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Lebanon: Don't Break the Egg!

The Egg, the Blob, the Bubble, the Dome… In the heart of Beirut, the shell of the egg-shaped structure that once was the avant-garde cinema of the late City Center complex is soon to be demolished to be replaced by a section of the Beirut Gate project.

reports Maysa Phares, at Beirut Space.
eggIndeed, since Soldiere sold its land to the Abu Dhabi Investment House (ADIH) as part of the Beirut Gate project, focused on the renovation and modernisation of downtown Beirut, the Egg has been constantly threatened with demolition.
Temporarily saved from demolition by the 2006 war -one of many it has survived, bearing more than a few scratches – and then again by the financial crisis, the Egg is now under immediate threat; and there are many campaigning to save it from its imminent destruction.

Lucie at C’est Beyrouth describes the landmark building as [FR]:

…un bâtiment des plus noircis et des plus imposants : un ancien cinéma, de forme ovale, à moitié détruit. Il fait un peu tâche, au milieu des immeubles lisses et clairs, fruits du travail controversé de Solidere, société de reconstruction du centre-ville de Beyrouth. Conçu en 1965, il est appelé le Blob, le champignon, le Dôme, l’Oeuf… A l’intérieur, des cendres, des impacts de balles, et à l’étage, un grand écran blanc.
Son vrai nom est le «Dôme City Center ». Des expositions et performances y ont lieu. Menacé d’être détruit par des promoteurs en quête de profit, des pétitions et groupes se mobilisent pour sauver ce vestige de la guerre qui fait partie du paysage beyrouthin.

… a most charred and impressive building: a former cinema, oval in form, half-destroyed. It makes its mark, in the midst of the surrounding smooth, clear buildings, the fruits of the controversial labour of Solidere, reconstruction company of downtown Beirut. Designed in 1965, it is called the Blob, the mushroom, the Dome, the Egg … Inside, ashes, bullet holes, and upstairs, a large white screen.
Its real name is the “City Center Dome”. Exhibitions and performances have been held here.. Threatened with destruction by developers in search of profit, petitions and groups are mobilizing to save what remains of the war and is part of the landscape Beirut.

It is more than just a building but a symbol of identity, something worth fighting for against what has been called the “Dubaification” of Beirut. It has spurred some emotional reactions from bloggers since word got out about the prospect of its destruction in 2006. Back in 2008, Raafat Majzoub appealed:

little people. big people. people and pets. as i published 30 seconds ago, the beirut city centre building is going to be demolished in less than a month
little people. big people. people and pets. since there is nothing tangible i can think of, to save the egg. consider this un-competition. any proposal anything, simply believe me anything that is related to the building, in any way or form : SEND IT TO ME, i will publish it here, if printable, will print it and flood it around
little people. big people. people and pets. i am not joking around. just go down, look at it, fight with the security guards, make a fuss..my fuss is fussing out (pfff) < < like this
little people. big people. people and pets. look how cute it is!!!!!!!!!!!!!

While it managed to survive longer than the month Raafat predicted, it is under renewed threat now.
Fluctuat.net describes it as “the last of its kind” [FR] in an ever-evolving central Beirut:

… L'œuf, sobriquet de l'ancien cinéma du centre-ville ruiné par les effets de la guerre civile, fait parti de ces bâtiments de caractère qui hantent encore le cœur de Beyrouth. En fait, c'est le dernier dans son genre au centre-ville, après que le projet urbain ait décidé de raser le souk Ayyas et les autres cinémas historiques. Aujourd'hui les étudiants…s'attachent à “The Egg” comme seul témoin architectural du passé tortueux oublié dans la nouvelle Beyrouth sauce Solidere.

… The egg, nickname of the former cinema city ruined by the effects of civil war, is part of the buildings of character that still haunt the heart of Beirut. In fact, it is the last of its kind downtown since the urban project decided to demolish Souk Ayyas and other historic theatres. Today students…see “The Egg” as the only architectural witness of the tortuous past which is forgotten in the sauce of the new Solidere-flavoured Beirut.

Deensharp at Al-Bayt Baytak describes the reconstruction of downtown Beirut as both a symbol of Lebanese resilience and a gesture against the destruction of the civil war. Sadly, it's renovation also has led to a downtown that caters almost exclusively to European and Gulf tourists- with many Lebanese not being able to afford to buy or rent in their own central district.
He explores the relationship between Architecture and Politics in Lebanon in this piece, saying:

The intellectual prowess of the Lebanese also shines through in the built environment but also the nihilism. Only Egypt can compete in the nearby states to Lebanon’s recent architectural heritage. The Egg is one such example of this substantial contribution; designed by Lebanese architect Joseph-Philippe Karam, who also trained in Lebanon, this unique example of Lebanese modernist architecture lays in tatters with the threat destruction for another tower that tells of another side to Lebanon. Although many Lebanese want to save the Egg and see it as a battle of what they rightly call the Dubaification of Lebanon, Solidere effectively sold away to Abu Dhabi Investment House the chance for the Lebanese to have a say in the preservation or destruction of the Egg.

But not everybody has given up hope in saving the Egg. The “Save the Egg” campaign started with a Facebook group established by student Dania Bdeir. Within five days it had over 5,000 members from all locations and professions passionate to try and stop the demolition of the landmark building. Group founder Dania was interviewed by iloubnan in the article “Save The Egg campaigner says that Lebanon is not like a desert where there is nothing and you can just build“and says “If we work together, we can do this”. She has found the support for the campaign surprising and encouraging.

After it surpassed 5,000 members, the group moved to a Facebook cause here, whose statement reads:

• The egg is an icon of 1960s avant-gardiste modern architecture, a time when the west looked at Lebanon with respect and admiration
• We do not want the egg simply as a reminder of civil war. We are not against evolving but not at the expense of our past accomplishments and identity
• Lebanon is not a virgin land, waiting to be land-marked with new culture; we cannot accept such violations to our heritage

The campaign has the backing of the league of independent activists Indyact and Collective 34, an advocacy platform for public space and citizenship in Lebanon, who describe the Egg as “an urban edifice symbolic of collective and individual memory and significant of Modern formal aesthetics.

Some Egg-celent pictures can be viewed on the Facebook cause page, and there is a beautiful photo by Sarah Haddad here.

Take a look at them, and then visit the online petition here.

After all, as Flavie describes here, it is simply “too precious, too odd, too cool, too much of an icon to tear it down.”

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