The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Beirut - Imagining Bliss

31 August – 5 September 2015. In collaboration with: AUB Neighbourhood Initiative; the Design Department, Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts / University of Balamand

The establishment of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the mid-19th century contributed greatly to the ever-changing urban growth of the Ras Beirut district. Once a farming community far from the gated old city of Beirut, the area has transformed over the past 150 years into an urban educational and commercial hub in the heart of the city.

Across from the campus along Bliss Street, urban villas with gardens converted into low to medium rise mixed-use buildings into the early 20th century.

Bliss Street currently presents the juxtaposition of a green campus with traditional red-tiled buildings on one side, and a jam-packed urbanised strip on the other. In certain segments of Bliss Street, developers are capitalising on spectacular views of the campus, Mediterranean Sea and Mount Lebanon, to develop luxury residential towers facing AUB.

Despite the political turmoil in the country, international capital is still finding its home in the speculative real-estate sector, accelerating the process of gentrification particularly in the capital. In Ras Beirut, as elsewhere in city, gentrification is changing the character of the area and long-standing residents and shops are being displaced; such trends are affecting the very social and urban fabric of neighbourhood and its main street.

The Beirut summerLab has sought to imagine alternative visions for Bliss Street at a time of dramatic urban transformation. The workshop has provided participants with the opportunity to investigate the dynamics that define and shape the street within the wider context of the city.

Through understanding the history of the street and its wider surroundings, mapping its activities, and interacting with the different groups of stakeholders, the participants collaborated to develop proposals envisioning a liveable, prosperous and inclusive future for its many realities.