B018

(only available in English)

For more information on the research
please send an email

An essay written in pairs
Part of a dual fold research
(theoretical and analytical)

Temporary suicide[1]

The city Beirut located in Lebanon is a city that is full of complexities and contradictions with quite some tension as a consequence (Haddad, 2016). These tensions have resulted numerous times into violence of which the civil war between 1975 and 1990 is the most prominent example. The war has divided the city in two with a Christian East and an Islamic West. After the war redevelopments on several levels ranging from the social to the political and architectural have occurred to move forward. (Andorno et al., 2019) B018, a nightclub of architect Bernard Khoury, was built right after the war and can be seen as one of the “key buildings which have been important for the historical identity of the city and the memory of its citizens” (Andorno et al., 2019). In this essay an attempt will be made to theorise the exploration of the spatial qualities of this specific building to add to a better understanding of Beirut’s spatial transformation.

B018 is designed as a reaction to the difficult and explosive conditions present in the city and the program, an entertainment centre, that is placed in such an environment. (Andorno et al., 2019) The building consists of a volume which is embedded on a disc shaped concrete mass slightly above ground level. The disc slightly heightens towards the building volume that is almost completely sunken into the ground to “avoid the over exposure of a mass that could act as a rhetorical monument.” (Andorno et al., 2019) The almost invisible building during the day, comes to life during the night opening itself up to the city. “The opening of the roof [thus] exposes the club to the world above and reveals the cityscape as an urban backdrop to the patrons below. Its closing [after the night] translates a voluntary disappearance, a gesture of recess” (Bernard Khoury, 2019).

One of the prominent spatial qualities of B018 is how it disconnects the building and its people from the current situation [2] creating a disconnected world which focusses on the now. This experience corresponds to a concept named in the doctoral thesis of Naeff [3] (2016). In this thesis she analyses Beirut as a city and focusses on the time space experience present within the city. This will be used to analyse the experience of B018. According to Naeff a substantial number of cultural objects that emerge after the war are disconnected from the natural perception of time and part of the suspended now, “a temporality characterized by a protracted “presentness” with limited access to past and future” (Naeff, 2016, p. 2). “The suspended now seems like an eternally stretched out present, now, which is suspended between a past and future that remain out of reach. The word “suspended” simultaneously evokes the meaning of dangling in a void, that is, seemingly disconnected from the passage of time, and of delay and postponement” (Naeff, 2016, p. 37). However, where Naeff believes that the present created in the suspended now is “a present that is experienced as disorienting, unfulfilling and alienating” (Naeff, 2016, p. 75) it is argued that this is not always the case as can be seen in B018 which does create the suspended now feeling but with an experience tailored to the needs of the people, an experience providing the opportunity for a temporary suicide and thus not one that is based on unfulfillment and alienation.

However, B018 does not only create a disconnecting experience it also, as Khoury (2019) explains on his website, creates a memory to the events and history of the city. According to Naeff this connection to the past does not contradict the suspended now feeling, it reinforces it. “When new stimuli trigger the return of forgotten memories or the reliving of a traumatic event, they become part of present experience. […] In Beirut’s post-war condition, the space of experience is filled with memories of violence and loss, both individual and collective, personal and generational, many of which have not or have hardly been “worked-through”  While this lack of closure means that the past seriously affects the present, it also paradoxically impedes present access to the past. […] This unresolvedness has [thus] contributed to a sense of the suspended now” (Naeff, 2016, p. 40-41). While it is believed that there is truth in the arguing how the past can still be experienced in the present, which can be seen in B018 in the interior that tries to evoke the stimuli to generate a memory to the civil war, it is not believed that this contributes and enhances the suspended now feeling. It might help the creation of a new world that can be conducive for the experience of this concept, but it more so helps to create a link to people’s past and their identity.

