The High Cost of Living in Beirut

A strike was set today in Beirut to protest the increasingly high cost of living. The inflation which took place since 2005 and rocketed after 2007 moved the then middle class to low-income status. The economical miracle that held Lebanon steady during the global crisis of 2009 anchored this inflation, as expats and gulf money poured in local real estate and banks. Buying a house today is something that needs considerable savings, now that Beirut is ranked the 10th  most expensive city in the world in real-estate (see herehere and here).
However, the GDP did not increase with the price rise, and economists are puzzled how low income people can manage to live.
To make things worse, civil unrest in Syria has started to shake the economy, which has been declining since the beginning of 2011.

Having lived in Boston and Beirut, i could say that Boston is as expensive as Beirut* ( Boston is one of the most expensive cities in the US), except that the GDP per capita in Lebanon is $10,300 versus $46000 in the US. (see indexmundi
As a way of assessing the impact of both cities on my lifestyle & living costs, i made a very basic comparative study** of Beirut and Boston based on my daily expenses: food, commute, rent and bills.
As a disclaimer, my living conditions have changed: I shop now for two in Beirut instead of one in Boston. I also switched from biking/walking to work (20 mn commuting trip) to car (2 hours trip).  But in a way, this also account to the impact of both cities' of dictating a certain lifestyle and the cost that comes with it.

Beirut: 60$ weekly groceries at TSC -Beirut
Boston: 40$ groceries at Trader Joe's in Boston.
(I get organic food and better quality at Trader Joe's for the same price).

Beirut: some 240$/month fuel for my Jounieh Hamra commute.
Boston: 40$/ month T-pass in Boston + 40$/couple of late-night cabs +my bike

Beirut:  free accommodation ( Thank God for parents!)
Boston: 500$ for a room.
(Rent starts from 500$/month in the same apt-building i live in. the more it gets closer to Beirut, the higher. In closer suburbs like Bsalim, Antelias, Dekwaneh and Sin El Fil, average prices range between 1200$ and 1500$ a month)

Beirut: 60-70$ Mobile ( without internet), 20$ landline, 30$ electricity, 140$ moteur, 40$ for the worst internet connection in the world, 30$ for drinking water.
Boston: 40$ Mobile, 40$ internet connection, 75$ electricity ( 125$ in winter), free drinking water.

Beirut: 730$ excluding rent
Boston: 775$ incl rent.

* This link says that Beirut is cheaper 37% than Boston. This other link says Lebanon is more expensive than all Arab countries.
**I have not expanded in this comparison the costs of entertainment & shopping (really subjective), education (exhorbitant in Lebanon in relation to GDP), health care, and the cost/impact of indirect factors on physical and mental health (quality of living, air and water quality, sustainable mobility, availability of public green space, ect...).
**Looking at the World Food Price Index, one could trace parallels between the increase of food prices and the major political and social revolutions that rocked the Arab region this spring, as brilliantly highlighted in this article.

Architectures of Surveillance

It's been a while since my last post, but was caught up in different things last week.
I cannot leave Beatriz Colomina's visit to Beirut uncommented, notably her work on the relationship between architecture and media, medical metaphors in architecture, and surveillance . 
Her lecture at LAUBlurred Vision: Architectures of Surveillance from Mies to SANAA follows the evolution of windows and glass since Mies and Corbu and their usage as tools of control. The lecture also draws a comparison between the glass house of a very charismatic Philip Johnson and Sanaa's glass pavilion, deconstructing the role of glass in each.
Of course, one cannot think surveillance and control without thinking of Jeremy Bentam's Panopticon as curated by Foucault.
An upcoming post will be exclusively dedicated to a historical apercu of notions of control and surveillance in architecture and urbanism.


Lebbeus on Rem

Another Rem reflects on the early unbuilt work of Koolhaas, Parc de la Villette, and the influence of his paper work (unbuilt, SMLXL) on design culture;
"This project reminds us that there was once a Rem Koolhaas quite different from the corporate starchitect we see today. His work in the 70s and early 80s was radical and innovative, but did not get built. Often he didn’t seem to care—it was the ideas that mattered."


Wigley on Utzon and the myth of the Global Architect

Last night, Mark Wigley gave a lecture at AUB, Utzon's Wings: The Mythology of the Global Architect. The lecture deconstructs Utzon's narrative for the Sydney Opera House, touch basing on ongoing issues: global practices, globalization and the Bilbao effect, Branding cities, authorship of ideas in architecture...
Utzon never been to the site prior to the competition, used imaginary travel experiences to support his argument for the project's surelevated platform, and did the "concept sketch" two years after the winning of the competition. He later confirmed his theory for the site when he actually made the claimed travels. The concept used for Sydney was re-used later in Stockholm, which contradicts his assertion that the concept is unique to the site. 
To me, the lecture was a parody of the Individualism of the Architect, the myth of control but also a critique to critical regionalism and cultural relevance as defined by Kenneth Frampton, which uses Utzon's Basgard Church as one of the examples to demonstrate his six points of resistance.

Notable quotes:
-Cities are paying global/foreign architects to "fall in love" with them, tell them who they are, and what their future should be. 
-global architects = cities' shrinks.
-cities wear global objects to become the new version of themselves.
-city: i'm not sure this new building is quite me. 
 global architect/brander: no, it looks perfect, this is the new you.
-architects are a specie of their own, there is a difference between architects and the rest of human beings.
-every architect is a foreigner, a tourist which see invisible clues in his environment, makes them visible through representation. Architects make projects for sites, but most importantly make theories for such sites.
- the paradox is how to allow the local become a more energized version of itself, like a cup of coffee to a human.
- The Sydney Opera House is Australia's cup of coffee.
- In Utzon's words, the Sydney Opera House emphasizes the character of the site, yet in the same time is a clear contrast to its environment.
- Utzon's travels were not discoveries but confirmations of thoughts already in his mind.
- everytime he moved his hand up, the treasury went down.

What is your Water Footprint?