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Peace inspires Gustafson Porter Beirut scheme

A new landscaped garden by Gustafson Porter, dedicated to forgiveness, is key to the reconstruction of the war-ravaged city of Beirut.

Sited among mosques and churches of different denominations, the garden will offer a neutral space, free from the religious, social and political divisions that have torn the city apart.

The 1.5ha site in the city's central district straddles a number of major archaeological sites containing a mass of tangled ruins spanning the Roman, Hellenistic, Byzantine, Medieval and Ottoman periods.

The design for the Garden of Forgiveness, or Hadiqat as-Samah, integrates the various ruins, which become a visible symbol of the city's cultural pluralism and rich shared history.

Project architect Max Norman said the ruins offer a vision of how different historical communities mixed with one another - an important lesson in a city where factions have become polarised.

'Our task has been to bring out the stories of each archaeological area and to show where the different layers meet and how the historical periods entangle, ' Norman said. 'It's been more challenging because we've had to negotiate with the archaeologists.

But with their support, we've managed to bring lushness and greeness into the sites.'

The primary purpose of the garden is to create opportunities for solitude and reflection - rather than opportunities for activity as in most urban parks - with planting providing shade and space for quiet contemplation, and water features and fountains to cool the atmosphere. In addition, there will be some areas for outdoor children's workshops and for readings and performances on a small scale.

The wider context, Beirut's central district is the main focus of reconstruction activity in the city, being overseen by development company Solidere.The garden project, won by Gustafson Porter through an international competition in 2000, sets a new precedent for Beirut as the first significant piece of public space to be created in recent times.

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