The City Center Building – also known as the bubble, the dome, or the egg – was originally designed in 1965 by Lebanese architect Joseph Philippe Karam. It housed a theater and an exhibition hall with six underground levels of shops and parking spaces. Today, the bullet-scarred and derelict building stands as a conspicuous pile of concrete ringed by opposition tents, Hezbollah and Aouni flags, and barbed wire. It’s ugly, but it’s also one of the few surviving relics of Beirut’s golden age.
Overlooking Martyrs’ Square, the 6,000 square meter lot bears serves for many as a symbol of identity and cultural heritage. And for a younger generation of Lebanese who don’t remember it as a theater and shopping mall, the “bubble” is well known as the venue for numerous raves and experimental productions since the end of the civil war.
In 2003, Solidere announced that the building was going to be demolished. But faced with loud appeals for the preservation and renovation of the building, Solidere commissioned celebrated local architect Bernard Khoury to come up with a rehabilitation plan that would preserve the building and integrate commercial space into the unique structure. But, Khoury’s final plan, which the public at large readily embraced, needed a third party to manage and fund it. Sadly, no one ever stepped up and Solidere sold the plot of land along with seven others to the Abu-Dhabi Investment House (ADIH) two years later.
ADIH then announced plans for Beirut Gate, a $600 million project covering around 20,000 square meters, which includes luxury apartments, office space, hotels and other buildings. But before Beirut Gate could even get started, opposition protests took over the downtown – including the very lots where ADIH was preparing to break ground – scaring off investors and leaving the project hanging in uncertainty. ADIH’s local partners, Erga Architects, told NOW Lebanon that the project is now on hold because of the sit-in downtown – and as for the “bubble,” they have yet to decide its future. The Beirut Gate design plans designate the area where the City Center Building stands simply as “residential and commercial.”
And when contacted this week, Solidere’s press officer Nabil Rachid didn’t have much new to share either. Rather ambiguously, he simply said, “It is either going to be renovated or demolished and rebuilt, but the opposition’s sit-in has caused the Beirut Gate to put the project on hold until the political conflict is resolved.”