Bernard Khoury, an internationally renowned architect with a career spanning over several decades, recounted his professional journey and how his passion for drawing developed at a young age. Encounter.

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For him, “architecture cannot be taught, the same as poetry”. “Building urban links, but above all social ones, is the mission of architecture.”  With his black pen he shapes the world in a free, rebellious and humanist way, for he dreams of a more connected world, where neighbors wouldn’t turn their backs on each other, a place where even the city’s concrete would turn human.

Is architecture a talent that comes naturally? Is it transmitted through genes ?

“Yes, my father was an architect and so was my mother, the first woman architect registered in Lebanon. I was raised in an architectural environment. I grew up within the walls my father had built and slept in beds that he had designed since he was also a furniture designer and manufacturer, a family tradition that goes back to my grandfather. DNA played a big role in my background, no doubt.”

Talking about one of his first projects, the landmark B018 nightclub that he designed in 1998, Khoury said: “It was definitely a challenge… A lot has happened since. In post-war Lebanon, in the 90s, we were all aiming for big reconstruction projects that were centered around building a nation, not just buildings. The designs were to be political, social, cultural and economic, incorporating the state definitions and based on our common History. None of this happened and many of us found ourselves at the end of the 90s full of disillusions.”

“Beirut has never been really rebuilt… We had to look for other ways of creating meaningful structures. Post-war, nothing was built; no museums, no schools, no hospitals, no social projects, no operas… We had to look for a territory of intervention that was not quite as noble. I started in the entertainment field, building restaurants, nightclubs, and bars on problematic lands and areas. The sites were loaded with History that many tended to ignore. I tried to deal with the very visible scars of a not-so-distant past that we still have trouble addressing.”

How would you describe Beirut before August 4, 2020 port explosion?

“I often compare Beirut to a crowded room of people rubbing each other, turning their backs to each other and not communicating. This is the impression I have of the buildings that were built in the last forty years. These buildings do not interact with one another. People build them with fear and distrust of their neighbors. They would edify blind walls and close in on themselves because the city does not offer them a safe territory to open up to. Also, many old two or three-story buildings are being replaced by high rise structures that offer more space and more profit.

What about Beirut post the port explosion?

Commenting on the explosion which severely damaged two buildings that he had designed, Khoury said: “I believe that what happened on August 4 is linked to a series of disasters that I would describe as methodical, since they have been building up for decades. The two buildings were designed with the concept that ‘Beirut is a port city’. As early as 2009, when I designed the first building, that was completely destroyed and is now being rehabilitated, and later the second one, both constructions adopted an almost military posture; postures that are directly related to the port.

Should we preserve the silos of Beirut port ? What memory should be saved at all cost?

“Yes, absolutely. I believe that the port silos are already a monument, one on which an authority will write history or document a moment in History. But in Lebanon, an authority capable of writing or recording history is totally absent, as was the case post- civil war. We have to admit that we are unable to rebuild a state, a nation project and a common consensual history. Everything that could bring us back to our complicated and complex past, was swept under the carpet. The very precariousness of the silos represents an absolutely beautiful and extremely moving project. I believe that architects should not touch it.”

Tell us about “modernity in its public space”…

Speaking about the architectural modernization of Arab countries between 1914 and 2014, Khoury said: “We see greatness and decadence. In the beginning, the emergence of modernity was dictated to us after Sykes-Picot and the delimitation of our borders, as well as the implementation of national projects, and the construction of official buildings and institutions with big facades. It was an interesting period… The institutional projects are very present and very much focused on the future, and therefore on modernity.

I often compare mine to my father’s career in the sixties, a very productive period of mainly public and very interesting buildings… I only did private work in Lebanon. My father turned to the private sector in the eighties but he remained a very modern architect unlike colleagues of his generation for whom modernism was a nothing but a passing trend. To me, what matters most is the content, the substance, what precedes the architectural project and not questions about style and aesthetics, fashion and trends of the moment… I am allergic to that…