Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lighting Downtown Beirut in song

Lighting Beirut Architecture
While Downtown last week, I noticed posters all over announcing Lighting Beirut Architecture. My curiosity drove me to probe further.

From a page on Facebook, I discovered it was project being launched by Solidere. The plan was to light up a large urban area using permanent image projection to reveal the architecture by night.

The first phase of the project, on June 18, lit up 28 key buildings and sites in Downtown Beirut -- in Foch, Allenby, Weygand and Fakhry Bey Streets, Bab Idriss and Beirut Souks.

As I made my way Downtown with my cousin Lillian just before 8 p.m., I didn’t know what to expect. We were pleasantly surprised to find throngs of people gathering at Trablous Street, in front of the old building of Beirut’s French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour, where the ceremony was due to kickoff.

As dusk fell, we realized it was going to be an absorbing evening. L’Orient’s building was covered in several vertical long sheets with a stage in front. People were milling about Beirut Souks in expectation, sitting in the various restaurants and coffee shops and finally converging toward the stage.

People gathering on Trablous Street
Mounir Douaidy on stage
After a brief introduction to the event by Solidere General Manager Mounir Douaidy, we waited eagerly for the evening’s centerpiece: a performance by Tripoli’s Acapella Fayha Choir. I sensed the crowd’s excitement when this was announced and felt ignorant not to have heard of the choir or known what Acapella -- signing without instruments -- is.

The captivating Fayha Choir
has become Lebanon’s leading, and internationally renowned, Acapella choir. Maestro Barkev Taslakian, the artistic director and conductor, now leads a nearly 50-member group from Tripoli and its suburbs. The choir’s program includes Lebanese, Oriental, as well as French, English, Latin, Armenian and other songs.

Enthralled by Maestro Barkev Taslakian's energy...
... and the beauty of the voices
I remembered talk about the choir when they appeared on the TV show “Arabs Got Talent” early this year. And as soon as they started singing, I was captivated. The choir’s voices, in the setting of Beirut Souks, as the sky was turning darker and the lights becoming more dominant, had all those present mesmerized and in awe of the singers’ talents.

Reine Merhebi cheered by...
...her mother and brother
It was also special because I bumped into a woman while trying to capture the event on my camera. After apologizing, we got talking. She beamed and pointed to one of the singers, Reine Merhebi, who is her daughter. Reine’s mother and siblings had come from Tripoli to watch her perform with the choir. She told me how her daughter loved singing and had joined the Fayha Choir two years ago. Her younger brother and sister are following suit and have started rehearsing with the group.
L'Orient building unveiled in the background
While the choir was singing, the first lighting of the L’Orient building was unveiled and the sheets dropped one by one to reveal more choir members in the preserved building’s windows.

Fayha sang for more than half an hour. Being so enthralled by the energy of Maestro Taslakian and the beauty of the voices, we would have loved the performance to go on for much longer.

We were then invited to walk around and see the lighting of the other buildings while flying lanterns were released and filled the sky. Pamphlets were available with a map of where the lit buildings were.

The only building I could capture with my camera
Unfortunately, my little digital camera is not smart enough to take such pictures of buildings at night – so these were all taken from the event’s Facebook page.

With our maps in hand, we walked around. Among the buildings now lit in Downtown Beirut are: Fenicia Bank, Al Dabbagha Mosque, Idriss Building (Foch Street); Hakimi, Khawam, Tamari and Sehnaoui buildings (Allenby Street); Municipality of Beirut, Amir Assaf Mosque, Al Omari Mosque, Sursock Building (Weygand Street); the Bab Idriss sculptures, Tamari and L’Orient buildings and various Beirut Souks blocks on Fakhry Bey Street and in the Souks themselves.

From Lighting Beirut Architecture Facebook page
This new lighting technology captures and reveals buildings’ architectural value. The technique retraces the existing façade features of the structures with light, resulting in a portrayal that accurately matches the frontage, with high definition design patterns. Unlike conventional lighting, as Solidere’s Mounir Douaidy explained, fixtures are placed on rooftops facing the building that is to be lit, safeguarding the front’s masonry.

Envisioned as a sustainable solution, the projectors reduce energy consumption. No light obviously goes to waste, and the city’s dark sky is preserved. Eventually, Lighting Beirut Architecture aims to turn the city center into a lively platform for creative expression and cultural experimentation with light.

The building's front looks like lace
The project is organized, planned and financed by Solidere, the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District. Light Cibles, a French-based design studio specialized in lighting design and creation of optimal solutions for historic buildings and urban contexts, proposed the lighting concept and gobo design.

Their team undertook site surveys jointly with DIAP, another French firm dedicated to image projection and multimedia. DIAP executed the building survey and introduced a new optical concept of high definition gobo projector needed for the project.

Lebanese lighting solution providers Mamari Frères (MFR) were commissioned to find the most suitable technical solution. They partnered with Italian manufacturers Lampo and conceived and developed a projector assembled by hand to bear all weather conditions.
Designers Vanessa and Yasmeen
While crossing from one street to the other in the Souks and Downtown, we passed a reception to open a new boutique, Pastel. We went in, had a look, a drink, and a cupcake and met two of the designers, Vanessa and Yasmeen, from Morocco. Yasmeen also has a boutique called Vintage Story in Kantari and Vanessa’s label is called Pinto.

There’s much more to come… That morning, I walked round an area I hadn’t been to for years and there are also titbits and more choirs and singing from the Music Festival, held on June 21 to greet the advent of summer.

You can see more pictures of the evening here.