More design interventions in Beirut please!

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!..

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

And towards the end of the stretch, and right across from the Ain Mreisse McDonald’ this giant, life-sized chess board.  Now in desperate need of a facelift..

Beirut Benches

Anyone for a game of life-sized chess?

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:

Beirut Benches

Statue announcing the "Embellishment" project

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.

Beirut Benches

Beirut Benches

“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.”

Sassine Tunnel Trees

The ceramic trees that line Sassine Tunnel were also done by "Beirut Benches" artist Lena Kelekian

photo credit

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

Beirut Benches

The benches stand in stark contrast to their surroundings..

photo credit

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.

Beirut Benches

The sample bench "King Agenor" completed by Kelekian Oct. 2001

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.

Gaudi Barcelona

Casa Batllo - Gaudi's work in Barcelona, Spain. I would love to see this in Beirut! Wouldn't you?

photo credit

Gaudi Lizard Barecelona

Gaudi's famous lizard in Barcelona's Park Guel..I've been there! 😀

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.  😀  I sincerely hope to see more “design interventions” like this in Beirut.  This is what this city needs!


Filed under life in Lebanon

17 responses to “More design interventions in Beirut please!

  1. there is also the designs on the sin el fil inside roads, the one that connects u to jisr l achrafieh to sassine

  2. Asquared

    Im not a big fan of those benches lol

  3. I love the benches and I love the concept. And great choice of Lena Kelekianto execute it. And good on the Municipality of Beirut. Actually, there is so much street art in Beirut, but maybe living there one stops noticing it. Great post Danielle and it made me smile too. I shall certainly go and sit on one of those benches and take a friend to play chess 🙂

  4. Joanna

    Lena Kelekian was my professor at AUB! 😀 this is awesome 😀

  5. KM

    This is all thanks to the mayor of Beirut city Dr. Bilal Hamad.
    He is a doctor professor in AUB (used to be my teacher) and this is nothing to what he will offer as his next projects including a mega bus station for the city of beirut, underground multistorey parking buildings, renovation of cultural buildngs and much more. if only more people in this callibre were involved in the municipality or politics where would we be right now…

  6. I totally loved it, but as everything in Lebanon, they don’t plan ahead to the times where these need maintenance. I wish we could have similar projects on all the ‘throw away’ concrete walls in Beirut too.

  7. dearest Joanna , this is a very nice surprise to hear from my brilliant student ! i miss you so much! how r u? so glad you liked the benches project on Ain Mreisse and you did a thorough research ! this is my gift to my city, and it is my dream to render Beirut and all of Lebanon to a colorful beautiful place to live in! thanks to Mich, Hisham is right i have more than 10 other embelishment projects all in ceramics, KM Dr. Hamad is a wonderful person! as for the maintenance Yasmine , do not worry, my team takes care of the maintenance every six months so , waiting for the good weather! As for the megachessboard, the construction company who handled the refurbishment of the Corniche damaged it and in no time (ofcourse) it will be restored with some nice surprises! Joanna, if you are driven by beauty and curiosity check out some of my other embellishment projects like the River River Wall with flowers, the coastal highway behind Forum de Beyrouth 11m high monument and 50m long wall, Aley entrance monument, Zouk Mosbeh entrance wall and many others……. will send you the websites. Look forward to see you, lots of love lena k

    • Youssef Chaker

      i actually did not want to mention this coz i thought it may not apply. but since the person behind all of this is on here i might as well.

      I have seen a giant chess board such as this in san francisco (probably exists other places too), but it also has the chess pieces on top. and anyone can play a giant chess game whenever they want. the pieces were as big as a 6 year old girl (i know because my 6 year old cousin and her brother played with them) but they are light. The problem is that in lebanon it’s going to be hard to rely on people to respect those properties and keep them. but it was very cool to have for young kids and one i saw the picture i was hoping there were some pieces around too!!

      anyway, that’s enough wishful thinking for one day 😦

  8. we need more of these “bursts of colors” around the city 🙂 Totally agree with the fact that these give a bit more life to the surrounding.
    I’d love to see some weird and twisted visual work in Beirut, just like Gaudi’s work it creates a positive buzz about the place and shows the creativity of the people, at least that will be in a positive way 🙂

  9. I can’t wait to get to beirut, and the benches ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ amazing work! bow in respect of the planners, artists, collaborators and all.. wonderful!!

  10. Al

    impressing ! Loving the creativity !

  11. One day maybe people will wake up and realize what it takes to get business from their website. After all, isn’t that what websites are for?

  12. Loved reading this. Thorough reporting, great pictures. I’d been thinking about doing something on my blog about it, but you saved me the trouble! Bravo!

  13. Karim

    Here’s something a friend and I did in Beirut.

    Color is beautiful. I would love to cooperate with you or anyone on the comment list in making a new intervention 🙂

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