A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘construction’ Category

firsts: Hariri in the New York Times

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 17, 2009

I find firsts interesting. When did someone we now consider famous first attract the notice of major media outlets? How was he or she portrayed, and how has his or her image evolved since?

Some time ago, my interest in firsts intersected with my interest in Rafiq Hariri, and I began poking around a few news outlets, starting with the New York Times.

I bet you won’t be surprised to learn that Hariri’s name first appears in the Times in 1982 – but I also bet that you will never guess why. Will it help if I tell you that he appears in a section titled “Middle Western Journal”?

Yep – that’s “Western”, not “Eastern”. Hariri appears in an August 25, 1982 story about a stalled dam project in Missouri. The dam project put pressure in turn on the economy of nearby St. Louis, which had been anticipating good things:

It was to have been a boon to the St. Louis area: a large, $200 million complex with a 400-room hotel, three high-rise office buildings, a shopping mall and condominium apartments, all to be built on choice land in Clayton, Mo., just west of St. Louis.

Instead, the complex was described as a “six-block-long crater”. And guess who was behind the project?

It all began with considerable fanfare a few years ago when Rafik B. Al Hariri, a Saudi developer, put up money to get the project going. There was a flurry of activity: Architectural plans were drawn, Western International Hotels became involved and work crews began gouging the earth to prepare for a major parking lot that was to be the project’s first stage.

But Mr. Hariri encountered snags, according to Gyo Obata, a partner in the architectural firm that designed the project. ”It was one of those absentee ownership deals that was made worse by problems with getting financing as interest rates went up,” Mr.  Obata said. ”He kept putting up more money for the project and probably spent $30 million. Finally he said he could go no farther and the project stopped.”

The article noted that Hariri was “said to be looking for another developer”, but that few might be interested given the raised interest rates and lack of interest in the complex’s office space.

I’m amused but happy that Hariri’s first appearance in the Times has to do with the Midwest, rather than the Mideast. And I’m delighted to have a new spin to put on the old phrase: “Meet me in St. Louis”!

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Posted in Americans, Arab world, construction, Lebanon, media, news, Saudi Arabia | 1 Comment »

Cedar Island: mis-underestimating the Lebanese government

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 27, 2009

It looks like Cedar Island, the is-this-an-April-Fool’s-joke project planned off the coast of Damour (and which I have written about here) will now be slower to – tee hee – take root.

The Kipp Report published an article today stating that:

Work on Cedar Island, an $8.2 billion artificial island off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon, will be postponed until after the parliamentary elections in June. The project developer, Noor International Holding, confirmed to MEED magazine that it underestimated the amount of time the Lebanese government needs to approve a project of this size.

In February, Noor announced it hoped to begin construction before the end of May, ahead of the elections in June.

”We are still waiting for permits from the authorities, so everything is on hold,” a spokesman for Noor said. “Hopefully we can move after the elections before the summer vacation starts.”

I’m trying not to laugh and also trying to decide whether the slow government approval is a genuine problem, or merely a euphemism for “let’s see how things go after June 7”.

The article continues:

According to the developer, the project will take four years to construct and will house over 40,000 residents. The island will be a comprehensive community, and will feature villas, apartments, shopping complexes, schools and hospitals.

The project has received a flood of criticism due to its size and location: environmentalists insist that the nation is not in need of Dubai-style constructions to lure investors, and point to the negative impact dredging will have on marine life in the project’s construction site, and economists question whether the developer can secure the funds required to complete the project.

”I cannot see who will do it and how the funding will be secured, particularly when states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with billions in reserves, are halting projects,” Lebanese economist, Louis Hobeika said to Beirut-based newspaper The Daily Star.

Mohammad Saleh, the chairman of the board of directors at Noor International Holding, insists the project will attract funding in spite of the global economic downturn:  “I am not worried about the global crisis, because my main target is Lebanese expatriates who have nostalgia for their country and would like to invest in it,” said Saleh.

”Unlike foreign investors, these people are used to Lebanon’s system, its ups and downs.”

