Against Memory: Of War and Niemeyer

Graffiti, as described by Gary McDonogh (2013), is a form of visual communication, usually illegal, involving the unauthorized marking of public space by an individual or group. The common image of graffiti is a stylistic symbol or phrase spray-painted on a wall: “graffiti itself existed in a hierarchy of achievement from ‘tags’ (simple names inside of buildings), through ‘throw-ups’ (bigger names on the outside), to ‘pieces’ (masterpieces – symbols, names, and messages often covering whole surfaces)” (Tim Cresswell, 1996:33). Creswell defines it as an “out-of-place” act – further, a kind of transgression. This transgression is one of the various ways in which the fair has been vandalized. In each of the above photos, different people were considered to have transgressed the supposed link between the fair and the things that happen in it. This shows how people are able to resist the construction of expectations about practice through place by using these places and their functions in subversive ways. And it is these out-of-place movements that produce new material landscapes, new sets of social relations and new relations between the people and the fair, making out of “the fair” an event marked by openness and change (Tim Cresswell, 2004). This is why places, and especially the fair, produced by their connections need to be understood through the paths that lead in and out of them. Hence, the “outside” plays a crucial role in the definition of the “inside”.

Rethinking Niemeyer’s Tripoli: Ruins Possessed in the Continuity of Time

Lebanese Pavilion – Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
The Lebanese Pavilion overlooking Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
The Lebanese Pavilion overlooking Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Niemeyer’s Dome as known as The Experimental Theater of Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Niemeyer’s Dome as known as The Experimental Theater of Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Floating Greenery of Niemeyer’s Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Niemeyer’s Arch overlooking the Panoramic Restaurant Water Tank – Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Niemeyer’s Arch of Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
The Floating Theater of Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Broken Chair in The Floating Theater of Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Broken Chair in The Floating Theater of Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Villa du Maître similar to Niemeyer’s Casa Das Canoas – Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Villa du Maître similar to Niemeyer’s Casa Das Canoas – Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)
Niemeyer’s Pool of Villa du Maître similar to Niemeyer’s Casa Das Canoas – Tripoli International Fair – Tripoli, Lebanon (Photo by Rana Al BaBa, 2018)

The Curves of Time: Moment In Dynamic Space

Dome and Time-Based Signs

Niemeyer Forever Poster (designed by Rana AL BaBa)
Niemeyer Forever – Illustrative Sequence (designed by Rana AL BaBa)

Niemeyer always considered the transformation of a program, no matter how complicated it may be, into an elementary form. It’s a transformation of a reality to the reality, where his building’s outward form is lyrical poetry while its inner form bends towards archetypes. “Niemeyer’s architecture nevertheless refers to a more traditional morphological vocabulary combining, with the structures of glass and concrete, the water and the vegetation of the gardens that surround them.” (Gilbert Luigi, 1987: 12) This joyous event happened in nearly all of Niemeyer’s buildings around the world except in Tripoli (Suspended Spaces, 2015).

In this project, I focused on one of Niemeyer’s structure which is the dome (the experimental theater). My inspection considers of observing any kind of shadows reflected on the dome. When studying the effect of the sun’s shadows in the fair it is important to mention the overshadow caused by the 30.000mm of water pools reflecting the standing architecture of Niemeyer “The Museum of Lebanon is floating in a shallow, reflective pool, Niemeyer’s ubiquitous instrument of narcissism that transforms his buildings into flowers conscious of their beauty” (Philippou. 2013).

Niemeyer in Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer was a Brazilian architect who is considered to be one of the key figures in the development of modern architecture, thanks to his moving creations. Niemeyer was a poet above all, whose name has spread around the world in connection with millions of images from his monumental architecture that creates a unity between beauty and functionality. I am intrigued by the narration of Tripoli International Fair, driven by its context. It’s important to mention that this narration is not only about how one experiences a place through time, but also about the hidden stories behind its interiors.

