Dencity 2016: Special Mention


Entry by: Kareem Asfahani, Siraj Asfahani


Ouzai, the South Western suburb of Lebanon’s capital, was initially planned in the early 1930’s and slowly grew to become a popular coastal area where the Lebanese spent their summers in rented beach “chalets” in the area. During this time, alternating periods of political stability earned Beirut the reputation of being the “Paris of the Middle East”. However, the country passed through its darkest days with the outbreak of the 1975 Lebanese Civil War and the 1982 Israeli invasion and as a result, the once vibrant beach haven abruptly transformed to a dense shantytown due to the large displacement of refugees along the Ouzai shoreline.

Beach cabins were now overtaken by evacuees and the ‘squatter community’ eventually found blue-collar jobs to support their families. As time passed, illegal structures were built to respond to the rapid increase in population and Ouzai undoubtedly stands today as a slum. Yet, the Ouzai Strip has become an extremely vibrant street and because it is one of the few routes connecting Beirut to the South, industries such as the furniture-making, agricultural produce, fishing, and junkyard industries have flourished.

Although resilient enough to create livelihoods, the slum dwellers lack proper infrastructure and waste-management facilities to cater to their growing needs. In order to adapt, the dwellers have established an independent sewage system by installing a system of external pipes that carry black water to a major canal; which in turn dumps its raw untreated contents into the Mediterranean Sea. This environmentally hazardous site has sadly become a stark contrast to Ouzai’s heyday as one of Lebanon’s favored beach towns.

The Concept

Despite the muddled sewage situation, there actually exists an opportunity today that is overlooked by authorities. The informal sewage system’s independent status in addition to the existing gas factory nearby would help in the creation and the management of a decentralized Sewage system. By expanding and systematically converting the existing gas factory into a bio-gas plant and by rerouting the black water outpour towards the gas factory, significant economic savings and environmental benefits can be achieved in the long run. In need of a relatively low capital cost, the most vital result of the plant is replacing dependency on petroleum based fossil fuels with a natural renewable resource. The project would also bring economic benefits by creating many job opportunities including the revival of the region’s tourism and fishing industry after the decontamination of the sea.

At the center of the biogas plant system lie two anaerobic digesters each designated for processing either sewage or organic municipal solid waste. These digesters essentially act as carbon conversion tools and yield biogas. With the biogas plant in place, sewage would either travel from the newly rerouted pipeline into the digester; or is collected in septic tanks and then transported by vacuum trucks. Similarly, organic municipal solid waste is transported by the municipality and dumped into its designated digester. Once biogas is produced, it is collected, cooled, and used to power an electrical generator that would send the renewable energy back out to the power grid. Furthermore, it can also be used for vehicular transportation and enhance the region’s deteriorating public bus system through the newly converted bio gas car station. LPG tanks, widely used in Lebanon for cooking, would still be produced by the factory but would now be filled with biogas instead. Finally, the residual treated sewage is pumped into a separator where the liquid is treated and stored in lagoons to be used for municipal work while the remaining solids can be used or sold as a high grade Bio-fertilizer.

The second factor of the waste management proposal is the introduction of a low-industrial sorting facility that handles all inorganic dry waste. The clean single stream MRF relies heavily on manual labor and thus creates job opportunities that strengthen the existing rag-picking and junkyard business that are in fact are a valuable asset for their proficiency in rummaging through Greater Beirut’s waste in an effort to salvage material.

By virtue of waste segregation, dry waste is transported to the sorting plant and is dumped into the large sorting facility. It is then sorted according to material and respectively transported to smaller units to be further separated by type. Finally, they are sold, baled, and transported to the appropriate processing plants to be recycled into new and re-usable materials. However, much of the reclaimed wood and plastic materials will be utilized to further strengthen the furniture-making industry. This is possible by repurposing all soft wood in the production of MDF and HDF boards and by converting PET plastic into fabric upholstery with the help of low-cost eco technology.

Although a portion of this salvaged plastic will be used for upholstery, it will primarily be used to create uBars- a modular building block meant to be used for the construction of temporary structures. The easy-to-assemble pavilions will be built by locals for personal and commercial use such as pergolas, kiosks, and bus stops. Non-recyclable plastics will certainly have precedence over recyclable plastics in their production. The process involves the basic cleaning and shredding of the plastic materials into smaller fragments that are next simultaneously pressed and heated in a mold to take the uBar’s form. Undoubtedly with further exploration, this economical process and final product hold a high potential for future solutions elsewhere on site.

