Stitching communities together through creative urban plans

“We must teach our students how to address architecture as a discipline that can play a strong civil role within society” - Maroun Daccache, LAU professor of architecture.

“Shatila is a very interesting space, politically, economically and socially. It played an important role in the separation spectrum of Beirut during the war as well as now,” says LAU graduate Fady Haddad, explaining why he chose to focus on the Palestinian refugee camp in the center of Beirut for his final year project as a student of architecture. Omrania CSBE recently awarded the project— entitled “Streets of Shatila, An Artifact of Exile”—first prize for a graduating project.

“His project was distinguished on both the urban and architectural level,” enthuses professor Maroun El Daccache, who had supervised Haddad’s work and set its parameters. The title of Daccache’s design studio was “Architecture of Emergency,” and its objective was to develop a public project that would assist in the deghettoization of a selected area of Beirut.

The ten final-year students attending Daccache’s studio worked together to research areas of potential intervention in the capital. After identifying five areas, each student or team of two students developed a rehabilitation or development plan that related to one area’s social or economic needs.  

Not satisfied with addressing only the needs of the inhabitants of Shatila, Haddad developed a proposal that also tackled what he saw as a citywide problem. “Each person can a have a different vision for what and how a refugee camp should be within the city. My project deals with the radical urban complexities of refugee camps, which are almost always isolated from the surrounding areas.”

In trying to lessen the isolation of the camp, both physically and symbolically, Haddad proposed the development of a hospital on the border of the camp as a transition space between the city and Shatila. “Fady added satellite labs for the medical center inside Shatila, to force patients from outside the camp to enter and become familiar with the area. This goes against the norm, but addresses a key societal need,” explains Daccache, visibly proud of his student’s achievement.

“His project related to real and contemporary problems and required thorough research because no pre-existing material was available,” he continues. A very civic-minded educator and architect, Daccache believes that despite all the challenges, architects have the ability to transform societies. “We must teach our students how to address architecture as a discipline that can play a strong civil role within society and not simply as one concerned with producing objects of beauty.”

The professor’s influence on his prize-winning student is clear. “Architecture plays an important role in the sociopolitical dimension of a city,” says Haddad from Vienna, where he is now studying for a master’s degree at Studio [Zaha] Hadid Vienna. “It can separate, connect and stitch the urban fabric and have a direct impact on our daily behavior and relationship within the city itself.”

Haddad’s understanding and unique approach to urban stitching is what drew the attention of the Omrania CSBE jury, which described his project as “an excellent example of urban stitching that is achieved in both its two-dimensional and three-dimensional compositions … providing excellent examples of what may be identified as acupunctural architecture.”

Haddad would be delighted to see his project developed on the ground in Shatila, and, despite being optimistic about the future of architecture in Lebanon, is very aware of the current limitations. “We are now living as separated communities each assigned an area for growth that precipitates conflict,” he says. “An architectural project with a vision of stitching together separated areas through public spaces can have a huge impact on the city, but for that to happen we, as Lebanese citizens, must have a minimum understanding that this country belongs to everyone.”

The Omrania l CSBE Student Award for Excellence in Architectural Design is intended to honor distinguished architectural graduation projects by students from universities throughout the Arab world.