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Tracing working-class cultural historical heritage through one building's story: 'La Grande Brasserie du Levant'

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Abstract

This research looks at an abandoned beer brewery that is set for a new real-estate-led redevelopment project in Beirut between past, present and future. While the building proudly represented a moment of Lebanese modernity and identity formed around industry, it also speaks of the eventual failure of the promise of modernity associated with Lebanon's first republic. The building's story is also closely woven with Mar Mikhail and the history and geography of drinking-culture and leisure-spaces in Beirut. In one sense, Mar Mikhail represents, through its recent street-based, informal re-claiming of public-space, lower prices, minimal overhaul of built infrastructure and attachment to an 'authentic' traditional working-class neighbourhood, a resistance to exclusive urban spaces of neo-liberal consumption. The enquiry highlights neo-liberal capital's tendency to exploit vulnerabilities ‐ for example, that of urban and architectural decay, wherein the re-discovery of 'heritage' makes it appear as revolutionary but in reality it is further incorporation into the capitalist system. The research also reveals the nexus of these shifts with gentrification and social, economic and cultural stratifications of the city. I, thus, analyse the new architectural vision for the brewery site and how it re-inscribes capitalism's hegemony over architecture in advancing gentrification processes in cities: commodification of heritage blatantly visible in architectural terms.
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Keywords: architectural decay; class; commodification of heritage; drinking culture; gentrification; heritage; redevelopment projects; urban decay

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000419369801 American University of Beirut

Publication date: September 1, 2019

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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