How Beirut’s Design Community Has Been Impacted by the Explosions

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David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem of david/nicolas photographed in their studio last year. It has been badly damaged in the explosions. 

alessandra ianniello

Last week, Beirut was rocked by two massive explosions. Hundreds died and thousands were injured in an incident many believe is linked to government incompetence. While many news outlets have reported on the cause of the blasts—a warehouse packed with tons of abandoned and combustible chemicals—and the human toll of the travesty, its design and architectural impact was also staggering.

Hundreds of thousands have been left without homes. “My house was completely destroyed. Completely,” interior designer May Daouk says when reached by phone days after the blasts. “There are holes in the ceiling, which nearly caved in. The walls are exploded and the plaster detached.” That home, a 19th-century wonder, was included in the May 2012 issue of Architectural Digest. Poignantly, the article opened with these introductory sentences: “Houses are precious commodities in Beirut. Since Lebanon’s civil war ended two decades ago, the city has been rebuilt and revitalized into a place of soaring glass condominium towers, upstart art galleries, chic restaurants and cocktail lounges. . . . But sadly, you can count on your fingers the traditional dwellings in the downtown area and the façades of several are scarred from smoke and shelling.”

Chez Daouk, pre-explosion. Photographed by Simon Watson.

Daouk’s villa, which is located in Beirut’s Achrafieh district, was a rare exception. It was also part of AD and Indagare’s Beirut tour. Last week, the travel company posted on Instagram images of another impacted architectural gem—the Sursock Palace. Like Daouk’s home, the palace is located not far from the Mediterranean coast and the city’s port. Long noted for its painted walls and Ottoman influence, the historic royal residence was tragically and very seriously damaged.

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When we visited Lebanon in 2019 on two Insider Journeys with @archdigest, so many Lebanese opened their homes and their hearts to us, making us understand what a rare treasure this tiny country is. It has survived so much and yet its residents are full of love, passion and creativity and they stand for unison and tolerance in a region which is known for neither. The scenes of destruction and loss from its latest tragedy are staggering. We were able to visit Lady Cochrane’s incredible Sursock Palace, and the building was an historic treasure with Ottoman influences and priceless art and furniture. Today it is in shambles along with so much of the heart of this extraordinary country. Please donate to the amazing relief organizations that Lebanese friends recommend. Click link in bio for a list. #howyoutravelmatters #indagaretravel

A post shared by Melissa Biggs Bradley (@indagareceo) on Aug 6, 2020 at 5:44am PDT

When the explosion took place, Daouk was not at home. David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem of design firm david/nicolas were, however, at their firm’s studio, which featured in AD Middle East in 2019. “We were standing outside of our office at the moment of the blast,” the two write via email. “Thank God we were not inside; those couple of seconds saved our lives. We cannot explain the trauma we went through.… Even though people around the world tend to have an image of Lebanon as a country where bombs [go off], that is absolutely wrong. We lost our [workspace] and our car, but that is nothing compared to the emotional pain we are dealing with.”

The duo adds that one key component to understanding the scale of the explosion is that the radius of its impact extended 10 miles. While their office is located near the epicentre, anyone in the design, art, or fashion industries likely works within that extended area. “We are all in this together,” the pair emphasizes. “Every single one of our friends or fellow designers are as heavily affected by this as us.”

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There are no words that can describe what our beloved city is going through. Clearly we do not even need to describe it, our hearts ache and our nation mourns the uncountable souls that did not have the chance to make it. Yes we lost our office, but we did not loose our lives and for this we are forever grateful. Today more than ever we would like to thank all those who support us, all these friends that shared our pain and that give us the necessary strengh to move forward even when it seems impossible! We will not accept to give up, we will not rebuild for the sake of rebuilding, what we need to do as humans is to evolve, it’s to fix. In this darkness we will try and follow the light, however far away it seems. Our hopes and prayers are with all of the victims and their families, with all the injured and the homeless,. we will not accept to be hopeless, for without hope we do not stand a chance. All our love to you all may we find together the strengh to stay strong ♥️

A post shared by david/nicolas (@davidandnicolas) on Aug 6, 2020 at 4:15am PDT

Another such person is the renowned furniture designer Nada Debs, whose home and studio was also featured in AD Middle East last year. “Our boutique and studio have been destroyed so we cannot function from there anymore,” she explains. “All the windows and doors have been broken. We are trying to salvage as much furniture and products as we can but most of the items have been damaged.” Debs adds that most of the studios and showrooms she knows, particularly those in the Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze neighborhoods, have sustained serious damage. But for creatives like herself, this crisis comes at a time that was already characterised by stress.

“Designers in Lebanon have already been struggling immensely from the economic collapse,” Debs explains, adding that the total cost of repairing homes, work spaces, merchandise, and showrooms will now come at a price that many cannot afford. What is more, she emphasizes just how significant the damage to the city’s port will be in terms of the design community’s attempts to recover: “[It] was a major resource to us, bringing in all our raw materials, and allowing us to export goods to the world.”

For those looking to help, Debs recommends donating to Impact Lebanon. Raffoul and Moussallem are however quick to credit those who have already leant them a helpful hand, and specifically, “all these volunteers who have so generously cleaned Beirut and helped anyone in need while our incompetent government has stood there watching and doing nothing.” (The Prime Minister has since announced that he will resign.) “Thank God for all our friends from abroad who have lent us a hand, who have felt and shared our pain,” Raffoul and Moussallem add. “These people are giving us the strength to get back on our feet and to always look forward.”

Via ADPro

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