As part of the London Festival of Architecture, French-Lebanese architect Annabel Karim Kassar and her award-winning studio AKK have unveiled a new installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London titled The Lebanese House: Saving a home, Saving a city. The installation explores the aftermaths of the Beirut explosion, and the rebuilding of the city with a life-size replica of a typical Lebanese home, one of the few remaining classic Ottoman-Venetian houses left in old Beirut, along with documentary films.
On 4th August 2020, the Lebanese capital experienced one of the world's most devastating explosions as a result of badly stored cache of ammonium nitrate chemicals in the port city of Beirut. Over 200 people were killed and thousands were severely injured, with 300,000 locals left homeless. Beirut’s architectural heritage, which includes Phoenician, Classical, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Venetian vernacular, was at great risk as the explosion impacted one of the most historic parts of the city.
With the challenge of preserving the city’s cultural and architectural identity, the main feature of the exhibition is a life-sized reconstruction of the facade of Bayt K, a traditional Lebanese home built in the historic quarter of Gemmayzeh, reassembled by Beiruti craftsmen. The structure features the triple arcade, a trademark of traditional Lebanese architecture of the 19th century. Alongside the installation, a digital platform for visitors serves as a guide and archival database to the many architectural elements that constitute the Lebanese house, from plaster-painted ceilings to timber truss roofing, balconies, and cornices, all of which typify the city’s celebrated vernacular.
In addition to the main installation, the AKK team reinterpreted the traditional ‘Liwan’, a small salon within the entrance hall of a typical Lebanese residence. The architects recreated the seating fixtures from within these reception spaces and complemented them with colorful mattresses to invite the museum’s visitors to dwell and contemplate.
This new iteration, The Lebanese House: saving a home; saving a city, seeks to express important lessons in urban restoration and renovation that can be applied elsewhere; that local and international communities need to be mobilized and involved directly, to protect their common urban heritage. And that restoration is not about recreating a synthetic history but about finding a new, living purpose for traditional buildings. -- Annabel Karim Kassar
AKK has also commissioned three documentary films by directors Wissam Charaf and Florence Strauss that explore the emotional impact of the explosion. The films feature interviews by people from across the city, looking into the emotional and physical effects of the explosion across various demographics and public and private spaces. The installation will be open to visitors beyond the festival until 21st August 2022 with a series of educational talks led by Annabel Karim Kassar taking place throughout its duration.