Annabel Karim Kassar

This is an emotional project for me

French-Lebanese architect Annabel Karim Kassar is giving a talk at the V&A London about her exhibition The Lebanese House: Saving a Home, Saving a City that explores the aftermath of the catastrophic 2020 Beirut port explosion.

The exhibition, which opened in June at the V&A South Kensington, features a 5m-high recreation of the facade of a traditional Lebanese home that was built in the museum by Beruti craftsmen using sandstone shipped from the Lebanon. It also features a series of emotional and thought-provoking specially commissioned films that explore the social and emotional impact of the explosion, which killed more than 200 people, injured more than 7,000 and destroyed part of Lebanon’s cultural heritage.

“This exhibition is special to me,” Karim Kassar told Attractions Management, speaking at the V&A. “An architecture installation is very different to an architecture project, when you’re working for a client. Architecture installations are very personal, and allow me to express my ideas and convey my message, which is social, emotional and artistic.”

The aim of the exhibition, said Karim Kassar, was to provide a space for visitors to sit and reflect on the impact of the bombing and its aftermath, as well as the wider issue of preserving the memories of a city via its architecture.

Karim Kassar designed the exhibition to echo the design of a traditional Lebanese home; it invites visitors to sit and relax on a divan in a reconstruction of the Lebanese ‘Liwan’ – a small salon within a larger entrance hall of a Lebanese home.

“I wanted to experiment with the idea that people should be able to sit comfortably and properly in a museum, rather than having to stand or sit on uncomfortable chairs,” said Karim Kassar. “I wanted to offer a comfortable and beautiful place to take in the exhibition.”

Karim Kassar is known for her architecture work in Beirut, where she has worked on both new buildings and the conservation of historic buildings, including the reconstruction of the city’s traditional Souks at the heart of old Beirut.

“This is an emotional project for me,” said Karim Kassar. “I love Beirut. It’s such a creative city. I have an office there, and a home there, not far from the port. Both were damaged, and I know people who died in the explosion. I want people to be aware of what happened, and of how people are still suffering; I wanted to elicit an emotional response in visitors.

“People are fascinated; they respond to the emotion of the video and the facade. It makes me happy to see visitors sitting and staying for an hour or more.”

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