THE BUILDING THAT REACHED TO THE SKY STRETCHED INTO THE CITY TOO
Preservation Object: The Battle of the Hotels
Thesis Question: How do we preserve Beirut’s “Battle of the Hotels” through a design intervention on the Holiday Inn?
The “Battle of the Hotels” is one of the first Urban Warfare battles in a modern city. Taking place in Beirut towards the beginning of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, the battle epitomizes the usage of high-rise buildings as weapons and the modern brise-soleils as shields. It involved a handful of luxurious hotels with various scales, each with a different status in Beirut today: from the demolished Hilton Hotel, to the restored Phoenicia Hotel, to the abandoned Holiday Inn, these buildings exist today in a district associated with luxury and war, the latter’s only reminder today being the shelled skin of the Holiday inn. The battle lasted from October 1975 to March 1976, and comprised sixty-four days of combat over a period of 195 days.
The need to preserve these buildings/this battle stems from a need to counter the preservation discourse in Lebanon which restored Downtown Beirut to a pristine condition, devoid of any historical reference to the war. This need to commemorate the war is emphasized by the current impossibility of writing a reconciliatory history of the Lebanese civil war, as its perpetrators occupy positions in the government and have sanctioned its writing in high school history books. To my mind, preserving the war through these buildings is a first step towards reconciliation.
How do we define the “Battle of the Hotels” as a historical object? How can an area defined by a spatialized episode, be preserved? With the “Holiday Inn” as a point of view, this thesis’ research and design intervention aims at defining a cultural object significant in its spacialization of war in the 20th and 21 st century city.