Construire à distance: les réalisations de l'agence immobilière genevoise Addor et Julliard à Beyrouth dans les années 1950-1960

Through a case study, this research aims at contributing to the historic understanding of the international architecture after the Second World War. It is based on the monographic analysis of the projects realised by the Geneva agency Addor & Julliard in Lebanon during the years 1950 to 1960. The general theme of "constructing at distance" embraces and problematizes two types of considerations: on the one hand, the challenges that international architecture of the years 1950-1960 had to face when the operations of conception and execution where realised in different contexts (i.e. functional and technical challenges due to climatic imperatives; logistical challenges linked to the characteristics of the local culture of construction ; strategic challenges in relation to the specific political and economic situation in the developing countries) ; on the other hand, the specific creative opportunities that the internationally active agencies were able to seize abroad and of which also their local production took advantage (treatment of prestige programs and ambitious operations with partners open to avant-garde experimentations). The operations realised at distance by the Geneva agency Addor & Julliard in Lebanon constitute an architectural corpus of approximately ten buildings in the urban and suburban zone. These realisations, which are not well known in the circles of researchers and architects, both locally and internationally, deserve to be analysed in detail, as they are very representative for the atmosphere of experimentation during the years 1950-1960 in Lebanon and generally in the other contexts of north-south collaboration. The work of the agency Addor & Julliard is still not well known in Geneva, with the exception of some publications on important projects like the Cayla campaign, or the Budé and Lignon blocks. Especially, the importance of the profitable interactions that the agency was able to establish between its two fields of activities in Geneva and Lebanon, and its significance for the development of this big agency, have not been stressed enough. The introductory part of our work situates the actuality of the problematic, in relation to the specific stakes of the protection of architectural and urban heritage in Lebanon. Still today, the heritage of the 1950-1960's is insufficiently understood in its cultural significance. It is also very much threatened. When it is not destroyed, it suffers from a camouflage that makes it totally unrecognisable. We then present the abundant documentation that we have gathered. This work on source material is necessary to counteract the superficial prejudice with which this architectural corpus is confronted. This part is then followed by a historical chapter on the agency Addor & Julliard before the opening of its Lebanese branch, as well as an overview of the Lebanese context between the beginning of the XXth century and 1960. These elements allow us to assert that the decisive factor allowing the agency to develop its foreign activity is to be found in the profile of particular competencies that it displayed by closely associating the architectural project and the real estate management. The apartment- and office-building realised in 1954 in Geneva the Zschokke enterprise, with its easily adaptable spatial organisation, played the trigger role : it encouraged the first Lebanese clients, the Beydoun family who had financial relations in Geneva, to mandate the agency for a project involving a multifunctional building in Lebanon. The Lebanese context of this period is characterised by a strong economic boom and a political stability conducive to investments. The real estate sector was in full growth and asked for innovative typologies and modern architectural images. This allowed the agency Addor & Julliard to emancipate itself from the still quite regionalist references that it was entertaining in Geneva and to direct itself resolutely towards the international tendencies. These elements of historic information are then followed by the detailed survey of the agency's Lebanese production. Several buildings were realised in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, but it is in Lebanon that the principal operations are concentrated, which explains that the survey limits itself to this country. The inventory concerns the ten buildings that have been spared from the destruction of the Lebanese War (1975-1991) and of which the archive documents have been preserved. The description of each object includes the history of the commission, the urban situation, the legal and regulatory situation, as well as the project variants when they exist. Then, the realised variant is analysed in detail by paying attention to the distributive, constructive and stylistic aspects. This survey then leads to a more interpretative reading that aims at evaluating the impact of these constructions on the urban development of Beirut. Addor & Julliard never had real town-planning mandates in Lebanon. But even though their realisations limited themselves to the architectural scale, they nevertheless contributed to the concretisation of a resolutely modern representation of the city, especially because they succeeded in treating orders of a considerable symbolic importance. The theme of "constructing at distance" is addressed via a comparative method that integrates the Lebanese, Geneva and international projects of the same period. This chapter also deals with the contribution of the buildings of Addor & Julliard to the local Lebanese construction culture on both the technical and expressive level. The demonstration is based on the curtain-wall that Addor & Julliard used twice in two very different buildings: the STARCO centre (1954-1962) and the Lebanese Bank (1962-1963). The in-depth analysis of the conception and the realisation of the curtain-wall, emblem of the "international style", allows to discover that in Beirut its use resulted much less from the importation of generic and abstract solutions than from a skilled synthesis between technical resources, which were locally available, and the aimed-at iconic effect. We thus perceive that "constructing at distance" is more complex than a simple knowledge transfer from one environment to another. The local differentiation of constructive elements of the international repertoire between 1950 and 1960, such as the curtain-wall, prompts us to question and complement the analysis of Hitchcock et Johnson on these phenomena in their famous publication "The International Style" of 1932, which seems too superficial. Our study finishes with an advocacy for the protection of the projects of Addor & Julliard in Lebanon. Without being exhaustive, this advocacy is based on the examination of the transformations touching these projects until today and establishes a series of recommendations for their protection. It is said that in Lebanon modern architecture of the years 1950 to 1960 constitutes the witness of the efforts undertaken in this period by the local actors in order to emancipate their country from a certain marginality in international relations. For this reason, the modern heritage fully belongs to the Lebanese history. The annexes especially contain the data bases, which we have constituted during the inventory of the projects and the archives, as well as some particularly important documents: The contract established between the architects and their first client represents the start of their work in Lebanon, whereas the minutes of the press conference of 21 March 1963, during which the Society of engineers and architects of Beirut criticizes the work of Addor & Julliard in Lebanon, symbolises the end of their Lebanese collaboration. Finally, an album exposes the photographs of the buildings of Addor & Julliard at the time and in their present state. ------------------------------ 3 Imm. Zschokke à Genève. In Werk, Bauen & Wohnen, 1957: pp. 367-368. 4 Lambert, S., STARCO Center, Beirut, Lebanon. UK, in Architectural Design, Mars 1963: pp. 138-140.


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