The Day I Climbed The Egg – Beirut

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The Egg - c. 1995

The Egg – c. 1995

Affectionately known as ‘The Egg’ by the locals, this is all what remains from what was once an architecturally ground breaking multi-purpose complex in Beirut, designed by the modernist genius that is Joseph Philippe Karam and built c. 1965 – called ‘Beirut City Center’ at the time.

On a recent trip to Beirut, I made it one of my must do goals to climb up the Egg (legally or illegally – had to be done). And so I did!

The complex was a concatenation of office and residential space, combined with a mall on the 1st three floors that could be reached by escalators from the ground.

The hollow, soap like structure was actually the complex’s multi-purpose performance space, mostly used as a theater and a cinema. It was built around the time when Arab cinema was at its golden age and Beirut was the pioneer of the dream sequence technology. Be it actors, technicians, studios or just good old cinemas, where Beirut went the Arab world followed. As the old saying went: “Shot in Egypt, made famous in Beirut”.

After the civil war broke out, the complex, situated right on the ‘Green Line’ that separated east and west Beirut, suffered extensive but certainly repairable damage. Shortly after the war ended however (in the mid-90s), the Ministry of Finance bought the lease of the land and destroyed the main building with the aim of rebuilding its own ministry premises. The plans were later abandoned but not without leaving ‘The Egg’ as the only remaining structure of a once ground breaking plaza.

Ever since then plenty of plans have come and gone and the structure has been threatened several times. Lebanon’s laws on architectural heritage are lax, and they hardly ever protect modernist and art-deco era 20th century era buildings. The focus tends to be on much older buildings leaving a country with a wealth of modernist structures in danger of losing some of its most important assets.

And so here I am on a hot summer day in June. I make my way up, one broken step at a time. I am not the first person to do this, in fact in the late 90s all the way until quite recently the space was often used as an art gallery, impromptu theater and sometimes as a good old raving spot. But having been sealed off since 2007, I was pleasantly surprised that this time the barriers were removed.

A few short hops and hikes, and a dirty suede shoes later, I made it. The incredible smooth concrete finishing was right there, riddled with bullet holes of various sizes and idiosyncratic graffiti. Those curves in all their beauty, the iron clad pillars holding this alien like structure, all there. This was urban raw Beirut as I’ve come to fall in love with it ever since I was born. The city of dreams, resistance, resistance to resistance and where icons are made and crushed.

My trek up the Egg was magical, sad and wildly invigorating. I learned that man-made structures, through our own perception of our reality as humans, become an almost indispensable intrinsic part of our internal psyche. They are so closely weaved with our identity, our culture and what we come to call our home. That was the day I got close to the structure that I’ve always admired and drove me to obsession as a young kid – just ask my parents who had to constantly deny that it was an alien space ship that had landed in Beirut and no one is allowed in because the government is protecting it.

Public perception of modernism in Lebanon is unfortunately quite mis-guided. The abundance of these buildings from the early 20th century all the way to the mid-80s meant that they have become part of the Lebanese urban landscape and in no way seen as endangered. But they are dwindling and are being eroded by the day to be replaced by soulless blocks of bland stone bricks that have little design quality and are built with little care about their surroundings.

Back in the Egg I stare out of its well crafted big square ad-hoc windows. I’m seeing the massive construction boom that Beirut is currently undergoing as the city becomes a play ground for real estate realtors, developers and mega rich property investors. And then in the middle of all this commotion a lovely derelict church, Mar Mansour, stands there idly and powerfully in the face of a briskly changing landscape. It too is undergoing its own battle for survival. Such is the case in Beirut, a place where only the strongest and fittest (but also the most corrupt) survive and I ponder what this place will look like in a decade from now. Twenty years ago this was a decrepit pit hole of rubble and destruction, now it is one of the most expensive square miles in the world.

Recently some civil society and architecture groups have managed to bring this issue back into the forefront and The Egg in many ways is the symbol of this fight. Lose it and very slowly but surely, we will lose all of Lebanon’s modernist history. Win it and we might, just might, have a chance at preserving the dreams and identities of not only the men who designed and built an era, but the countless people whose lives have become defined by these familiar buildings that have become as Lebanese as Tabouleh.

