An old Lebanese house stands among the modern buildings and a construction site on Beirut’s Corniche. AFP PHOTO / PATRICK BAZ
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Following the start of demolition work at Beirut's Grande Brasserie du Levant building, the latest in a long line of historical buildings to undergo development, preservationists called for legal loopholes to be closed to prevent further cultural loss. A closer look at the legal framework surrounding the preservation of heritage in Lebanon reveals a reality that leaves the buildings – and at times their owners – trapped in a bureaucratic maze.For those who wish to knock their buildings down to build new properties, the law is relatively straightforward, at first. However, buildings deemed historical by the Culture Ministry can be given heritage status and are therefore protected.This includes buildings covered by Culture Ministry protection orders for culturally important sites.Zgheib, himself the owner of an old building, concedes that the owner's right to dispose of the property should be limited by public interest and argues that preserving heritage is economically advantageous in the long run.This has left many historical buildings in a poor state of repair and often leaves it cheaper to demolish buildings than to renovate the old sites.According to organizations and owners alike, if economic incentives to protect heritage buildings are not instituted and existing laws are not efficiently enforced, the loss of cultural heritage is destined to continue unabated.
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