Abir Saksouk-Sasso / Architect and Urbanist: Contesting National Authority in the Construction of Public Space: the making of communal spaces in Beirut

Saturday, 14 December 2013, Panel III: Open Air Spaces of Gathering, 14.00-16.15 @ Mansion

Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, Beirut has been undergoing new forms of ‘controlling’ public space. It has witnessed the gradual disappearance of coastal lands accessed by the public, as well as the closure of its largest public park. The control of public space in Beirut has gradually taken over the remaining social places in the city, in which an abstractpublic is consistently being served.Nevertheless, Beirut dwellers lay claim today to a number of open areas in the city, the uses of which are akin to ‘public’ spaces – in the sense that they are accessed freely and allow for an unconfined range of social activities. Access to these spaces is secured through social and communal agreements through which their uses are organized, rather than laws and institutions of a central state. This paper advocates learning from the public by observing several left-over spaces in the city, in order to understand them as public, multicultural, just, and socially open. These spaces, such as Dalieh (Rawche) and ArdJalloul (Sabra), are shaped by the users’ various spatial practices. By spatializing everyday social practices, the paper attempts to abandon the modern accepted notion of public space that is tied to the state through the attribution of designated spaces in the city as ‘park’, ‘garden’, or other named ascriptions. It opens new possibilities for understanding public space in Beirut.


Abir is an architect and urbanist, and co-founder of Dictaphone Group. Her interests include multi-disciplinary research on space, exploring tools of social and political change, as well as blogging.