The Gaza Buildings: Genealogies of Displacement in Urban Beirut
Are John Knudsen
(Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI))
Paper short abstract:
ince the mid-1980s, generations of displaced people have sought refuge in the ramshackle Gaza Buildings. Examining the decaying buildings' architectural history, provides a temporal genealogy of reception, place making and emplacement that can inform the study of diasporic space and materiality.
Paper long abstract:
Since the mid-1980s, generations of displaced people have sought refuge in the ramshackle Gaza Buildings, a multi-story hospital complex built by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Damaged during the civil war (1975-90), the buildings have since turned urban heterotopia - squat, refuge and shelter - that otherwise blend in with the run-down Sabra-Shatila neighborhood in Beirut's "misery belt". Forming part of a global landscape of insecure areas, the inhabitants are disconnected from majority society that can serve as a trope for the exclusion of generations of forced migrants and typifies the new domain of "urban refugees" now common throughout the Middle East. The paper charts the buildings' lodgers, landlords, and gatekeepers who respectively rent, lease and control the dilapidated buildings' dark corridors, cramped flats and garbage-strewn stairways. By analyzing the buildings as historical sites of displacement they can been viewed as a parable of the contemporary refugee straining under living conditions seen as inhuman, indeed an insult to humanity (insaniaat). The multi-story buildings can be read a vertical migration history where generations of refugees and migrants have escaped repeated conflict, displacement and destitution. Examining the decaying buildings' architectural history, hence, provides a temporal genealogy of reception, place making and emplacement that can inform the study of diasporic space and materiality.
Houses and domestic space in the diaspora: materiality, senses and temporalities in migrants' dwellings