Disasters & Accidents

Future of Beirut Port begins to crystalize 6 months after blast

By Noemí Jabois and Ana Maria Guzelian

Beirut, Feb 4 (efe-epa).- Six months after the Beirut Port explosion, the Lebanese authorities have started to figure out plans for the future of ground zero of the blast that left over 200 people dead and 6,500 injured.

The rebuilding of the port, where there is still a large hole caused by August 4 explosion and only one building left standing, will cost between $425 and $520 million, according to the World Bank estimations.

Before the blast, there was a “master plan” to remodel the facilities, the Port Director Bassem Kaissi told Efe. Those plans are being “reevaluated” in the wake of the explosion.

“What does the port at Beirut need? Modern warehouses, because all of them are gone, an additional two power plants expansion in the free zone, partial reconstruction and an upgrade to the general cargo terminal buildings for maintenance and to the fire department and the customs,” he said.

The authorities will launch bids for the design of the “master plan” projects, according to Kaissi who was named as port director after his predecessor was arrested over his alleged involvement in the tragedy.

The green light has been given to an architect’s project to build a “temporary monument” on the site, he added.

The struggle to access building material, however, may hinder the project, he said, ruling out erecting a “permanent” monument.

No one behind the proposals that has been made public has contacted the authorities, he added.

One of the strongest ideas has been proposed by renowned Lebanese architect Carlos Moubarak, who has been consulting people and plans to hold conferences and other events to “adjust” his project according to Beirutis’ expectations, especially those affected by the blast.

“This is a historic moment, a historic event, a historic explosion among the biggest of all times and it happened in the middle of the capital, which is unique in history, so definitely this is an event that should be marked with something that matches the scale of the event,” he told Efe.

His proposed design comprises of two main axes “the explosion epicenter” and the silos that were burnt, an element he wants to conserve although it currently presents “structural problems” and its maintenance would require a “technical solution”.

“The centerpiece of this project is what we call the remembrance ring; this is the center object which we consider the architectural crystallization of the blast and the materialization of this moment to time,” he added.

This would become “symbol of unity” and a place for “mourning and remembering the victims”, he said.

The memorial park would be “vast open platform for artistic and cultural expression and for social interaction” while retaining the operational part of the port, with some 10,000-square-meter warehouse space, he added.

This goes beyond a memorial; it is a part of a “long” process of “transitional justice” for the Lebanese people who have a “very confusing” relation with memorials having gone through several wars over the past few decades.

“The judges and prosecutors will have to do their job and me, as an architect, urban planner and designer, am contributing to the non-judicial part of the mechanism, of what we call transitional justice, to preserve the collective memory after the national trauma of the tragedy,” he added.

One of the first reconstruction ideas emerged nearly a month after the explosion by Portuguese designer Tomás Reis, who published a series of “concept images” for a future memorial at ground zero.

The 29-year-old told Efe via phone from Lisbon that this is not “an architectural project,” but it is “theoretical idea” and therefore lacks any kind of “limits”.

It does “not to answer questions at all, it is intended to pose questions about some choices the people and the authorities in Beirut will have to deal with over the years to come,” he added.

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