War is over forever niemeyer
not sold in stores
MODERN RUINS IN TRIPOLI
by Michael Ladner for PIN-UP Magazine.
In 1962, two years after the official inauguration of Brasília, Oscar Niemeyer was invited by the Lebanese government to design a Permanent International Fair in Tripoli, the country’s second largest city. Conceived during a period of rapid urbanization, modernization, and substantial civil investment, the scheme was to serve as a commercial, cultural, and recreational focal point for the city’s growing population. Instead of following the usual template for world fairs — multiple freestanding pavilions each representing a different country — Niemeyer chose to return to a 19th-century model where all nationalities were housed under one roof, as exemplified by the Crystal Palace, built for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. His design comprised a crescent shaped “great pavilion” in the center of a 10,000-hectare oval park, surrounded by about a dozen reinforced concrete structures serving various purposes: museums, restaurants, gardens, a helipad, etc. After more than a decade of construction, the Permanent International Fair was approaching completion; then civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, building work ceased, and the site was abandoned for almost thirty years.
Entering the Fair today entails hopping over a wrought-iron fence; it’s unclear whether one is trespassing or not, though a gardener does give an affirmative nod with a quizzical stare. Wandering around the site is like being in a three dimensional look book of Modernist tropes. Recessed inner walls, intersecting ramps, and expansive reflecting pools dominate the landscape. Detailing, where completed, is equally typical of Modernism: the ceiling of the enclosed section of the “great pavilion” is accented with undulating strips of paper, creating an under-the-sea effect.
After taking in the buildings, a strange feeling sinks in; or rather, the abandoned space extracts feelings, leaving a void inside. Whereas Modernist ruins mark a notch in a narrative arc of history and often become monumentalized through their decay, the incompleteness and disuse of Niemeyer’s Permanent International Fair somehow set it outside of time, and therefore hard to place within experience. The impeccably manicured gardens amplify the sterility of the space, which eventually becomes irritating, like an unconsummated sexual act. Although several groups, including Patrimoine sans
Frontières, are backing an effort to make the Fair functional, its future remains as inconclusive as its past. While a wave of privatization sweeps post-war Lebanon, threatening the site with redevelopment, Niemeyer has left a distinct, concrete footprint. And nonfunctional, vacant Modernist structures can actually prove quite difficult to replace. For now only the concrete endures — unfinished, immutable.
— Michael Ladner