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Take a walk with me, and see Beirut like it's going to be

 

 
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Take a walk with me, and see Beirut like it's going to be
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Post Take a walk with me, and see Beirut like it's going to be Reply with quote
Beirut’s new Marina is set to give the likes of Puerto Banus and St Tropez a run for their money

In Dubai, each and every new development is touted as the latest "heart of the city." Now UAE's most glittering city may be many things - a model of modernity, a business center, an airline hub, the mother of all hubris - but no one in their right minds, at least no one who wasn't in the pay of the Leo Burnetts or the Fleishman-Hillards of the world, would accuse it of having a heart. Let alone several.

Over the years, the fervor with which this designation is appended has grown in vehemence as it has become clear that while nice, even interesting in a "look Mummy, it's circus" kind of way, none of Dubai's new "cit(ies) within a city" (gated community, anyone?) are going to cure its Tin Man status anytime soon.

Until very recently, Lebanon-uber-alles snobs, sorry writers, such as myself could sow such snittery to the winds secure in the knowledge that our gorgeous capital had a heart, however broken and even if its beat was sometimes erratic and its fidelity contested, no one needed a flashy ad campaign or a T-shirt to tell them where to find Beirut's pulse.

Of course, this does make life a little more complicated if you are a developer - say Solidere - wishing to draw attention to some specific part of your project - say the Minet el Hosn marina on the westernmost edge of Downtown Beirut.

Recognizing the futility of designating it a "heart with a heart." do you refer to it instead as a ventricle or a bright new artery? Or do you eschew the cardiac metaphor altogether? Because let's face it, Beirut may be many things - a gateway, a frontline, a model of unpredictability, the mother of all quibbling - but it is definitely Dorothy, not Tim Man. Some other fleshy figure of speech, then? Beirut's lung or its brand new cerebellum?

Now Solidere, like Dubai, may also have been accused in its time of a deficiency in the cardiac department but unlike the developers behind Las Sheikhas, it displays a marked indifference to hyperbole, perhaps because it is saddled with the infinitely more complicated task of rebuilding an existing city, as opposed to building castles made of sand.

So when they were faced recently with how best to describe the triangle of très upscale development roughly encompassing the St. Georges hotel (allah yaharso), the (future) Four Seasons and the Suleiman Franjieh boulevard, the wags at the Petit Serail decided, perhaps with an ironic and irreverent nod to the alarmist rumblings emanating from the scion of the Hashemite dynasty about "Shiites" and "crescents," to call it l'Arc d'Or or golden arch.

Reminiscent of phrases involving the words jeunesse, triomphe and perhaps less felicitously pain, the emphasis in this arc is firmly on the or (gold). Between the already completed (and by the way, MIPIM award-winning) Beirut Marina, the half-finished Beirut Tower, the rapidly rising Ricardo Bofil / Nabil Gholam - designed Platinum Tower (which will considerably up the city's architectural ante once completed) and the extravagantly expensive Ivana Trump Residence (Damac), this silver of Brand New Beirut will boast some of the most expensive real estate in the region.

If this is beginning to make the area sound like one of Dubai's "cities within the city" developments and conjures images of watchmen, barriers and resident-only streets, take heart. Regardless of whether you can actually afford (or even wish) to live there, the Arc - we'll stick to its French appellation, the golden arch sounds a little too Fast Food Nation - is designed with everyone in mind.

Solidere is hoping those multimillion-dollar residences aside; the Arc will attract Beirutis of all means and motivations. To the east, the district gives on to what will be Beirut's only seafront park, a badly needed breathing space in a city with so few public spaces. The park itself will be fringed in part by the new central Corniche, a 3.5-kilometer-long walkway blessed with an expansive view of the city. Sannine mountain and the sea. Completed several years ago, the opening of the corniche has been postponed several times due to the delays in starting work on the park, itself a hostage to Beirut's tempestuous political climate. At its western end, the Corniche ends at one of two marinas in Downtown Beirut.

Originally run by the St. Georges hotel, the Western Marina as it is now called, was taken over by Solidere several years ago after a long-running and rather acrimonious battle with St. Georges’ owner Fadi Khoury. Until last summer's war, the marina was doing good business and was able to attract several megayachts, many over 60 meters in length and the kind you normally only see moored like Cannes or Monaco.

Imad Dana, project manager for the Arc d'Or area, says the new waterfront will make Beirut an important destination on the international yachting map.

"It's rare to have a marina in a capital city, let alone right in the middle of it," he says. “It's like Cannes being Paris. It's good for the crew and good for the owner."

It will also, apparently, be good for the rest of us. If at present, the marina is only of interest to those with a boat, once it is completed in 2009, it will be open to the public, the only marina in Lebanon that will not require a membership card to visit.

Designed by American architect Steven Holl, the low-rise 20.000-square-meter project (the bottom three levels are actually below the water line and have required the use of construction techniques never tried before in Lebanon to build) will be home to 20 restaurants, a small shopping district and a clubhouse for those moored in the marina. It will also be home to a number of studio apartments, most of which have already been sold. A boardwalk will link up to the Corniche and the park, allowing strollers to take advantage of both the marina and the many cafés, restaurants and shops that will eventually open along the Corniche itself.

To ensure that the city is fully linked to the sea (as Wafic Sinno avenue should eventually become a major thoroughfare, and who really wants to dodge traffic to get some sea air?), a bridge designed by architect/artist Nadim Karam will connect the parcel of land next to Marina Towers to the marina.

Anyone who remembers Karam's last contribution to the city center, the series of enormous metal sculptures he called his "archaic procession,"which ringed Martyrs' Square in the late '90s, will be pleased to know that his latest contribution, through more permanent, will be every bit as playful.

Called the Net Bridge, the structure will be part walkway, part sculpture, a tangle of interconnected spans that Karam himself describes as "sinusoidal lines with... flexibility and multitude of open spaces."

Composed of five separate lanes, laid out to weave in and out of each other, the Net Bridge will allow pedestrians to select their own trajectories, maximizing either interaction with other pedestrians or to forge a unique path on their own. For those who take pleasure in deciphering such things, the metaphor is inescapable: an exclusive neighborhood that in this age of gated lives and privileged passes prefers to remain open to any and all corners, a reflection of this city's spirit at its very best.

Warren Singh Bartlett
Tue Oct 28, 2008 9:16 am View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
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