I believe that – but the idea that there are 40,000 Lebanese and expats dying to live in a pretend cedar off the coast of Damour leaves me less than sanguine.

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, construction, sea | 2 Comments »

Ace Hardware: Lebanese landmark

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 28, 2009

As I mentioned in a post last month, last spring I began seeing billboard advertisements for the new Ace Hardware on the road between Charles Helou and the Port. (One of the many joys of being a passenger is that I get to spend more time watching the world pass, and less time worrying about passing motorists!) So when I began seeing Ace Hardware advertisements in the Daily Star this winter, I was glad to see that the store was fully on its way to opening.

And what a grand opening it must have been. Take a look at this press release, published on Wednesday:

25_02_2009_008_006

I’m still puzzled by the idea that the Lebanese have harbored a secret desire for do-it-yourself handy-person projects, which is what I think of when I think of Ace. I wouldn’t do plumbing, but I have changed many a door knob and cabinet handle, have hung mirrors and paintings, and have been roped into assorted painting projects – all with a fair degree of enthusiasm. I’m not sure that this same spirit is as valued in Lebanon – so I have been wondering who Ace’s customers might be.

Thanks to this press release, I know: the Sin El Fil Ace Hardware gathers people “in large numbers”, who come “from all walks of life” and “from different parts of the Country”, as well as from the U.S. Embassy. (Actually, I have no doubt that Michele Sisson is capable of any household project – and would likely do it with both grace and aplomb.) I hope this is true, and that Ace’s grand opening is a “landmark event”, not only in the history of Lebanese retailing but in the evolution of Lebanese culture. A “can-do” spirit and a “let’s pitch in” attitude could do wonders for the country.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, construction, home, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »

the mechanical Turk

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 19, 2009

I’ve been on an Ottoman kick recently, as you may have noticed. One of my more recent Ottoman jags started with a magazine’s casual reference to Amazon’s work-for-hire service, “Mechanical Turk“. The site, whose motto is “Artificial Artificial Intelligence”, connects employers and independent contractors willing to do online tasks that require human, rather than machine, intelligence for piecework rates.

Amazon’s enterprise is always interesting, but what made me curious was the name. What is a mechanical Turk, and why is it Turkish?

Since I was on Amazon’s website anyway, I turned to its book offerings, and found:

tom-standage-mechanical-turk

It turns out that the “mechanical Turk” was a machine designed by an Austrian tinkerer and scientist in the late 1700s – a time when machines that could simulate some aspect of animal or human life were apparently all the rage at Europe’s courts. On the more charming side was a torso of a boy playing the flute, whose wind-up gears actually produced a flute-like sound. On the less charming side was a replica of a duck, whose primary enchantment was that when fed, his wind-up gears took the food through the process of digestion, including the excretions at the end. Ugh.

The mechanical Turk was something else – more impressive than any other machine of its day, because it seemed to be able to think. The machine (see image on the book cover above) was a large contraption: a semi-solid table, which housed the machine’s gears, and the figure of an Ottoman Turk. What the machine did was to play chess.

I’m not much of a chess player, but apparently the ability to play chess is one litmus test for machine intelligence, because chess requires strategic thinking. In other words, the mechanical Turk seemed to possess artificial intelligence.

What we know now – and what Amazon’s Mechanical Turk plays with – is that the machine’s gears were just for show. A person hid inside the box and manipulated the Ottoman Turk’s arm to make each chess move – meaning that this artificial intelligence was really human intelligence supported by artifice.

I don’t have anything insightful to say about the science side of this story, and I’m not too impressed by the mechanical Turk’s creator. Why didn’t he put his skills to work designing a machine that did work, even if it couldn’t play chess? I found myself wondering as I read the book.

Maybe that question shows my own lack of imagination – or my own hidebound morality. In any case, what really interests me is why he decided to make the figure Turkish – why not dress him as a fellow Austrian, or even another European?

I think I know the answer: the Ottoman Empire was Austria’s historic rival. An Ottoman Turk must have appeared a much more intimidating competitor than a Frenchman, or even a British subject. From the descriptions that cropped up in the book, however, it also made him seem much more alien – and maybe a bit sinister.

