BEIRUT: The demolition of the Grand Brasserie du Levant brewery has entered its final phases, leaving its plot at the edge of Beirut’s Mar Mikhael a haze of dust and rubble. Construction workers stood above a colossal pile of debris Thursday as they worked to take down the building. The iconic graffiti – Arabic calligraphy emblazoned across the brewery’s western wall – had been bitten into by the teeth of the demolition machines.
“Everything should be taken down and cleaned in about two months,” Mohammad Ali, a supervisor at the site, told The Daily Star.
Taking its place will be Bernard Khoury’s controversial luxury residential project, Mar Mikhael Village – much to the disappointment of activists eager to preserve Beirut’s historical sites.
“We are keeping the footprint of the building intact, which is the DNA of a building and the element that shapes people’s experience,” Khoury told The Daily Star in March.
“But nobody sees that – they are all stuck on old concepts of what it means to preserve a building.”
Conceptual drawings of the Mar Mikhael development bear little resemblance to the former structure.
According to Mona Fawaz, professor of urban planning at the American University of Beirut, the brewery was built in 1932.
“Its heritage is critical as the embodiment of a historical moment ... when industrialization and modernization were critical,” she told The Daily Star.
Concerned about gentrification of the neighborhood and particularly the destruction of the Middle East’s oldest brewery, members of civil society group Beirut Madinati, started a campaign entitled “Save Mar Mikhael from Mega Projects” in March.
Although the demolition of the building ground to a halt in April, Beirut Madinati member Ghassan Salame said that it had resumed on a daily basis over the last few months.
According to Salame, the demolition was put on hiatus in April following protests from residents living in an old building nearby. They argued that their proximity to the project meant ongoing demolition posed a threat to their safety.
“Negotiations seem to have led to a deal because the building is now vacant and the demolition has restarted,” Salame said.
On site, Ali pointed to a vacant building on the western side of the former brewery and noted that the residents had been relocated to a place nearby.
When asked whether the Mar Mikhael Village project would be partially constructed on the residential plot, Ali said that any potential plan to include the neighboring plot had been abandoned.
“The owner of the building had no intention to sell, so the residents will return after a few months,” he said.