Beiruti architects and designers assess damage to their “shattered” businesses after devastating explosion

Cajsa Carlson | 20 August 2020  1 comment

Two weeks after a giant explosion destroyed large parts of Beirut, architects and designers are pondering how to rebuild their lives and businesses, with some considering leaving the city for good.

“Most of the locations where Beirut Design Week used to take place are in ruins,” said Doreen Toutikian, founder of Beirut Design Week.

David/Nicolas studio in Beirut after the explosion
The David/Nicolas studio suffered extensive damage from the blast

“The space is as shattered as our city,” said design duo David/Nicolas, whose studio was damaged in the blast.

“Most of the manufacturers and artisans I work with are located in the centre of Beirut and most of them are dealing with heavily damaged workshops, broken pieces and damaged projects,” said Beirut-born product designer Paola Sakr.

City-centre creative businesses heavily affected

The 4 August explosion, which occurred in a warehouse storing 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, has caused extensive damage to creative businesses based in Beirut city centre.

Designers who experienced the disaster first hand described it at the time as “beyond an apocalypse”.

“It will take them some time to get back on their feet, but they will,” added Sakr. “It’s going to be hard, especially considering that not much has been going for them this year as a consequence of the hyperinflation we’ve been experiencing.”

Sakr’s studio is located within the heavily damaged perimeter of the port and the multi-disciplinary designer lost projects and prototypes in the explosion.

David/Nicolas studio after the explosion in Beirut
Designer Moussallem was injured locking the studio door

Nicolas Moussallem, co-founder of design studio David/Nicolas, was locking the studio door when the explosion happened.

“One of us was injured from the explosion,” the duo said. “Thankfully most of the team had already left but Nicolas and Michel, one of our teammates, were locking the door at that specific moment.”

Moussallem, who founded the studio with David Raffoul, had to go to hospital to get stitches to his bleeding head.

Their studio suffered extensive damage. “All the glass broke, the facade bent, the false ceiling exploded, the rolling shutter has been ripped in pieces, some concrete broke and fell from the ceiling,” the designers said.

“It is not time to think of the future”

The studio of foam-furniture brand Blocksfinj, located 1.5 kilometres from the blast, was also put out of action.

“My project space has been damaged and is located in Beirut Souks, an area which took a big hit and is completely shut down for cleaning and repair works,” said Blocksfinj founder Chrystèle Karam.

“We are currently operating remotely and will need to put all our future projects on hold,” said Karam, who added that the explosion destroyed a shipment of raw materials that was waiting in the port.Related storyGeometric foam blocks mimic marble and terrazzo at Beirut Design Week

Karam had already been rethinking the business model of her company and said the Beirut explosion has forced her to examine whether she still wanted a physical space for the business.

“The notion of physical space in general no longer holds the same value,” she said.

Other creatives in Beirut are unsure what the future holds for them and their businesses.

“It is not time to think of the future,” said Toutikian, who had already decided to postpone this year’s Beirut Design Week before the tragedy happened.

“We are still digesting the shock of the present and are demanding answers and accountability for what happened.”

“We will not go back to business as usual”

Some were rethinking whether to stay in Beirut or leave Lebanon altogether. Sakr says she no longer feels safe walking in the city. “I will jump at every loud noise and analyse every political statement, and that can’t be healthy,” she said.

The designer hopes to leave for Europe and “start again in a safer environment until politics and economy officially stabilise in Lebanon,” she said.

Paola Sakr's studio after the Beirut explosion
Sakr’s studio is located within the perimeter of the port and was heavily damaged. Photo is by Paola Sakr.

“Things are moving in Lebanon since the explosion but it is still too soon to tell in which direction, which makes it impossible to plan anything here for now,” she added.

David/Nicolas, which already has a Milan office, has also considered relocating but stated: “We think now is still not the time to think of a business plan. We are still fighting our wounds and are healing. Our souls are healing and the only target at the moment is to help others in need in whatever ways we can.”Related storyBeirut explosion was like a “nuclear blast” say Lebanese architects and designers

Lebanon has assigned a military judge to investigate how the explosion, which killed at least 200 people and injured thousands, was allowed to happen and determine who might face charges. But Beirutis are sceptical.

“We will wait and see what repercussions will take place after this attack,” Toutikian said. “Until we see justice, we will not go back to business as usual.”

Photo by David/Nicolas unless otherwise stated.

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