Here is one example:

An article [published in 1820] in the [London-based] New Monthly Magazine … proclaimed that “this cunning infidel (for he assumes the figure of a Turk) drives kings, and castles, and knights before him with more than moral sagacity, and with his inferior hand; and, except in a very few instances of drawn games, has beaten the most skillful chess-players in Europe.” (p. 128)

Ah, infidel – one of my favorite, we’re-all-cousins-under-Abraham, words.

Here is another, taken from the mechanical Turk’s tour of Philadelphia, Boston, and New York in the 1830s:

Silas Weir Mitchell, a Philadelphia doctor who attended Maelzel’s show as a child, later recallted that “the Turk, with his oriental silence and rolling eyes, would haunt your nightly visions for many an evening thereafter.” (p. 172)

Glad to see that we Americans were so free of stereotypes. If the figure had been dressed as an Austrian, would Dr. Mitchell have referred to his “Tyrolean silence”, do you think?

Posted in Americans, art, construction, religion, research, time, Turkey | 1 Comment »

a treehouse in the sea

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2009

Has anyone else heard about this? Qifa Nabki wrote in a group email that I received this morning. Am I the last one?

QN was talking, of course, about Cedars Island, a planned cedar-in-the-sea more-Dubai-than-Dubai development. I had heard about it, thanks to a Facebook status message that M posted last week:

M wants to move to Cedar Island.

Okay, I thought – M is fairly peripatetic – after which it slipped from my mind. Luckily, QN was a bit more on the ball – and has a hysterical, very on-point post about the development, which you can read here.

The project’s website is a laugh-out-loud hoot to read. Its news section recounts Tourism Minister Elie Marouni’s recent visit to developer Noor Holding’s offices, in which he “expressed his blessing” and wished them “big success”.  The project promises residents an “exotic, pleasant, and peaceful environment”, which will “mainly consist of 8 distinct zones.” What are these distinct zones? you might ask.  They are “zone a, b, c, d, e, f, g, & h.”

Curious to know what a cedar in the sea might look like? Me, too. After all, how one draws a Lebanese cedar often tells much about one’s political affiliations.

Here is the official rendering of the project:

cedar-islandSigh. It looks like a joke, doesn’t it? But as QN says: this is the real thing. And it will be located on the coast of Damour, between the airport (easy exit in case of troubles: a plus. distance from Beirut: a minus.) and Jiyyeh (easy access to a power station: a plus. increased likelihood of Israeli bombing raids: a minus.), where cedar imagery has been few and far between.

So.  Which cedar do you think Cedar Islands should most resemble?

Chamoun’s cedar?

chamoun-flag

The Kataeb cedar?

kataeb-flag

The Ouwet cedar?

ouwet-flag

The Lebanese Communist cedar?

lebanese_communist_party_flagThe national flag cedar?

lebanese-national-flagOr – my favorite, thanks to its slightly goofy shape – the AUB cedar?aub-logo

Cedars are a serious topic in Lebanon. If Noor Holding doesn’t fully understand what it is getting into, the lifestyle it promises residents could be “exotic” indeed.

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Beirut, cedar, construction, economics, friends, Lebanon, media, politics, tourism, vanity | 5 Comments »

Ads and ends from the local paper

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 11, 2009

The news is awful again this morning – more than 60 strikes on Gaza overnight. Assuming an 8-hour night, that’s 7.5 per hour, or one every eight minutes. Do you think people there got any sleep? I don’t. I remember the bombings in south Beirut in 2006. My apartment was roughly one mile away, and the impact of each bomb still shook me – literally, lifted me up off my bed – when they hit their target.

So I’ll focus on lighter things, like a few of the advertisements that I have seen recently in the Daily Star.

Ace Hardware, which had been running ads on billboards near the Beirut port all spring, is now open:

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I think of Ace as a real down-home, old-school hardware store – a chain with the feel of a local, small-town shop. I wonder how this attitude is translating in Beirut – I can’t see many people walking in with the idea of taking on anything DIY, for example. Is the store focusing on contractors?

