It is supposed to be a symbol of remembrance and reconciliation.
“If the architects think that thing is meant to represent me, then they’re wrong,” said Saad Youssef, looking up at the building last week. “It’s ugly. They should tear it down.”
His friend Mustafa Khattib disagreed. “It has to stay. The Lebanese need to see this every day, because they need to remember what they did.”
During Lebanon’s 15-year year civil war, the building commanded a crossroads known then as the “intersection of death.” The Christian militia that occupied the house turned it into a sniper’s nest.
Funded with an $18 million grant from the Lebanese authorities, and with French technical advice, Beit Beirut was envisioned by its architects as the first memorial of its kind: a museum, archive and visitor center to commemorate the country’s civil war. The renovation has merged the building’s skeleton into a light-filled glass one, adding archive space for a raft of documents and pods in which research staff could examine them.
Inside the old apartment building, ceilings are scorched black and a barrier of sandbags divides a room on the second floor. In makeshift bunkers — one of them formerly a blind woman’s bedroom that was reinforced with concrete — slits have been gouged into the stonework, offering killers a view of the surrounding streets. They left graffiti, too. One just reads, “Hell.”
The questions of memory and forgiveness that Beit Beirut’s founders hope to raise are far from abstract in a country that remains heavily divided and without a common understanding of the war years.