Saving a Home Saving a City
This is a photographic record of French Lebanese architect Annabel Karim Kassar’s installation recreating part of the façade of the late 19th century Bayt K House, a traditional Ottoman era building in the historic quarter of Gemmayzeh, Beirut. While undergoing restoration in 2020 by her architectural practice AKK, Bayt K was damaged by the Beirut Port explosion. Sarkis Khoury, Director General of Antiquities in Lebanon’s Ministry of Culture, confirmed that at least 8,000 historic buildings were damaged in the explosion including Bayt K House and the Palais Sursock. The latter, also dating from the 19th century, is located in Achrafieh and is one of the country’s grandest residences. Disrupted but undeterred, the architect has worked with Beiruti craftspeople using traditional Lebanese materials both to restore Bayt K and to recreate the house’s triple arched façade and entrance divan as a showpiece.
Nathalie Chahine and Fadlallah Dagher explain in their 2021 publication Houses of Beirut 1860 to 1925, “A very typical element of the houses, as in houses of Bilad al-Sham more generally, was the lwan or liwan. This is a room opening onto the courtyard through a wide arch.” Annabel states, “I believe the human-centred approach to designing interior spaces found in traditional cultures still has much to teach the modern world.” Her designs combine a modernist vocabulary with the language of traditional Arab, Berber and Ottoman culture and craftmanship.