On the other hand, in one way I can see Ace fitting right in. When I went to college, there was an Ace in the next town – for about five minutes. It was closed by the parent company during my first month there – moved somewhere a bit more bustling, I think.

But the store lived on in local memory, because it was used heavily in direction-giving. As in, “Oh yes – shop X? Its right after the place where the hardware store was.” Typical New England direction-giving – and also typical Lebanese-style direction-giving. I can’t tell you the number of times the turn into my neighborhood was described as “where [Fast Food Restaurant X] used to be.”

I moved there long after the fast food restaurant had closed, but I got the message: that in Lebanon, as in New England, there are locals, who know the longue duree of the land; and there are others. With that in mind, Ace should fit right in :).

There’s another ad that has been running regularly in the paper – one from travel agent Nakhal, advertising regular flights to Baghdad and Erbil:

03_01_2009_003_004

I know Nakhal primarily as an agency focused on leisure travel: vacations, honeymoons, etc. But it seems to have found a lucrative new sideline. The flights, which run on Flying Carpet and Wings of Lebanon, are not inexpensive – $600RT in economy class, and booking a ticket requires an “invitation letter” from an Iraqi company or other organization.

I’m sure that some of you are thinking: What’s the big deal? Why wouldn’t Lebanon have direct flights to Iraq?

I’m not sure what the big deal is, to be honest. And yes, there have been direct flights from Lebanon for some time. What I find interesting is that they are now being advertised by a travel agent, with all the supporting infrastructure this implies (transfer arrangements, hotel bookings, etc.). I see it as an indication that there is now a steady interest in traveling to Iraq for business ventures, and am hopeful that this means better things – like stability – for Iraqis.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Beirut, construction, Iraq, Lebanon, travel | 3 Comments »

the Beiteddine of Brooklyn

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 7, 2008

It may have been wishful thinking.

Or it may have been that I didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

Yesterday I looked up during my walk to the gym, rather than straight ahead or – ahem! – at the shop windows. And I saw something familiar – wooden mashrabiya-style additions to a stone (well, brick) building:

It looks so Lebanese, I thought to myself as I pulled out my camera. I can’t wait to get home and compare it to the photograph I took at Beiteddine.

When I did, I realized that the two approaches to wooden building extensions weren’t quite as similar as I had thought. Here’s the photograph of Beiteddine:

Well, it was 6:00 AM. As you can see, Beiteddine’s build-out is a bit more elaborate, not to mention bigger – kind of like Beiteddine itself compared to the brick building.

But I loved feeling, at least for a little while, that a direct connection between New York and Lebanon existed just a few blocks away.

Posted in Beirut, construction, Lebanon, New York, vanity | 1 Comment »

yesterday’s beaches

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 2, 2008

The air changed this week – its still cold at night, but the chill is less wintry. The air smells like spring, and it feels like it, too – slightly heavier and more humid. And with the change in air has come an evolution in our weather-related sports conversations: from skiing to beaching.

I hear that before the war everyone went to beaches in Ouzai, H said to me the other day.

We paused for a minute to absorb that idea. Today’s Ouzai does not scream “beach club”. It is a lower-class suburb of Beirut, largely populated by poor Shiites who fled from the south during the Israeli occupation (and overlaid with waves of other internally displaced refugees).

My only experience in Ouzai was quite positive: I bought my first set of pillows and coverlets there – big thick traditional ones that feel incredibly cozy on cold nights.

It was February 14, 2006 – the one-year anniversary of Rafik Hariri’s assassination – and I had just arrived to Beirut from a conference in Kuala Lumpur. I was moving into a new apartment, and I had nothing – just a set of sheets that I had purchased in Malaysia. And because it was the first year anniversary of Hariri’s death, everything in Beirut was closed.

As I contemplated the unhappy prospect of camping out in my own apartment, sleeping under a sheet and my winter coat, my landlord took pity on me.

I’ll take you to Ouzai, he told me. They aren’t mourning Hariri there.

