Saving the Soul of Beirut: The Path to Recovery

A Heritage Now Event

This event is part of the Heritage Now series and took place virtually on Thursday, October 15, 2020, at 12 PM (EST). See below for more information on the discussion, including the event description and speaker information. 

Event Description 

The explosion that tore through Beirut on August 4 impacted an estimated 8,000 buildings, according to UNESCO, including 640 historic structures, 60 of which are at risk of collapse. On October 15, 2020 WMF President and CEO Bénédicte de Montlaur hosted an online discussion on Beirut’s unique history and heritage, and explored future models for protection and revitalization.

Featuring Dr. George Arbid, architect and founding member and director of the Arab Center for Architecture in Beirut; Mona El Hallak, architect, heritage preservation activist and the director of the Neighborhood Initiative at the American University of Beirut (AUB); and Nadine Labaki, award-winning director, actress, and activist.

Date: October 15, 2020
Time: 12pm (EDT) / 7pm (EEST)

Presented in partnership with the Consulate General of Lebanon in New York. Cover photo courtesy of George Azar.

About the Speakers

Dr. George Arbid, architect and founding member and Director of the Arab Center for Architecture in Beirut

Dr. George Arbid is an architect with successive teaching positions at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts, the American University of Beirut, and the Lebanese University. He received a Diplôme d’Etudes Supérieures en Architecture from ALBA and a Doctor of Design degree from Harvard University. Prior to his stay at Harvard, he was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the History, Theory and Criticism Program at MIT. His area of interest covers mostly modern architecture in Lebanon and the region.

Dr. Arbid is the co-founder and director of the Arab Center for Architecture, an NGO dedicated for the preservation of modern architecture and its archives. He is a member of the heritage committee at the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, and has served on several competitions and award juries, including the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture - Mies van der Rohe Award 2019.


Mona El Hallak, architect, heritage preservation activist, and Director of the Neighborhood Initiative at the American University of Beirut (AUB)

Mona El Hallak is a Beirut-based architect and heritage preservation activist, and a graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Syracuse University – Florence Program. In January 2017, she was appointed Director of the AUB Neighbourhood Initiative, whose aim is to promote the neighbourhood of Ras Beirut’s livability, vitality, and diversity, as well as to promote critical citizenship among the AUB community. She led several heritage preservation campaigns and succeeded in the preservation of the Barakat Building—now Beit Beirut, a museum of memory and a cultural and urban centre where El Hallak serves as a member of their Scientific Committee.

El Hallak is an active member of APSAD (Association pour la Protection des Sites et Anciens Demeures au Liban) and ICOMOS,  a founding member of the Arab world’s musical preservation organization IRAB; and of ZAKIRA, which promotes photography and its role in documenting and preserving memory. She is engaged with the Civil Campaign to protect the Dalieh of Raouche, a natural landscape heritage site threatened by real estate development, in an effort to keep it accessible to all as open, shared public spaces. In 2013, she was given the Ordre National du Mérite au grade de Chevalier from the President of the French Republic, in recognition of her work and achievements in preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of Beirut.\


Nadine Labaki, award-winning director, actress, and activist

Nadine Labaki is a Lebanese actress, director and activist known for Capernaum (2018), Where Do We Go Now? (2011) and Caramel (2007). Labaki co-wrote, directed, and starred in her first feature film Caramel, which premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and became the most successful Lebanese Film export of all time.

Nadine Labaki is known for illustrating everyday aspects of Lebanese life and covering a wide range of political issues including war, poverty, feminism, and religion. She is the first female Arab director to be nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. 


Bénédicte de Montlaur, President and CEO of World Monuments Fund

Bénédicte de Montlaur is President and Chief Executive Officer of World Monuments Fund (WMF), the world’s foremost private organization dedicated to saving extraordinary places while empowering the communities around them. She is responsible for defining WMF’s strategic vision, currently implementing that vision in more than 30 countries around the world and leading a team that spans the globe. Her background mixes culture and the arts, politics, international diplomacy and human rights. Prior to joining WMF, Montlaur spent two decades working across three continents as a senior diplomat at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

About Heritage Now

A series of conversations at the nexus of history, culture and current global issues with top thought leaders, activists, artists, journalists, and politicians, Heritage Now explores why monuments and other cultural heritage sites are such a vital part of our local and global ecosystems; the history and relevance of these sites in our contemporary context; the urgent threats to their preservation; and what we can do—individually and collectively—to protect these irreplaceable treasures.