Lebanon: A Family Affair

Project

The aim of the project, is to help the Lebanese state deconstruct its confessional system, through manipulating the family as a unit.

During the French mandate over Lebanon that ended in 1943 a very particular political sys­tem was put in place by the occupying power: the confessional system. This political struc­ture stipulate that political power would be accurately represented between the country 18 religious sects but more importantly that all issues regarding personal status (marriage, inheritance, divorce…) would be regulated independently by those religious sects, under­mining the authority of the newly created nation state.

Although a 19th sect was also mentioned in the 1943 inherited constitution for any individ­ual that would want to be placed under civil state law and not belong to any of the religious communities.Today in absence of any civic law regarding the personal status of this 19th sect, the situation created a legislative loophole preventing citizens of joining it.

The goal of the project is to shift back the center of power in the country that is currently held by the religious authorities and the clan family to the state. In order to do so the proj­ect proposes as a strategy to weaken the clan family by empowering financially the nuclear family through a housing scheme and rebuild by the same occasion and more heteroge­neous society.

Following the signature of the Taif agreement in 1989 that outlines the basis to construct a new modern state, by clearly stipulating the abolition of the confessional system and taking advantage of the 19th secular state mentioned in the constitution, the project proposes to give the Lebanese state the tools to achieve a transition from a confessional to a secular state by building and empowering economically it’s 19th secular community.

Three urban incubators are created around Lebanon to build this 19th sect: Beirut (the capital port city), Tripoli (the former port-city of Damascus) and Zahle (in the hinterland, at the eastern frontier of Syria). Within those cities state owned land is chosen on the outskirt of those cities on major circulation arteries such as: train stations, international highways and airports. The sites will host industrial zone that would produce prefabricated housing meant to respond to the urgency of the current housing crisis in Syria (following the McK­enzie economic plan for Lebanon of 2019).

This is a unique excuse and opportunity for the Lebanese state to rethink the current hous­ing conditions and develop a new housing typology that can be adapted to both territories as they share similar socio economical conditions.The scale of the sites makes it so that they can be considered as another enclaves within the urban fabric: secular enclaves. The sites will primarily house the factory workers of the 19th sect in houses that are temporarily placed on the periphery of the site. This phase will last for 5 to 10 years in order for the community to gain economic and political independency from the city and its sectarian domination.These prefabricated houses are made of modules; every four modules can host one family.These modules can be applied in several configurations; following key principals. Every configuration can contain 4 or more families.

The state controls the allocations of the families within the buildings, it does not allowed blood related families to be neighbors by instituting confessional quotas creating “the network family”.

All the infrastructure within those houses is shared among the individual families. The mod­ules are also design to have a limited number of inhabitants and cannot be extended. This allows a bigger autonomy and independence of the nuclear family from it’s clan; alterna­tively, it allows the networked family to thrive. After 10-15 years, the houses are dismantled from the industrial site and ready to integrate the sectarian dominated urban fabric, cre­ating a network of secular buildings. This is a home that is not designed for a specific de­mographic it is rather a home than can be implemented and inhabited on a national scale.

It has become crucial for the Lebanese state to implement the de-confessionalisation pro­cess, in order to finally build “the vivre ensemble” that the country was built upon. This project is an opportunity that shows the potential of architects as policy whisperer and that architects could and should be at the center of the political, economic and social decision making processes.

*The project is part of the open call for ARCHITECTURE OF THE TERRITORY’ by the Collective for Architecture Lebanon in occasion of Omran’19. 

Interview

What prompted the project?

The project comes from a personal interest and responds to the urgency of the unprecedented economic and social crisis that Lebanon is suffering from.

What questions does the project raise?

The project explores many questions that Lebanon as a society and as a Nation have deliberately failed to answer. The relation between the state as a political entity and its citizens was the main issue at stake. How can a fragmented sectarian state on the verge of total collapse achieve social cohesion and finally build a modern nation-state with a central government that has the monopoly of power and decision making on the territory.

Could you explore what you mean by “The confessional System” further?

The confessional system refers to Lebanon unique political system that mixes religion and politics but more importantly it gives religious authorities full power on regulating personal status of citizens, excluding the state from that decision making process in that domain, thus weakening social cohesion and unity on the territory. Confessionals allows the patriarchal system to remain in place and discriminate the citizens purely on their religious sect.

You talk about clan vs nuclear family, what do these two terms mean to you and how would you define these?

The family being the smallest unit of society it is important to understand how it operates and the impact it has not only on the individual but on society as a whole. Since the industrial revolution in Europe we saw major changes in family structures driven by either political or economic factors or evolution of social norms. In Lebanon even thought the dominant family structure is the nuclear one, families are still very dependent on their extended families often

forming clans. Among others today in Lebanon the clan family is an ideological apparatus, undermining the authority of the states and allowing the confessional and sectarian ideology to be transmitted to younger generations. This society structure mainly comes from the lack of trust and reliability of the state to provide any service for its citizen that seeks the help of the family rather than the state.

What informed the choice of three different sites?

Centralization is big problem for Lebanon. The state has always focused on the capital Beirut neglecting the rest of the territories. The Idea of choosing three different site comes from a decentralization policy that the state has been trying to implement in order to desaturate the capital and assure a better distribution of wealth and resources on the territory.

How did you approach these in terms of research? What tools did you use to survey and analyse the diverging conditions?

The Chosen sites are all state owned land infrastructure regional hubs that helped the country achieve economic prosperity before the civil war in the 70’s. Unfortunately those sites today are mostly abandoned mainly due to the lack of ambition of local authorities in economic development. As part of the strategy to develop new industrial zones for the country, those formed infrastructure hubs were the perfect site to develop a large national reindustrialization policy. The possibility to rehabilitate the railway, pipelines and airports on those sites made it an even more prominent location for exporting.

What informed the scale of the intervention?

The scale of intervention comes directly from ambitious industrial programs and policies that the Lebanese state hopes to put in place in order to take part in the profitable reconstruction of Syria. The Lebanese government did commission a report in 2019 (The Mckenzie report for Lebanon) to boost its economy, the report quantified specific data and simulations of industrial needs for Lebanon.

You mainly explore the speculation through the use of line drawings, why so ? How and to what extent were they a means to develop and research the project?

One of the main objective of the project was to build a large scale strategy on a national scale that operates with many different local economic and political actors. Using line drawings was a way to keep an abstraction in the images to allow the interventions of other key players in the narrative and proposal.

What is for you the architects' most important tool?

We must never forget that the architect is the only one that has the actual power to build. Architects translate concepts from the mind of decision makers, developers… giving them the power to manipulate, influence and shape them.

#Interviews