He was right – all the shops were open, and I slept in warmth and comfort for many nights in my Ouzai bedding.

But before Ouzai was known for its inexpensive, handmade “shaabi” furniture and conservative ways, it was known for its beach resorts.

My 1965 copy of Travel Lebanon lists them among the city’s “swimming clubs”: Saint Michel, Saint Simon, Riviera, Acapulco, Sands, Coral Beach, and the Beach Club. A day pass could be had for 2 or 3 Lebanese pounds, and cabanas, apartments and even houses could be rented for the season, for 700-7000 LL. My, prices have changed :).

The beach clubs boasted restaurants and bars as well as swimming facilities, and most offered surf boards for rent as well.

The area around Ouzai has been inhabited since ancient times, and has been the subject of several archaeological studies. But its name comes from a Sunni (I assume) religious scholar from Baalbek:

Among the residents of Beirut during the Medieval Period who became well known was Imam Al Aouza’i. Bom in Baalbeck in 707 or 712, his personal name was Abd er Rahman bin Omar. A learned man of his day, well versed in Islamic technology and law he moved and became stationed in Beirut were he practiced and distinguished himself. He became a world- famous Moslem jurisconsult of the first and second centuries of the Hijra, and was regarded as the Imam of Syria (Jidejian 1993:12). He died in 774, and the Moslem shrine on the south coast of Beirut was erected for him.


It is said that the Imam Al Aouza’i was extremely fond of the Hantus village and that he often expressed the wish to be buried beside the tiny single-domed mosque, in which he taught (Conde 1955:20). After his burial in 774 Hantus was virtuallv destroyed by an earthquake and when it was reconstructed and reinhabited, it was name after this holy man and benefactor, Al Aouza’i (Conde 1955:20). Since than, Al Aouza’i has become Lebanon’s second holiest shrine. Imam Al Aouza’i’s original 7th century needle-like white minaret mosque building is the small room with a low dome which adjoins the minaret on the east (mountain) side. The mosque marks the resting-place of its famous namesake, and has since become the name for this region
.

I took the information above from a May 2000 Council for Development and Reconstruction report on “The Beirut Urban Transport Project”, sponsored by the World Bank. The full text is available online, and it is extremely comprehensive, covering developments from Roman times to the present for most of Beirut’s neighborhoods. It has this to say about Ouzai’s beach resort days:

Only with the opening of the Beirut International Airport, in nearby Khaldeh, did one witness the intensive development of the beach area, and the unmistakable southem expansion of Beirut toward the red sand dunes in the back of the beaches … In 1955 the Al Aouza’i sector remained a sleepy summer resort for Beirutis who still preferred the traditional ways of the country over the foreign-style further north beach resorts of the St. Michel and St. Simon.

To be honest, suburban Beirut geography is not my strong suit. What I understand from the above report is that Ouzai proper had “traditional” beaches while today’s Bir Hassan had the chi-chi beach resorts. But I could be wrong

There are some very sweet photographs posted online by Beirutis who do remember the old resorts, including a few childhood ones posted by Gus Ramadan on flickr. You can see pictures of a young Gus at St. Simon with his father and cousin here.

Thanks to its beachfront property, Ouzai has also been the unhappy recipient of military strikes over the years, including the 1982 Israeli invasion. I found the Saint Simon beach mentioned in this context in a letter sent from the “Permanent Observer of the Palestine Liberation Organization” in Beirut to the United Nations Security Council as the Israeli attacks continued, asking for UN support in condemning and stopping the attacks. The full report is available online here (the UN maintains a wonderful online archive of its Palestine-related documents); and below is what the PLO had to say about Israeli attacks on West Beirut and its beach suburbs:

In the early morning hours of today, 26 July 1982, less than five hours following the night attack on the refugee camps of west Beirut, the Israeli forces renewed and escalated their attacks against the besieged western sector of Beirut. For more than two hours, commencing at 1.30 a.m., Israeli land and sea-based heavy rocket, artillery and tank fire indiscriminately hit the areas of west Beirut: Ouzai, Ramlet al-Baida, the Fakhani district, Bir Hassan, Bir al-Abed, Haret Hraik, Mar Elias and the airport vicinity. The three refugee camps, Sabra, Shatila and Burj al-Barajneh, were shelled once again.