It is the story of two places extremely far away from each other: one in Latin America and the other in the Middle East. Both were designed by the same architect, Oscar Niemeyer – “The Master of Curves” – to reflect an image of modernism. I am referring here to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, and Tripoli, the capital of the Lebanese North Governorate. Brasilia has become an image of pure utopian life, “a capital of hope” (Alex Shoumatoff, 1991), while the latter has ended up as just a dream of a city that never existed. When we talk about the collision between Brasilia and Tripoli, we can see that Brasilia, as a concept, is a city that came from the future and has stayed in the future, while Niemeyer’s Tripoli resembles an abandoned vision of the future. The architect’s approach created many Brasilias around the world; my main focus is Lebanon’s Brasilia: “Niemeyer’s Tripoli”, the silent symbol of the past against the future. Tripoli International Fair was planned to represent a place from another time, specifically a place from another dimension of reality, which is now nothing more than architecture of memory, one of a space-age colony.

The same characteristics that existed in his early work became an even more prominent in the multiplicity of his later designs. In small, large, or enormous buildings, whether the usual program as in dwelling blocks, or unique as in presidential “palace”, whether designing for exacting functions as in a museum, or creating pure structural phantasy as in a youth club, we see the same intent: the transformation of architecture into a joyous event.

(Stamo Papadaki. 1961)

Niemeyer 4 Ever and The Reconstructed Memories of Space

Story of a place frozen in time, because of the Lebanese Civil War, an invisible city with a city that keeps projecting itself on its surroundings.

Experimenting with memories; The Experimental Theater / the dome inside out (by Rana AL BaBa)
Experimenting with memories; The Experimental Theater / the dome inside out (by Rana AL BaBa)
Experimenting with memories; Tentacular – The Water Tank + Panoramic Restaurant (by Rana AL BaBa)
Experimenting with memories; Dandelion – the huge light pole (by Rana AL BaBa)
Experimenting with memories; 3 Polis – The Lebanese Pavilion (by Rana AL BaBa)
Experimenting with memories; The Floating Theater (by Rana AL BaBa)

Tripoli International Fair Between Out-of-Place/In-Place: A Utopian Nonbeing

Place is a word that speaks for itself – a concept both simple and complicated that allows the cultural elite to savour city’s life. We can see many manifestations of a certain place; it is what we call “place of memory”, where participating in certain activities expresses the spirit of such places. Place and memory intersect together so that every place has a memory, and each memory is related within a place. Memory and its representations touch very significantly upon questions of identity, nationalism, power and authority. This is what Tim Cresswell (2004) discussed fully in his introduction to place, emphasizing that being out of memory means being out of place, and that sometimes we invent memory of a certain past to create a new sense of identity, a new sense of nostalgia, so that what we remember becomes folklore. Place as a form of memory, is a way of being where all our senses become confused and evolved. Tripoli International Fair, commonly known as Rasheed Karame International Fair, is the place that I am addressing in my research. It is a place of postponed utopia because its prosperous future was ended by the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 and it was never re-launched until today. As the corners of the fair are attempting to stand still between preserving, intervening, misusing and distracting, they leave us with a mysterious feeling of a leftover modernist heritage, evoking sadness, loneliness, romanticism, curiosity and freedom in a space completely disconnected from its spatial and urban environment.

There are fragments of stories accumulated in multiple layers of time, haunted by its mysterious past and linked to the different militias and generations who came across the fair, with enduring traces of paint and ink revealing a counter-history to what was thought of as a dream. Those traces, the scope of this study, create an act in which the fair and its community were forged through destruction, mirroring its actual condition.

My investigation proceeds in five sections. The first section is an introduction that defines my aim and objectives. The second reflects on three main points relating to the being of Oscar Niemeyer’s Permanent International Fair in Tripoli: its history, function and placelessness. The third section considers recent theoretical work associated with it’s placelessness – the out- of-place acts that are mainly those traces of the past (graffiti, throw-ups, and tags). The fourth section offers a visual methodology and reflections. The fifth and final section seeks to connect theory and method, to discover how a place like Tripoli International Fair can be read as a process rather than as a final product.