re-establishes an east-west connection between places that would not have been linked by the new city grid. Physical and visual links extend beyond the spaces to re-establish and create more distant connections to the key monuments and spaces of the city.

The promenade is inspired by the historic corniche--a wide palm-lined sidewalk which followed the Beirut coastline from the city centre to the public beach, two kilometres to the west. In a city with few parks and squares, it is the Beiruti people's favourite public open space.

It has a constant flow of walkers, joggers, cyclists, bread sellers and wedding parties all watched by (the) stationary coffee drinkers and fishermen. At present the corniche stops when it reaches the edge of the city centre.

The Shoreline Walk will reconnect and enliven the city centre with the dynamism of the corniche.

Arriving at any point along the line, visitors will recognise Shoreline Walk. Each element, whether paved or planted, airy or aquatic, combine to enhance the perception of the route's existence within an otherwise uniform urban context. To the south of the promenade, light coloured paving and trees signify 'dry land' as it would have existed before the war. To the north of the promenade, open areas of dark granite, boardwalks and timber pergolas mark the previous position of the sea. The reflective quality of the dark surface is enhanced by water, either through new water features or rainfall, creating the illusion that the sea has returned.

The four spaces of Shoreline Walk will provide areas to pause and for occupation. Research into each space revealed remnants of the character of the pre-war city that had been forgotten or destroyed. These remnants provided the inspiration for the four diverse spaces, each of which reveal elements of memory from the past. Each 'memory' generates the development of an atmosphere, aligned with the facilities and functions required by a contemporary city to create a network of spaces and an evolving promenade.


All Saints Square

All Saints Square makes a connection with the new corniche and Marina. Before the war All Saints Church occupied a headland surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Historic photos reveal a space on the edge with a sense of calm and exposure, a promontory from which a swimming club dives into the sea. Gustafson Porter's design for the square re-interprets these qualities in a new context, creating an intimate, self-contained space lowered down to the original ground level adjacent to the church. Views are channelled upwards toward the sky and the space is enclosed by soft green textured walls, sheltered from the bustling traffic above. The enclosed space becomes a haven of textures and concentrates the summer aroma of (the) Jasminum officinale. At street level, a raised route provides direct passage through the space, connecting the Shoreline Walk with the corniche while allowing views into the garden below.

Shoreline Gardens

The Shoreline Gardens are on the site of the historic Avenue des Francais, Beirut's first coastal promenade or corniche. Graced by an elegantly curved sea wall and wide palm-lined sidewalk, it was a popular seaside promenade (with Beirut citizens and tourists alike). During the war years, the Avenue des Francais became deserted and buried by the landfill; the place was lost. Inspired by the elegance of the original promenade, the design for the gardens, creates a contemporary interpretation of the sea wall, that will now define the edge of a linear water feature. The water feature will unite the space creating water movement over an undulating surface, whilst a timber pergola will cast dappled shade where one can sit and relax. This area can once again become a meeting point in the city.

Zeytoune Square

Situated to the south of the Shoreline Walk, Zeytoune Square is a key link to the surrounding city. The square will become a celebration of modern Beirut and a place for cultural events. Terraces utilise the existing slope to provide an informal amphitheatre space from which concerts, festivals and films can be viewed. The surface of the square extends across the roads to the surrounding buildings, unifying the square as one large space. The bold paving patterns are inspired by the black and white patterning found in traditional Lebanese architecture. The paving stripes change like contours with the site's topography, creating a fractal landscape as the contrasting colours interact with the terraces. Throughout the square, wifi wireless internet access with specially designed benches placed under the branching shade of Albizia trees, provides an ideal location for lap top users to log on and find out 'What's on in Beirut'.

Santiyeh Garden

The Santiyeh Garden is separated from the pattern of surrounding streets by buildings on its four sides, providing the perfect setting for a green oasis. Inspired by the Arabic paradise garden, it will be a sensory refuge. The site occupies the position of an ancient cemetery and as a consequence required a calm, quiet, contemplative atmosphere. The theme of 'welling up' describes a release of emotion that will be expressed in the design of the garden's water features and benches. Divided into three distinct spaces, the garden includes an entry space, lower entry square, and upper garden. The entry space is a continuation of the Old Shoreline Walk promenade emphasised by a line of Royal Cuban palms. The lower entry square to the south connects to the new souks (market area). It is inhabited by a grove of trees that provide shade for seating, adjacent to a long cascade. Stepping up the cascade, visitors are led to the upper garden, a mosaic of sensuous planting and water features.

A three-tiered hierarchy of paths based on a grid configuration invites visitors to choose their space, as they are led from the formal edge of water tables into intimate groves of aromatic planting. The garden is enclosed by a wall of woven mesh pergolas that create a green wall of seating niches provided for contemplation.


Client: Solidere

Completion: 2010

Team: Kathryn Gustafson, Neil Porter, Mark Gillingham, Jose Rosa, Nick Hughes

Consultants: YAA Architects, Nasr & Khalaf, Michel Chacar, DG Jones
COPYRIGHT 2008 Landscape Design Trust
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:ON LOCATION
Publication:Green Places
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:May 1, 2008
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