Under the cover of that fire, which continued until 3.30 a.m., Israeli naval units attempted to approach the Saint Simon beach shore in the Jnah/Ouzai region. Our defiant Palestinian and Lebanese defenders were able to repulse the attempted Israeli sea-borne landing.

At 10 a.m. today, 26 July, Israeli artillery, rocket and naval shelling of west Beirut resumed. For two hours, the Israelis pounded the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital and concentrated on the Ouzai and airport region as well as the refugee camp, Burj al-Barajneh.

“Defiant defenders” sounds a bit melodramatic, but I imagine that writing in between bouts of shelling makes one less interested in understatement.

H remembers hearing that the US marines landed on the beaches of Ouzai, where the mixture of men in fatigues and girls in bikinis caused mass confusion on both sides. The marines wondered: but isn’t there a civil war on? while the sunbathers wondered: is there a movie being filmed here today?

I can’t find anything online to back up that story, although I can tell you that googling “marines Beirut beach landing bikini” sure does produce some interesting results. But if anyone else knows more, we would love to know! It sounds almost too good to be true – too typically Lebanese! – but it could be :).

Ouzai was hit during the 2006 war, and its population may be hit in a different way by Hariri-led plans to tear down the slums and build beachside condos, if this dated but fascinating LF forum debate is still accurate. I probably won’t be going there in my bikini anytime soon, but I like knowing about this other side of Ouzai.

And for those of you who might be interested in seeing photos of Saint Simon and other Ouzai beaches in their heyday, Skyscraper City has a wonderful collection of old photographs from Lebanon. Try pages 32-35 for beach resort images.

Posted in Beirut, childhood, construction, holidays, Israel, Lebanon, sea, swimming, time | 5 Comments »

Checking in: the mysterious Beirut Hilton

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 18, 2008

My parents are coming for a visit next month, and I am counting down the days. I can’t wait to see them and show them “my” Beirut, including the ishtirak and/or generator I am about to break down and buy. (And if there is anyone I can pay off to ensure a tranquil, bomb- and protest-free week, please let me know.)

I bet there’s a Hilton, my Hilton Honors-loving father said brightly when they first decided to come here.

Well, yes and no.

There is half a Hilton on Edde Street, in Hamra. I don’t think it will be ready by next month. In fact, I don’t think it will be ready, ever. Its been in the same half-finished state since I moved to Beirut.

And apparently there was a Hilton, or at least almost a Hilton, until the war broke out in 1975. The building was complete, but the hotel hadn’t officially opened … and once the war broke out, it stayed closed.

Professor Jeff Andrews of the University of Texas posted a photograph of the destroyed Hilton (taken during his 2001 visit to Beirut) on his webpage:

hilton_beirut.jpg

No, parents – you are definitely not staying there. The never-quite-open-for-business hotel hosted assorted militia-men during the civil war, and when the war ended, the building apparently sat unused, like many of Beirut’s buildings still do today.

Like the Holiday Inn, the Beirut Hilton seems to have become an iconic reference-point for visiting journalists. A January 2004 Travel + Leisure article about Beirut had this to say:

Above the fashionable seaside promenade known as Avenue de Paris, the towering Beirut Hilton still stands in all its bomb-damaged ignominy (“It’s an eyesore,” a disgusted pedestrian said when I stopped to snap a picture of the abandoned hostelry).

And, also like many Beirut buildings, by the early 2000s, the Beirut Hilton had investors and a restoration plan. Lebanon’s Investment Development Authority’s (IDAL) website reports that:

In August 2003, IDAL concluded a Package Deal Contract with Hilton Beirut for the US$46-million refurbishment of the five-star hotel in the Beirut Central District. The project will be completed in 2004/2005 and will create around 200 full-time jobs.

You can see drawings of the planned hotel here – just ignore the “estimated completion: 2006-7”.

