The following excerpt is from Linda Pappagallo's article Reconstructing Beirut by Demolishing its Identity:
The Lebanese housing market is a bit of a strange phenomenon. A largely unregulated construction market coupled with grandiose projects from ambitious rich gulf state developers and Lebanese expatriates has created a surplus of largely unaffordable houses. The result is that Lebanon is becoming a haphazard dumping site for cement buildings with little regard of the preceding cultural, historic and environmental resources. Similarly, many believe Beirut has also turned into a mismanaged affair.
Following the Lebanese Civil War in 1994, then-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri aspired to create a new image of Beirut. The idea was to live up to its expectation as being “the Paris of the Middle East” and attract foreign investment. Hariri established a private development company, Solidere: Société libanaise pour le développement et la reconstruction de Beyrouth, with the expressed mandate to alter consumer sentiments of Beirut from an instable, bullet torn city into a hip , profit making national capital and port city.
Solidere decided to assign a new identity to downtown Beirut by, on the one hand, invoking the historical roots of the Phoenician and Ottoman civilizations while using the urban layout and architecture introduced during the French Mandate years, and on the other hand, bulldozing down historical edifices to make way for large glass offices. According to Robert Saliba, professor of architecture at the American Unversity of Beirut, this has been a mistake. Solidere seem to have misjudged consumer preferences and in an attempt to revise the ‘architectural language’ of the city center, Beirut now looks and feels like a place where the heritage and history of the old city have been commodified. In its rebranding expedition, Saliba believes Solidere neglected to consider how residents might experience the new city, where many original buildings were destroyed, suffocated or replaced by kitsch reinterpretations of Phoenician and Ottoman architecture or ultra-modern structures. There are estimates that more buildings were destroyed to make space for the reconstructed center than during the war itself. In 1995, Elias Khoury, a novelist and journalist, wrote that “Beirut attempts to regenerate itself by recycling garbage and destroying its own memories.”