Halfway across the world I find myself thinking about my AHBE Lab colleagues, wishing they were here in Tripoli, Lebanon at the International Fair of Tripoli – a phantom landscape that never realized its intended purpose due to an outbreak of civil war that began in 1975 just at the precipice of the project’s completion.
Designed in 1965 by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the International Fair of Tripoli is the sort of public utopian modernist project we never see today, an expanse of visionary landscape intended to unite people shoulder-to-shoulder under a unifying experience intended for global audience at a massive scale. The landscape of Niemeyer is grandiose, yet immediately inclusive – firmly, yet invisibly guiding visitors through carefully articulated arteries of walkways interconnecting 15 pavilions, halls, auditoriums, and other structures at a massive scale. The invisible hand of the designer still haunts these abandon walkways.
Perhaps the closest one could imagine as the modern day equivalent of Niemeyer’s International Fair of Tripoli are the commercial campuses of Apple’s or Google’s respective headquarters, each incorporating a similar architectural vocabulary of communal spaces and pavilions, but each restrictive and redefined by their privatized intent – a pale equivalent to an era of design that embraced an internationalist, humanistic egalitarianism rather than one manufactured and guarded by capitalistic mechanisms. For that, we are all a little less well off.
This is architecture at both its most political and apolitical state, somehow both defining and erasing the lines of where and how humans of different backgrounds interact and engage with one another. Ironically, it was the last gasp of optimism before the dire pessimism of conflict swallowed the region whole, leaving the grounds abandoned for years, now to slowly fall into a state of beautiful decay (but become a playground to skaters as the sun falls, a small consolation) – a crumbling concrete reminder our best intents occasionally succumb to the worst of social forces outside a designer’s control.