As part of its efforts to safeguard cultural heritage, and in the framework of its project “Developing a Conservation Management Plan for the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli” (RKIF_CMP project), UNESCO Beirut organized on 10-14 June 2019 a 1st technical workshop at the RKIF complex in Tripoli.
Funded by the Getty Foundation through its “Keeping It Modern” Initiative and launched in 2019, the RKIF_CMP project aims at developing a conservation management plan (CMP) for the Rashid Karami International Fair complex in order to guarantee the preservation of its cultural, architectural and historical value in any future development process. Designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in the 1960s, the site was built for a World’s Fair event to be held in Tripoli, but construction was halted in 1975 due to the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, and never resumed. Decades of neglect have endangered the fair’s structures, and today its restoration and development challenges are immense. It is against this backdrop that UNESCO elaborated the RKIF_CMP project. The project also builds on the findings and recommendations of a conference on the “Conservation of the Modern Heritage in Lebanon” that UNESCO organized in November 2017; the conference showed the interest of Tripoli’s local community, as well as various governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, to preserve the site while developing it.
The 5-day closed workshop gathered a team of 4 research consultants and 3 specialists in concrete conservation of modern heritage, and aimed at allowing participants to further collect data related to the history of the site and its development over time, and consult with identified local stakeholders on future development projects and their impact on the complex.
High-level personalities attended the opening and closing of the workshop, including Ms. Joyce Sarkis, representing Mr. Mansour Bteish, Minister of Economy and Trade; Mr. Akram Ouayda and Mr Antoine Bou Rida, respectively Chairman and Director General of the Rashid Karami International Fair; as well as representatives from the Directorate General of Antiquities at the Ministry of Culture.
At the opening of the workshop, engineer Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Culture and RKIF_CMP Project Supervisor, reiterated UNESCO’s commitment to support all efforts aiming at the preservation of cultural heritage. Kreidi said: “UNESCO’s interest in the conservation of the Rashid Karami International Fair, stems from its mission that calls for the preservation of the humanity’s heritage in all its manifestations. For this reason, UNESCO is always keen to cooperate with local stakeholders and institutions in order to develop strategies and spread the awareness about the tangible and intangible values of the country’s heritage, and in this case, the RKIF”. He added: “We hope that through this project, UNESCO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy and the Fair’s administration, could reach a comprehensive CMP that sets the base for a more balanced approach and strategies towards the sustainable conservation and development of the RKIF complex, and opens the eyes on the importance of the complex, thus becoming the catalyzer for attracting national, regional and international funds for the maintenance, rehabilitation and development it deserves”.
Joan Weinstein, acting director of the Getty Foundation, expressed the organization’s enthusiasm for the project: “Through Keeping It Modern, we’ve supported conservation efforts of significant modern architecture all around the world. The majority of these grants are supporting CMPs, a relatively new methodology for the preservation of 20th-century architecture, but one that international experts agree holds enormous potential for the successful long-term care of modern buildings and sites.”
For 5 days, the experts made on-site visits and meetings to better understand the history of the complex, assess current status of its buildings, and learn about the impact of previous development works.
Speaking of her experience at the workshop, Cultural Heritage Specialist & President of Architectural Preservation Studio (New York) Ms Pamela Jerome, said: “This is the first time I visit Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli, and I am totally amazed by this site! It is really a historic site, with an incredible cultural and architectural value. Throughout the week, my colleagues and I worked on evaluating the significance of this place to develop a CMP, but also to assess ways of integrating it as World Heritage”.
As to Mr Akram Ouayda, Chairman of the Rashid Karami International Fair, he highlighted the value of the RKIF_CMP project: “We, as members of the Board of the RKIF, are deeply in need of local and international expertise to help us preserve all the buildings of the RKIF complex, while at the same time operating them. When the UNESCO team got in touch with us, we got excited and hopeful that through our collaboration with them and with Getty Foundation, the project’s funder, we will be able to design adequate policies and a CMP for this site”. He added: “Throughout this workshop, we spoke to the project team about our concerns and needs, and they helped us better identify an adequate approach to safeguard the cultural significance of this place while linking it with the sustainable urban development goals of the city of Tripoli. We are hopeful that our collaboration with UNESCO will continue, to better preserve and operate the RKIF”.
At the end of the workshop, the project team members summarized their findings, and defined a common strategy and approach to draft the CMP. The RKIF also presented a gift to the UNESCO team in recognition of their efforts and interest in preserving the site.