An Experience of Ruin: Niemeyer's Tripoli Fairgrounds - Photo-essays - Domus
An Experience of Ruin: Niemeyer's Tripoli Fairgrounds
 

An Experience of Ruin: Niemeyer's Tripoli Fairgrounds

A survey of the Brazilian architect's extensive International Fairgrounds of Tripoli, whose construction was interrupted by the Lebanese civil war in 1975 and never completed.

 

Photo-essays / Pelin Tan

Oscar Niemeyer was commissioned to design the International Fairgrounds of Tripoli in 1963, but in 1975, Lebanon's civil war interrupted construction of this modernist landmark. The 10,000 hectare site and its 15 buildings remain today, incomplete concrete structures in our contemporary, labyrinthine times.

The whole fairground complex is a contemporary set of ruins. A set of 'ruins' trying to live in its own time of postponed utopia. Lebanese philosopher Jalal Toufic would say: "Ruins: places haunted by the living who inhabit them" [1].

We are walking, lying down, climbing to the top of buildings. Children play soccer every afternoon amidst the un-representation of infinite time of Niemeyer's pieces, and we try to find our own representation of the uncanny experience of this space. It's a short distance from the center of Tripoli to the fairgrounds, which lie on the south of the city, bordering enormous, intense apartments blocs. However, the experience of the failure of our empathy of space towards this architecture is not measurable.

When I arrived in Tripoli, a few hours away from Beirut, I rushed to catch Oslo-based video artist Knut Asdam, with whom I've collaborated as a writer for years. When he headed to Lebanon to, after obtaining permission, shoot the Niemeyer fairgrounds, he asked me simply to go with him. To follow an artist for one week while shooting this architecture — the locations, spaces, and corners of the fairgrounds — is something more than to understand the how an image can be a failure of empathy. The process is more about following the footsteps of an artist struggling to deal with the uncanny feeling of a (somehow) leftover modernist heritage, which evokes sadness, loneliness, romanticism, curiosity, but also freedom, in a "space" which is completely disconnected from its spatial and urban environment. How can an artist capture these images, without the burden of an exotic object of architectural modernism?

Oscar Niemeyer was commissioned to design the International Fairgrounds of Tripoli in 1963, but in 1975, Lebanon's civil war interrupted construction of this modernist landmark

Oscar Niemeyer was commissioned to design the International Fairgrounds of Tripoli in 1963, but in 1975, Lebanon's civil war interrupted construction of this modernist landmark

Preserving, intervening, misusing, distracting... All of these acts towards architecture force me to understand the relationship between subjectivity and space, in this place of postponed utopia. Asdam's project is on the movement of the relations of the individuals... The narration of the space and subjectivities that try to multiply the uncanny feeling of the fairground. A non-relation to space. An intentional failure in the empathy of space.

Toufic, the philosopher, would continue to describe the ruins of post-traumatic amnesia: "... The physical destruction of severely damaged buildings to construct others in their place is sacrilegious not because they are eliminated as ruins: a ruin cannot be intentionally eliminated since even when it is reconstructed or demolished and replaced by a new building, it is actually still a ruin, that is contains a labyrinthine space and time, this becoming manifest at least in flashes. Such physical destruction is sacrilegious because of the brutal unawareness it betrays of the different space and time ruins contain. It exhibits the same brutality that was shown during the war". [2] Pelin Tan

Video artist Knut Asdam shooting the International Fairgrounds in Tripoli

Video artist Knut Asdam shooting the International Fairgrounds in Tripoli

Notes:
1. Jalal Toufic, "Ruins," in Thinking: The Ruin, ed. Matthew Gumpert and Jalal Toufic (Istanbul: Rezan Has Museum, 2010; available for download at: http://www.rhm.org.tr/docs/thinking-the-ruin.pdf), p. 36.
2. Jalal Toufic, "Ruins," in Thinking: The Ruin, ed. Matthew Gumpert and Jalal Toufic (Istanbul: Rezan Has Museum, 2010; available for download at: http://www.rhm.org.tr/docs/thinking-the-ruin.pdf), p. 37.

The whole fairground complex is a contemporary set of ruins. A set of 'ruins' trying to live in its own time of postponed utopia

The whole fairground complex is a contemporary set of ruins. A set of 'ruins' trying to live in its own time of postponed utopia

Pelin Tan followed Asdam for one week while shooting this architecture — the locations, spaces, and corners of the fairgrounds

Pelin Tan followed Asdam for one week while shooting this architecture — the locations, spaces, and corners of the fairgrounds

Oscar Niemeyer, the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer, the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer, the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer, the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer, the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer, the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer, the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli

Oscar Niemeyer, the Rashid Karami International Fair in Tripoli