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In A Bullet-Riddled Mansion, A Beirut Architect Envisions A Museum Of Memory

Beirut is peaceful now, but political divisions still run deep — and people are still hesitant to look back on the civil war years of the 1970s and 1980s.
A group of students visits the Beirut mansion that architect Mona El Hallak is working to transform into a museum making sense of Lebanon's civil war. Source: Alice Fordham

In the heart of Beirut, architect Mona El Hallak herds a group of students together outside a monumental mansion — a vast, elegant building whose yellow walls and graceful pillars are ravaged by thousands of bullet holes.

"We are," she shouts over the cacophonous traffic, "at the intersection of Damascus Road and Independence Avenue."

Once upon a time, nearly a century ago, this spot lay not at the center of today's energetic if dysfunctional city, but on the breezy outskirts of a much smaller Beirut — just the place where a wealthy family with exquisite taste might commission a fabulous home.

So a building that would eventually become symbolic of all Beirut's elegance, wealth and violence was begun in 1924, says Hallak as she points to a chipped inscription over the

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