The Hilton has missed its chance to open in 2007, but it seems that hope still floats for a 2008 opening. In December, 4Hoteliers, a hospitality industry publication, described the new Beirut Hilton as a “first”:

The scheduled opening of the Hilton Beirut in June 2008 represents another first for Hilton, this time in Lebanon. With 158 rooms, this prime business property overlooking the capital’s corniche will have a very contemporary look and feel.

And if you want to match your household fixtures to those of the new/old Hilton, you can do so. Hans Grohe outfitted the hotel, and describes its’ work here.

Before I continue, I would just like to recap what I’ve written thus far. In 2003 the hotel was about to be renovated, and in 2004 Beirut residents were complaining that it was an eyesore.

This is very interesting, since Britain’s Controlled Demolition claims that it demolished the hotel in 2002:

The Beirut Hilton Hotel, which was built in 1975, but never occupied, was imploded on Sunday, July 14, 2002 by NADC Charter Member, Controlled Demolition, Inc. (CDI) of Phoenix, Maryland and their client, Optimal Engineering Consulting & Contracting, SARL, (OECC) of Antelias, Lebanon to make room for a new hotel. Twenty-seven (27) years ago, just days before the grand opening, the Hilton Hotel became the site of fighting in Lebanon’s Civil War. Christian and Muslim militiamen fought room to room for control of the building and other nearby hotels. The Hilton, two (2) other major hotels and other high-rise buildings were ravaged by the fighting. The building was one of the three (3) major hotels badly damaged, but not rebuilt, in Lebanon. Located in the City Center, the Hilton stood out in a major redevelopment area which, in recent years, had erased the scars of the fifteen (15) year long Civil War.

CDI’s international affiliate, CDI UK, Ltd., supervised preparation operations being performed by OECC at the site. CDI’s preparation plan called for explosives to be placed on 6 (SIX) floors in the structure: two (2) lower floors consisting of heavy concrete column and beam construction and; (4) upper floors, constructed of reinforced concrete shear walls. By working in so many locations throughout the structure, CDI was able to beautifully fragment the debris, facilitating OECC’s ability to meet their six (6) week schedule to prepare the site for new construction.

Utilizing approximately 350 kg of high velocity explosives, in 880 locations, CDI felled the structure at exactly 10AM before thousands of spectators with no harm to surrounding buildings. The entire sequence lasted only ten (10) seconds.

The Hilton property and building were abandoned long ago by the US-based hotel chain and a group of Lebanese businessmen purchased the structure two (2) years ago. A new 5-story hotel will be constructed in its place.

(And yes, if you click through to the Controlled Demolition page, you can watch a video of the Hilton collapsing.)

A 2000 article in the Pakistan Economist confirms that the Hilton had been purchased and was scheduled for demolition, and I have found several other similar reports:

A feast was being prepared for the inauguration party of the Beirut Hilton when the civil war erupted in April 1975 and the 400-room hotel found itself in the middle of a battle zone.

Management took out a small advert saying the party was postponed indefinitely. The hotel never opened, turning instead into a looted and burnt-out edifice like the rest of the hotel district along the Mediterranean seafront.

Now, 25 years later, the Saudi-run Societe Mediterraneenne des Grands Hotels has obtained a long-awaited permit to demolish the ruin and build a new 20-storey Hilton at a cost of $70 million.

I don’t get it. Were there two downtown Beirut Hiltons operating before the war? The video doesn’t give the impression that there was much of the old Hilton left to renovate or restore. And I’m definitely not holding my breath for the Edde Hilton to open its doors – or install windows – any time soon.

Posted in Beirut, construction, explosion, family, holidays, hotels, Lebanon | 5 Comments »

delusions of artistry

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 10, 2007

Standing on M’s terrace with a big digital camera in my hands encouraged my ego in its daydream that I am an “artiste” photographer. Here are the results of my efforts to blend M’s lush landscaping with the Achrafieh skyline:

greenery-achrafieh.jpg

greenery-achrafieh-ii.jpg

 

Posted in art, Beirut, construction, friends, photography | 5 Comments »