Many fear that structural damage may be used as an excuse to tear buildings down instead of restoring them. “There are rumours that the owners are being offered money to sell them… There is a risk that whoever is going to buy the buildings will just knock them down and build a skyscraper to take advantage of the land, generate more money, more profit,” says Khoury.
A decree issued by the ministry of finance on 12 August aims to prevent ‘exploitation’ in the wake of the blast by preventing the sale of any historic building without the permission of the minister of culture. But Atallah says that there are still multiple threats that must be tackled urgently, including the risk of abandonment by those who don’t have the funds to rebuild. “During the civil war… we did have situations of people leaving behind their houses, their buildings, and never coming back. We do not want this to happen,” he says. Another danger is that with so many families temporarily displaced, some are simply patching up the damage as quickly and cheaply as they can, filling in the historic arched windows to provide shelter from the coming winter rains.
Volunteers have been working to reassure owners and tenants that help is on its way. “They are not alone in this fight… Once the correct system is put in place there will be ways to finance the renovation of historical buildings that were damaged by the explosion. It’s really something that is being taken very seriously by many international organisations,” says Atallah. “They shouldn’t despair – even though they have all the reason in the world to despair. For us it is extremely important… We want to save not only the buildings but the social fabric that makes these buildings alive.”
Bouyout Beirut @bouyoutbeirut was created by Joseph Khoury and Gabriela Cardozo.
All photos by Joseph M Khoury @joekhourystudio
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