Beirut continues its phenomenal growth

View from the Egg: Beirut continues its phenomenal growth while some struggle for survival


In Lebanon, they use trucks for advertising…

A green solution to our creative problems - Beirut leads the way again

Greetings mumble jumblers and aspiring creative Gods, I have just come back from a mind and body nourishing trip to the land of the Cedars filled with bionic encounters and alien chases, but I’ll come back to that later.

Moments after exiting Beirut‘s esteemed airport I was struck by this extremely innovative, environmentally friendly, green private initiative from Beirut advertising moguls (pilocks) Skyline advertising. What an absolutely marvelous solution to Lebanon’s unlife-like cluster banging traffic infested roads I said to myself, who needs to worry about Lebanon’s increasingly deteriorating environmental status, everyone knows those statistics are for Philistines anyways…

Dayum, these guys do politics too!

So these trucks roam around Beirut’s highways at all times (isn’t there laws against trucks going on roads during the day anyways?) and spew their corporate bullshit onto the otherwise ambivalent Lebanese commuters stuck in the eternal quantum loop that is Beirut congestion.

Meanwhile, as I marvel at this illuminating discovery I caught a glimpse of the continuum transfunctioner doppelgänger in the corner of my eye as it was carried around at near the speed of light by the mysterious femaliens that I encountered on the Belftort in Brugge. “Stop, give me back my phone” I bemoaned as they looked at me with disdain and vanished into the ether while I was left behind distraught. Maybe it’s about time I hired one of those trucks and pled my case, it’s just a phone mean femaliens!!

Days later, District Funk’s end of year mixtape went online (dedicated to Mr Gil Scott-Heron who we lost in 2011), and my faith in humanity (and aliens) was restored!


Bet You Didn’t Know This About Beirut

Bet You Didn't Know This About Beirut

Even though I find it quite difficult to concentrate and read books when flying (not that kind of flight!), I still can’t explain the fact why I grab no less than 2 or 3 books from the duty-free every time I do so. Probably because that’s one of the few quality moments I get in my life to properly browse subjects of interest and by the time I find a quality book I’m bound to buy it out of curiosity. But what was new this Saturday is that I bought a book which I completely finished inflight and was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t longer!

I was returning to London after a throughly enjoyed short visit to Beirut and while browsing through the highly interesting stack of books at the duty-free bookstore I narrowed down my choice to two books. The first was one that I had been meaning to read for quite a while now, the highly acclaimed ‘Beirut’ by the late Samir Kassir, a befitting choice! The second was one that had caught my eye instantly thanks to the extremely simplistically detailed illustration on the front. At a mere 179 pages, ‘Bet You Didn’t Know This About Beirut’ is just the sort of book that I was lacking in my library. The sort of artistically motivated ramblings (in a good sense of course) that a western journalist who has been living in Beirut for quite a while goes on about, well at least that’s the impression that I drew initially. Tough choice, so I went for both.

I knew nothing about Warren Singh-Bartlett, but I was sold by the light-hearted tone the author (or publisher possibly) described themselves. That tone was kept through the whole book, at points I found it hard to contain my laughter. This wasnt the highly intellectual deep fact-finding books that I sort of wished it was, but what it lacked in depth it made for in the sheer amount of interesting facts most of which an average Lebanese would be oblivious about. This was exactly the sort of material you’d like to read over a cup of coffee, possibly sharing it with mates and having laugh out loud moments. From a clarification on Lebanon’s actual size (surprised to know it wasnt really 10,425 km2), to the sheer absurd (did you know you could hire professional mourners in Lebanon called niddebeh?! And did you know that Beirut’s Roman motto was Beirut: Mother of Laws?), to the pleasantly surprising (Lebanon has its own two strands of wild orchids!), the book is the perfect addition to the discerning Lebanese connoisseur’s and foreigners’ libraries alike. It’s got all the quirky info you’d love to text your mates about claiming you knew them because your such an awesome Lebanese and they’re not – typical.

All that said, the book does have its downfalls. Many of the facts are kind of paper fillers really, do we really care that some guy called Anton Elias Lubbos who gave his home in Rio to the Portuguese king at the time turned out to be a hoax? But hey you never know, one Lubbos might be bragging about that guy one day and you’ll have just the right proof that his claims are bogus!

Suddenly it dawned on me, it was only 1 hour in the flight and there are only 10 pages left to read, result?! Shame I couldn’t start texting up in the air though.

Check it out, the book should be found in all major Lebanese bookstores, do drop a comment on your favorite facts if you do grab a copy.