The Eternal Modernist

Continue reading                  ‘When you speak of heritage in this part of the world, you straight away start thinking about ancient things. For us it is a politically wrong position because it would mean that modernism is the other and tradition is us,’ Arbid says animatedly. It was […]


Natalie Shooter


Natalie Naccache


George Arbid sits on the shaded terrace of Otium Gallery, located in West Beirut’s sleepy Clemenceau district. Despite being built in the 1930s, the elegant white villa is a picture of modernity, making it the perfect site for the Arab Center for Architecture’s (ACA) current exhibition, ‘Modern Design and Architecture in the Arab World, The Beginnings of a Project’. It’s a celebration of modern urban design in Lebanon using architectural archives, a topic that architect Arbid is particularly passionate about.

He set up the ACA in 2008, alongside photographer Fouad Elkoury, architects Bernard Khoury, Jad Tabet, Hashim Sarkis and Nada Assi, and urban planner Amira Solh. With a focus on the late 19th and 20th centuries, the ACA collects and preserves photographs, drawings, models and notebooks that deal with modern architecture and urbanism.

The idea of heritage in Lebanon usually only extends to ancient architecture like the Roman ruins of Baalbek’s temples or the classic triple-arch red tiled roof of the traditional Lebanese home. Arbid is pushing for an acknowledgment of the importance of the country’s modern buildings, such as the towering Électricité du Liban headquarters, built in 1965, or the flying saucer-style beach chalet on stilts in Ouzai from 1952. According to Arbid, the region’s modern identity is hugely undervalued.

Heritage is not only about tabbouleh and Baalbek. Look around you, we are a modern city

This article appears in the issue40 Buy Now