The devastating explosion on August 4, 2020 caused invaluable damage to Beirut’s urban heritage. With the death toll exceeding 200, over 6,500 people injured, and more than 60,000 units of offices and households destroyed, the explosion forced the displacement of over 100,000 people. As a result, the economic and cultural damages have been estimated at $8 billion, for which $2 billion would be needed for the cost of reconstruction.
Following the August 4 explosion, a city with over 5,000 years of history was left in a state of utter chaos and destruction and within mere seconds more material damage was created than a decade of civil war had seen. Large areas of Beirut were destroyed. They either became unrecognizable, or were on their way to destruction if immediate intervention did not occur. Approximately 1,000 heritage buildings were damaged by the blast. These buildings included houses, apartment buildings, palaces from the 19th-century Ottoman period, and buildings from the modern period of the 1930’s and beyond.
The neighborhoods most affected by the explosion are located towards the southern and eastern ends of the harbor’s third basin. The areas hardest hit by the explosion, such as Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael and Ashrafieh, also had the highest concentration of historic structures in Beirut. These neighborhoods are composed of cultural, educational, touristic, creative spaces, and small trades that perpetuate the city’s valuable and intangible heritage. Moreover, buildings and homes of this area are occupied by inhabitants of different backgrounds and income levels. Throughout the capital’s worst episodes in history, these neighborhoods remained inhabited and are living witnesses to Beirut’s past and present. Thus, rescuing our endangered heritage is also part of preserving the city’s historical and cultural identity.
Post-blast, prompt intervention on buildings threatened with partial or total collapse, and prioritization of the most fragile residents was of utmost importance. This was also crucial to ensure the safe return of more than 600 displaced and vulnerable families before the rainy season began.
BEIRUT HERITAGE INITIATIVE, IS AN INDEPENDENT AND INCLUSIVE COLLECTIVE, WORKING ON RESTORING THE BUILT AND CULTURAL HERITAGE OF BEIRUT AFFECTED BY THE AUGUST 4, 2020 BLAST.
Beirut Heritage Initiative (BHI) was launched as an independent and inclusive collective, in favor of restoring the built and cultural heritage of Beirut. BHI was born out of necessity, to bridge a vital gap of funding and coordination that exists between the owners and residents of old structures stricken by the August 4 explosion, and the public departments essential to facilitate legal permits for reconstruction works; namely the Directorate General of Antiquities and the Office of Governor of Beirut.
BHI is organized around a team of experts and professionals with complementary skills, such as the Order of Engineers and Architects of Beirut (OEA) and the Beirut Bar Association (BBA), and NGOs specialized in cultural heritage.
It is based on continuous communication between all of the involved stakeholders, such as
Beirut Built Heritage Rescue (BBHR2020), the National Heritage Foundation, Arab Center for Architecture, UN Blue Shield, Save Beirut Heritage, Live Love Beirut, Bebw’ Shebbek, Together Li Beirut, MARCH, RestART, and many other.