I was taking a walk along the Corniche with some of my friends (something I don’t do often enough) when I noticed these beautiful benches decorated with ceramic tiles, all along the length of the boardwalk. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed them before! Each unique from its neighbor, they are such a refreshing burst of color and intricacy in the otherwise grey cement surroundings..and I just love the fact that there is a chess board in the middle of each bench!..
And towards the end of the stretch, and right across from the Ain Mreisse McDonald’s..is this giant, life-sized chess board. Now in desperate need of a facelift..
Heading back home, I noticed this statue, and took down the website for the “Embellishment Project of the Ain Mreisse Corniche Waterfront Avenue De Paris” project: www.beirutbenches.com
I couldn’t figure out whether or not this project was new from the website..but judging from the press articles (and from the worn out chess board), it was likely conceived around 2001, and carried out in 2003. For those of you who don’t know about the project, or who overlooked it,,like I did.. read below to learn more about this beautiful design intervention – I lifted some text from the website to give you insight into what the project was all about.
“The Project” section of the website reads,
“Under the patronage of the Municipality of Beirut, the embellishment of the Ain Mreisse Corniche, Avenue de Paris, conceived and designed by the internationaly renowned Lebanese artist Lena Kelekian, is being realized under the theme, colors and shapes of the Mediterranean. The existing old cement benches are being replaced with new ones covered with colorful cut ceramics with an encrusted chessboard, along with a mega chess board in the center section of the sidewalk, destined for educational entertainment. Each sponsor’s name will appear on a bench(es), integrated artistically in the design and on the commemorative panel of the names of the contributors and supporters. This embellishment project will certainly give color and life to the dull gray cement, thus adding a touch of cultural input by transforming a prominent public avenue into a more distinguished point of attraction in Beirut city.”
In the “Words” portion of the website, Abdul Monaem Al Aris, former mayor of Beirut, had this to say about the embellishment project,
“One might ask, why pick this spot in Beirut and not elsewhere? Well, because the Corniche symbolizes the city of Beirut standing against and rising above the ashes of the despicable war, and because the Corniche was and still is the place where restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions meet. In this exact place, also, our children and elders find a place of fun and solace, for they have the right to a safe and welcoming meeting place like this to enjoy. For this, the Municipality of the City of Beirut has decided to implement the project of embellishing the Corniche, showing to everyone that Beirut lives and thrives by the genuine and sincere efforts of its citizens and all those who love it. Why not, when the city is highly regarded as the portal to the orient, and the center where civilizations meet.
Our thanks to all those involved, and we hope that this project is one of a series of projects that will help show Beirut’s cultural identity.”
–Abdul Monaem Al Aris
Former Mayor of Beirut
And finally, in an article by The Daily Star, titled “King of Tyre’s quest for Europa retold along Corniche,” Garine Tcholakian wrote this on the embellishment project and on the artist behind it,
“Lena Kelekian’s passionate commitment to icon and mural paintings has manifested itself in churches, permanent displays and outdoor projects around the world over the past 12 years. Her latest endeavor, under the patronage of the Municipality of Beirut, is along the Corniche in Ain al-Mreisseh. Kelekian speaks with contagious enthusiasm about the project as she sits by the sea on the first installment of her project – the uniquely decoratedbench on the Corniche across the Hard Rock Cafe covered in colorful cut-ceramic pieces. It represents the legendary King Agenor of Tyre. A year ago, Kelekian proposed – and gained approval from the Municipality of Beirut – for the Ain al-Mreisseh Corniche Waterfront-Avenue de Paris bench project.
Since then, “the project of embellishing the Corniche has become the focus of everybody’s attention,” says Beirut Mayor Abdul Monaem al-Aris. While the 2.5 kilometer project – which extends from the Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel area to the Bain Militaire – is an ambitious one, it only adds to Kelekian’s accomplishments, which range from honorary degrees to La Toile d’Or in France and the Sixteen Rayed Star of Macedonia in Greece. “What we need is color.We need to give life to this city,” she says. “There is now only cement everywhere. “With this project, I want to put Beirut on the map the way Gaudi put Barcelona on the map,” she says, referring to the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, whose environmental designs and use of cut ceramics inspired Kelekian’s design for the project.
The beautification of the Corniche will see the transformation of every one of the old cement benches – 76 in all. Collectively, they will tell the story of the legend of Cadmos and Europa. There are different versions of the fable, Kelekian’s – approved by the Municipality of Beirut – is based on the Phoenician version. In the legend, King Agenor of Tyre sends Cadmos to bring back his captured daughter, Europa, from Crete, where Zeus held her imprisoned by a dragon. In the process of saving his sister, Cadmos propagates the Phoenician alphabet to the rest of the world. “Cadmos and Europa is, after all, the legend of our land,” Kelekian asserts. The story will be told in color, reminding visitors that Beirut is the “faithful guardian of Arab culture,” wrote Roula al-Ajouz, project coordinator and Beirut municipal council member. “This is the only place where people can come and walk,” Kelekian says. “I wanted an outlet that’s beautiful for all people. The underprivileged don’t have chalets … they have no place to breath but here, it is for everybody.
“I want to make Ain al- Mreisseh an attraction for people to come and get away from their monotonous life. ” The project is both entertaining and educational. Each bench includes didactic details, such as the incorporation of the alphabet into the designs. The letters represent four of the languages – Phoenician, Greek, Latin and Arabic – that have passed through the area. The benches will also include chess and backgammon boards, adding to the outdoor cafe feel. Finally, the story of Cadmos and Europa will be narrated in its entirety in both English and Arabic along the AUB beach front wall.””
Putting this post together really made me smile. :D I sincerely hope to see more “design interventions” like this in Beirut. This is what this city needs!