In an effort to get the local population more engaged in the restoration of their dwellings, a reward program will be implemented throughout the region. In essence, its purpose is to offer incentives to residents by granting points for every bag of organic waste dropped off at the biogas plant. For a certain number of accumulated points, a LPG biogas tank is awarded. Similarly, locals can collect points when pre-sorted inorganic waste is dropped off at the sorting facility. In this case, points can be exchanged for a single uBar destined to be used in the assembly of either pergolas or kiosks. Throughout the gathering of waste in order to redeem points, a communal shift towards waste sustainability is inevitable. Likewise, the program also helps the municipality reduce costs by not only reducing waste collecting and sorting costs, but eliminating the need to process garbage in landfills. Clearly the proposed alternative is the superior solution since Lebanon’s limited number of landfills is the culprit of the ongoing waste crisis.

The advantages of a pergola are manifold due to the slum’s density and lack of public space. Although it is true that the dwellers have appropriated their rooftops to become their personal public spaces, the rooftops lack privacy, shade, and most importantly greenery that can offer improved air quality, sound reduction, and general wellbeing. Therefore, with the scattering of uBar pergolas and planter pots, a green canvas would gradually crown the raw concrete slum. Moreover, the slum’s illegitimate construction render the governmental water system inaccessible to households. Instead, the residents rely on private water distributing trucks that fills up large communal Polyethylene tanks shared by multiple buildings. The purchased water is subsequently pumped equally to smaller tanks that each serve individual families. Not only is this process expensive and unpractical, but recent studies have shown some of these water sources to be unsafe for household consumption. Therefore, introducing a rainwater harvesting system incorporated in the pergola’s design would liberate residents from such questionable water sources during the rainy season. The pavilion utilizes slightly sloped uBars as channels that collect rainwater and transport it to an adjacent sand filtration system. The resulting clean body of water is then transferred to the large communal water tank and in due course used by individual families for household use. Throughout the process of building the pergola and harvesting rainwater, a stronger sense of community is created particularly where common water tanks are shared by several families.

Similar to the pergola, the kiosk are also built from uBars and are meant to provide dwellers with temporary structures to sell their merchandise. They are specifically aimed to strengthen the agricultural produce and fishing industries by providing the means for poor families to create a livelihood without the need to illegally build or rent property. Designed with display counters and signage, and equipped with canopies to provide shade and protect against rain, the kiosks offer the basic components needed for commercial trade. Furthermore, due to the kiosk’s modularity, vendors have the opportunity to expand as their businesses grow by adding several kiosks to each other. In fact, existing market places such as the Harbor fish market and the creation of a new marketplace in the Abella sector would strengthen the local economy.
In the final analysis, a circular economy is created where each solution feeds off the other to bring prosperity to the region. Local authorities would have to reevaluate the illegal status of the Ouzai slum as it will unquestionably become a leading edge example for other cities across Lebanon.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”.

-Mother Teresa

About the entrant

Kareem Asfahani has been formally educated as an interior designer and has earned a Master’s degree in Workspace Design in IE University, Madrid (2015). Because the life we live isn’t as colorful as he would like it to be, he has an activist spirit in him today. With an enormous passion for design activism he trusts that design is first and foremost a problem-solving tool. The 2013 Student Design Challenge First Prize Winner (Spacepace team) always wonders for new experiences in design and has challenged himself by freelancing in multidisciplinary fields of design. Today, he is working remotely in New York, as a workspace designer and still believes that design is not a career, but a lifestyle.

Siraj Asfahani, a young professional architect and a candidate for a masters of Sustainable Urban Development (2016), has a strong background in theater. He sees the world as an ongoing performance, where people dance their way out through narrow alleys under the shade of tall structures. Siraj is known for multitasking, juggling his social and professional lives very smoothly. He enjoys a small chat, as well as an intense debate over day to day topics. Believing that home is where you achieve grounds, this young architect has been an urban dweller himself, jumping from one city to another awaiting new opportunities. As once said by Jean Nouvel, “Architecture is an Inhibited Sculpture”. Trying to relate the spaces around him to the human scale, Siraj believes that buildings are living objects that communicate and interact the same way we, humans, do. Siraj, the 2013 Student Design Challenge First Prize Winner (Spacepace team), will always consider himself a stranger in a world full of strangers.