This latter argumentation, that the memory to the past evoked in B018 creates a link to people’s identity, builds on an analogy of Freud [4] between memories and cities. According to Freud there are similarities between the brain and the city and between memories and monuments. Where the brain stores the memories, the city stores its history via monuments. These memories or monuments are according to Freud the key to the essence or identity of the person or city. However, the analogy does not hold completely since according to Freud “in mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish” (Freud, 1961, p.10), but “[…] only on condition that the organ of the mind has remained intact and that the tissues have not been damaged by trauma or inflammation” (Freud, 1961, p.12). In a city on the other hand “the simultaneity that is a condition of the unconscious is spatially impossible, ‘only in the mind is such a preservation of all the earlier stages alongside of the final form possible, and … we are not in a position to represent this phenomenon in pictorial terms’” (Hendrix & Holm, 2016, p. 3)

Thus, according to Freud it is not possible to have the phenomenon of the past and present memories coexisting in the same physical space. Nevertheless, this is, even though not literally, contradicted by the building which both creates a link to the present via the suspended now feeling, as argued before, as well as a link to the past via its remembrances of it. Nonetheless, the analogy made by Freud still contributes to the explanation of the spatial qualities of this building in that according to him each monument can be seen as an artefact to help to support the collective memory, be it a good or bad memory (Colenbrander & Voorthuis, 2019). The same is exactly the case with B018, an artefact that helps to support the collective memory to remember and not completely forget the past of Beirut. This means that a link is created to the essence or identity of Beirut and its people.

The link to the past of Beirut, as well as the link to the beforenamed suspended now are both experiences created by the spatial qualities of the building. The atmosphere that constitutes these experiences might be one of the key features that makes this building so important. Atmosphere refers here to the sensorial qualities produced by a space. Nevertheless, “despite the fast-growing research field, the discussion on architectural atmosphere does entail a certain ambiguity. After all, the atmospheric experience is something personal, ephemeral and vague, but above all it is hard to conceptualise. We seem to be able to immediately sense the atmosphere of a place, but it seems to be very difficult to capture in text or design” (Van Hulst, 2017, p. 28). This might be due to the fact that the character of a space is a complex synthesis of innumerable factors.

From the architectural analysis of B018 it can be concluded that each aspect of the building is used to contribute to the creation of the atmosphere, from the immediate surroundings to the placements of lights. The atmosphere created by the building is a layered and complex atmosphere as could already be concluded from the writings above. It creates both a protective, invisible and closed off feeling as well as a connective, exposed and liberating feeling. The experience provided by the functional program of the building lets the people temporarily forget the situation and stress that is present within the city. It creates a suspension of reality for the visitors of the building, because once they are inside the building they can completely focus on the music. This is even more so emphasised by the scenography of the design, the position of the volume sunken into the ground and the play with light and dark. The building thereby helps the traumatised and distressed people of Beirut forget the past, not think about the future and focus on the present. It provides a need for the people by creating a stretched out present. Moreover, at the same time the building is an artefact that supports the remembrance of Beirut’s past, giving the building a placeness. The sunken volume reminds of the bunkers used as safe haven, its almost invisible exterior sustains the openness of the thinned-out area, and the sinister interior hints at the loss experienced. The complete design thus also reminds of the civil war, the main source of the remembrance.

As Van Hulst already pointed out, being able to sense an atmosphere is one thing, but being able to conceptualise it is another. A solution might be found in the surrealistic movement. Where the most general definition of surrealism portrays it as an artform where reality is fused with imagery from the unconscious (van Dale, 2019). The initial definition made by André Breton in his Surrealist Manifesto  defines it as “pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought” (Breton, 1924). Both definitions, though slightly different, hint at the ability of the movement to step away from reality and portray an experience, atmosphere or sensation. Even though the portrayal of this movement has many different forms there is one form which would be able to provide the tools to conceptualise the atmosphere of B018. This is a form of surrealism where “the viewer is confronted by a world that is completely defined and minutely depicted but that makes no rational sense: realistically painted images are removed from their normal contexts and reassembled within an ambiguous, paradoxical, or shocking framework” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019).

