(Photos and text by Giulia Guadagnoli, unless otherwise noted.)
I started walking around Beirut in 2010. An initial feeling of exhaustion by overwhelming physical obstacles and blind corners evolved into an enthusiasm for the solutions adopted by inhabitants to rest, trespass, bypass, and envision. This collection of pictures is the result of such enthusiastic and ongoing explorations.
My curiosity for trying different trails and paths in my daily trips first led me to discover the alleys created when private construction was forced to respect the neighbor’s right of way. Then I progressively extended my collection of images to include various tactical interventions: steps and stairs; neighbors’ lighting solutions next to public greenery; shopkeepers relying on the sidewalk and surrounding structures for functions as diverse as sun drying and coffee breaks; extension of homes onto the street using outdoor plastic furniture; recycling of different materials to create benches and chairs, and also a bridge over a sewage spill. Through these tactical solutions, urban space is inhabited, interpreted, devised, and adapted across the public-private divide and along negotiable lines of agency and entitlement. Crossing and negotiating require in most cases the capacity to elude or evade given conditions, such as those of property and accessibility, and to overlap the possibility of alternative uses onto the formalized status of a place.
Small in scale, subdued and transient, and still surprisingly persistent, these interventions reclaim the public domain as a site for organic imagination and lively resistance. They spring from a savoir-faire that exceeds the explanatory power of scientific knowledge and cannot be fully acknowledged by the rationalities informing state and market institutions. These interventions can only be acknowledged through experience and use. Thus, they challenge the formal logic of urban planning standards to develop more flexible and inclusive tools in order to contribute to shaping cities that fulfill the needs of their inhabitants and reflect their imagination. This visual representation does not aim to explain them, but rather to elicit the viewer’s experiential memories. It celebrates the variety of these irreproducible and non-exchangeable œuvres, and the wit of the inhabitants of Beirut in its different neighborhoods and across old and new divisions. It documents the uses of these interventions in order to reclaim their primacy as a pivotal dimension of how people imagine, plan, and create urban space.