Framework for Democracy: A Study of Placemaking and the Macrocosm of The Egg in Beirut

By Seva Nix
Submitted to Session S6704 (CUMES Undergraduate Research Poster Presentation, 2021 Annual Meeting
This article offers a close reading of Beirut’s unfinished cinema building known as the “Egg,” looking mainly at how its (hi)stories and spatial (re)makings have made the space favorable for socio-political discourses. The famous Egg, along with such other spaces as the Grand Theater and Samir Kassir Garden could be seen emblematic of the types of conducive, yet, marginalized spaces for the city’s timely democratic discourse needs. The article founds on the premise that competent public space is essential for a functioning democracy and that Beirut residents are ingenious, despite shortcomings, working determinedly to represent themselves in an otherwise controlled environment. The study argues that, due to the neoliberalization and privatization of public spaces in Beirut, urban vestigial spaces have instead taken on multiple lives and roles throughout the city’s history. It is, in fact, these interstices of the built environment where most uprisings and revolutionary movements are incubated, nurtured, and taking place. Often, we can ubiquitously observe how catalyst conversations for civil discourse happen in fringes of society and, particularly, how those can be spatially thriving in existing gaps within the built environment. In Beirut, likewise, urban vestigial spaces have served as important vessels for discussion and activism. At the same time, however, inadequate public space in Beirut has long perpetuated divisions and been disenfranchising its residents. The following questions have guided the study: How are these historic ruins refranchising and empowering Beirut residents in their activism? To what extent are citywide lacks of formal public forums, or residual space types’ raw milieus or unreserved social symbolisms driving forces? What dynamics and phenomena are behind Beirutis’ acts of reclaiming the city, contesting spaces and turning them into places? For interpretations, the article draws on de Sola-Morales’ (1995) concept of “terrain vague” and Foucault’s (1986) notion of “heterotopias” as main theoretical lenses.