It can be concluded that B018 creates a suspended now which disconnects from the past while at the same time it creates a remembrance to this same past the people are trying to flee from. It creates a momentary forgetting by temporarily killing the part of the brain that remembers the war to help the people be in the present moment and decrease the stress and trauma temporarily. However, it refuses to let them forget the past completely and reminds them of their history and their identity. As it is called by the architect himself; “B018 [thus] refuses to participate in the naïve amnesia that governs the post-war reconstruction efforts” (Bernard Khoury, 2019). This atmosphere is created by the spatial qualities of the building where each and every detail contributes to the creation of the experience and which can be captured using the surrealistic style of portrayal.

All architecture connects itself, either by contradicting or by complying, with the characteristics of the time and place (Haddad, 2008), and B018 is not different in this aspect. However, the specific spatial qualities of this building make that it, compared to all architecture, stands out and can be seen as one of the key buildings which have been of importance for the city of Beirut and its citizens. B018 connects predominantly on a more conceptual level to its surroundings creating an escape and remembrance to the context, a so-called musical therapy (Elias, 2018), a treatment plan, a temporary suicide for the people of Beirut.

References

Andorno, A., Idil Bulut, C., Budak, C., Sol Lee, D., Hapsari, D., Montecchia, G., … Engelkes, T. (2019). Beirut – From civil war to skyscrapers. Eindhoven.

Bernard Khoury. (2019). B018. Retrieved November 20, 2019, from https://www.bernardkhoury.com/project.php?id=127

Breton, A. (1924). Surrealist Manifesto. Retrieved December 30, 2019, from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/surrealism

Colenbrander, B., & Voorthuis, J. (2019). Architecture and Urban Theory Screencasts. Eindhoven: Eindhoven University of Technology.

Elias, C. (2018). Posthumous Images: Contemporary Art and Memory Politics in Post-Civil War Lebanon. Duke University Press.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019). Surrealism. Retrieved December 30, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/art/Surrealism

Freud, S. (1961). Civilization and its discontents. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.

Haddad, E. (2008). Learning from Beirut: From Modernism to Contemporary Architecture. ARCC Journal, 5(1), 8.

Haddad, E. (2016). Beirut: Between memory and desire. Retrieved November 27, 2019, from https://web.archive.org/web/20160303175036/http://worldviewcities.org/beirut/elipsis.html

Hendrix, J. S., & Holm, L. E. (2016). Architecture and the Unconscious. London and New York: Routledge. Retrieved from https://books.google.ch/books?id=MBBqDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=freud+city+analogy+explained&source=bl&ots=u0dqijUVK_&sig=ACfU3U1kHD62tK3UGg95R_hJXTkcCesXPg&hl=nl&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwih-vHnp93mAhUQilwKHRFbAXcQ6AEwAHoECAUQAQ#v=onepage&q=freud city analogy explained&f=false

Naeff, J. A. (2016). Beirut’s suspended now: Imaginaries of a precarious city.

van Dale. (2019). Betekenis “surrealisme.” Retrieved December 30, 2019, from https://www.vandale.nl/gratis-woordenboek/nederlands/betekenis/surrealisme#.XgopBVVKipo 30-12-2019

Van Hulst, D. (2017). Constructing Atmosphere – in search of atmospheric architecture. Delft University of Technology.


[1] Temporary suicide is seen as the purposefully, partially or completely, forgetting for a limited period of time.

[2] A city full of complexities and contradictions with quite some tension as a consequence, which have resulted numerous times into violence of which the civil war between 1975 and 1990 is the most prominent example.

[3] Dr. J.A. Naeff is an assistant professor on Middle Eastern cultures at the University of Leiden. Her doctoral thesis from the University of Amsterdam was in 2017 published in book form.

[4] Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis and seen as one of the most influential psychologist and thinkers of the 20th century. Even though his theories and methods are controversial, his analogies and metaphors remain a great literary value. (Colenbrander & Voorthuis, 2019)