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Beirut’s Civil War Hotel District: Preserving the World’s First High-Rise Urban Battlefield

Jallad, Mayssa

My thesis aims at preserving a historic event in Beirut through the proposal of a historic district. The event in question is the Battle of the Hotels, a 5-month urban battle that took place within and around the historic luxury hotel district in the Minet El Husn neighborhood of Beirut at the beginning of the 15-year Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). The battle opposed the left-wing pro-Palestinian Lebanese National Movement against the right-wing Christian-nationalist Phalanges Party. The battle is worth commemorating, and therefore preserving, for its instrumental role in shaping the urban rift that divided the city of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, violently affecting the lives of all Lebanese citizens for a period of 13 years. Lebanese society shares a violent history that could, if considered a common heritage, be part of its postwar nation-building identity and inspire socio-political reform. The Battle of the Hotels’ significance also lies in its status as the first high-rise urban battle in the world. As a global historic event, the battle deserves to be commemorated as a peace-building historic district, protesting urban warfare and civil war as the current most common methods for conducting war.

The American practice of mapping Civil War battlefields as part of preserving national military parks was relevant to me for its potential efficacy in representing battles to fellow citizens without the vilification of a particular faction, and the use of similar symbols to qualify military events, movements and positions related to both factions. Mapping is also interesting for its spatial visualization qualities, as it offers the option to compare historic and current urban configurations. In order to determine the boundaries of a potential Battle of the Hotels Historic District, I gathered and listed the chronological events of the battle from several sources and positioned them on a map of Beirut. The urban battlefield map I created contains new kinds of symbols specifically related to urban battlefields.
Beyond its symbolic meanings, the battle of the hotels was first and foremost an architectural and geographical phenomenon, fueled by the spatial qualities the buildings in Beirut offered and the military strategies envisioned within and around them. The transformation of urban areas into historic objects requires new experimental preservation methodologies in Lebanon, not only because the country lacks traditional historic districting laws, but also because the current "postmemory" generation, which has been de-schooled in the history of the civil war, does not yet recognize its possible historical significance. They do not know that the Battle of the Hotels is the first high-rise urban battlefield in the world or the event that directly led to the East-West division of Beirut during the civil war. I therefore propose a new method for setting into motion the creation of a historic district by drawing and carving the map of the district directly on the places from which the militias fought and the public spaces in the city that witnessed the events. The balconies of the Holiday Inn, once sandbagged for sniper posts, now become viewing posts for a generation to confront and historically contextualize its "postmemory" condition.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 6, 2017
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