Abandoned Dwellings: The Shadows of Beirut’s Splendour

Words by Imogen Bole

Photos by Gregory Buchakjian

Lebanese photographer Gregory Buchakjian spent nearly a decade locating, documenting and photographing abandoned buildings across Beirut. Now he is surrounded by the rubble of those devastated buildings following the explosion that shook the entire city.

Courtesy of Gregory Buchakjian

The Beirut Explosion

For much of the 20th century, Beirut flaunted an exotic and hedonistic glamour that drew travellers from the world over. It was a city that conjured notions of opulence, cosmopolitanism, architectural splendour and continental style. So alluring was Beirut that it became affectionately referred to as the “Paris of the Middle East”.

In more recent times the capital has become scarred by decades of civil strife, and the push to rebuild and recover from that destruction has been 30 years in the making. That was until 4 August, when a single, catastrophic explosion left causalities not only in the form of human life, but in the shells of Beirut’s treasured buildings, structures and dwellings.

An Introduction to Gregory Buchakjian’s Abandoned Dwellings

Abandoned Dwellings: Display of Systems is a collection of photographs that Lebanese photographer, Gregory Buchakjian shot between 2009 and 2016 as part of a seven-year research project. Through inhabiting and capturing each location, he was able to retell the story of each place and its inhabitants: some had been expelled by wars and conflicts, while others had simply drifted on.

Stumbling upon lost and forgotten objects, such fragments of a Palestinian driver’s license, a British Railcard or even a handwritten diary from 1979 with a manual on the art of regular and guerrilla warfare tucked inside it, it became clear that, though these buildings seem tired and dispirited, they were once full of life and, as such, became a portal to a forgotten and vivacious past.

Beirut Today

Today, Gregory finds himself surrounded by abandoned, dilapidated and devastated buildings. The effect of the gradual decay of time, as captured in his photos, has been affected on the city’s structures in a matter of seconds. Not only have many of the places Gregory photographed been destroyed, but the neglected dwellings featured in his collection now seem more structurally sound than the lifeless buildings faltering in today’s Beirut.

The old cliché of a picture telling a thousand words is a notion rendered redundant in light of an explosion that has left both citizens and onlookers speechless. Gregory’s photos showcase a version of Beirut that has now been wiped out. The process of restoring Lebanon’s capital to its former glory will be a battle hard fought and won.

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