Public Beirut* was part of a series of courses that aimed to see how an enthusiastic point of view towards the city could directly engage its ‘smartness’, urban fabric and uses. At the heart of the studio was the ‘Corniche’, Beirut’s sea side promenade and arguably one of its most successful public spaces.
The studio aimed to envision how the meeting of temporary installations and public urban spaces could both reveal, highlight and engage the city’s existing forms of spatial intelligence. The course started by generating a wide range of scores, and ‘analog’ test kits to document, understand and frame how the Corniche expresses, mediates and creates forms of urban intelligence as portrayed in its highly active public life. Public Beirut culminated in five built installations around the corniche, each of which focused on particular forms of spatial intelligence.
Based on the fact that spatial intelligence is not an independent entity but rather one that is reliant on instincts, emotions, and actions, prominently the subtle and the mundane, the instructors encouraged lateral thinking; whereby, each idea develops its own logic and conclusion. A methodology for reaching an answer to a question that was never really asked.
The journey started with 24 hours spent on the corniche in five teams each consisting of five students.
– Prior to heading to the corniche, each group had to set specific rules that would govern their conduct in the public space and direct their investigation into specific notions. Rules and decisions were left utterly to the students.
– The teams had to keep a log of their observations.
– Thinking of the best way to communicate these observations, the teams had to accordingly organize their notations into scores.
– Translating the observations spatially, the teams compiled the information identifying the most surprising, the most absurd, and the most repetitive observations. A series of adjectives were then used to describe these events that were later transformed into models built out of reclaimed/found/recycled materials only.
These models became the trigger for the following stage that culminated with the built installations. Since they were not mere representations, but rather thinking-in-progress kind of models, the dissection of each one allowed the students to extract new notions, thus looking at the issue of publicness and intelligence from different perspectives.
Corniche Extended, the installation I worked on, was situated on a pier that was funded by public money but was surprisingly off-limits to members of the public. The pier was monopolized by a specific sect of Beirutis who insisted that no one be allowed to set foot on their turf. Using the rules set for us to our own advantage, we built a replica of the Corniche that ran on tracks, powered by a 1945 handcar. The platform serves as a visual invitation for the users to trespass the barbed wire onto the pier and take their public space along with them by taking our little Corniche for a ride.