Bar Elias Participatory Spatial Intervention

This project in Bar Elias was aimed at reducing vulnerabilities and improving the wellbeing of the community. It sought to do this through spatial interventions that would be co-produced with the active participation of the local community (refugees and hosts). This process aimed to contribute to an enhanced understanding of how wellbeing can be constructed and negotiated, and how resilience may be formed, imagined and practised. The project is part of the research project: Participatory Spatial Intervention (PSI), funded by the British Academy.

The built output of this project was a series of spatial interventions implemented along a major commercial street in Bar Elias. These interventions sought to address issues around safe and inclusive mobility, child-friendly infrastructure and environmental awareness. Local participants came up with design ideas for the project which included access ramps, floor games, benches and shading structures.

The project was developed and brought to completion through an extensive participatory process which was divided into four phases:

Phase 1 saw the recruitment of local researchers (citizen scientists) following an open call disseminated amongst key local stakeholders. Seven researchers representing different genders and nationalities were selected: 3 Palestinians (1F, 2M), 2 Syrians (1F, 1M) and 2 Leabenese (1F, 1M). These researchers were trained throughout the different phases of the project on: social research; research methods; ethics and data; participatory research; design thinking and human-centred approaches; and public engagement.

Phase 2 was the DPU SummerLab workshop “Public realm and spaces of refuge”. In this workshop, local researchers worked together with local and international participants to investigate public spaces in Bar Elias. This was an important step for helping the PSI team to identify the space of intervention for their activities. The area selected was the entrance road of Bar Elias, an important public space used by both residents and visitors of Bar Elias. Free of charge and accessible to everyone, it was frequented by people from Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.

Phase 3 involved an extensive participatory planning workshop conducted in Bar Elias with local researchers and 12 local participants from different age groups and nationalities. The workshop aimed to identify issues that the spatial intervention should address. The focus of the workshop was not about producing solutions, but rather imaging what the solutions could be. A variety of research methods were used throughout the workshop: observation, participatory mapping and semi-structured interviews.

Participants concluded that safety, accessibility, leisure and safe play spaces for children, were key issues that should be addressed. The design was then developed in response to these issues. A further public design consultation was also conducted to get more feedback from the local community on the proposed ideas. This feedback was then incorporated into the final design.

In Phase 4 the final design was implemented through a community-engaged construction process. The construction team was made up of local subcontractors who we recruited with the help of local researchers. The team included a Palestinian concrete forman from a family run business, a Syrian welder who owns a shop in Bar Elias, a Lebanese carpenter who was born and continues to live in Bar Elias with his family, and a Syrian gardener whose home is in the nearby town of Ghazze. This team was assisted by 15 construction workers and 7 women, all of whom lived in Bar Elias and came from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Local community members including children also helped with implementation activities such as painting benches, floor games and a mural.

The participatory spatial intervention in Bar Elias is thus representative of the multi-national and inter-generational community that live there. By engaging Bar Elias’ residents, this process of co-production was able to create a space that accurately meets the different needs and desires of the community.

A detailed report about this project is available here: PSI-report_CA_UCL-2020.pdf (English), PSI-report_CA_UCL-2020.pdf (Arabic)

The results of this work inspired the DeCID project which aims to develop a practical toolkit for the co-design of built interventions with children affected by displacement. DeCID is led by The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (UCL) and CatalyticAction, and funded by UKRI through the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Project ID

Year: 2019
Location: Bar Elias, Lebanon
Size: 12,000 m2
Partners: Development Planning Unit and Institute for Global Prosperity at the University College of London (UCL), American University of Beirut (AUB)
Funding: The British Academy and RELIEF centre
Collaborators: Bar Elias municipality, The Chain effect, Recycle Lebanon, Noor and Amany Kawwas artists, Rawdat Al Fayhaa Secondary school Eco club, The Flying Seagull project
Volunteers: Nour Awarki, Jana Fawaz, Nour Chehabeddine, Nadim Hawa, Hanna Hawa, Serina Harb and many other residents, shopkeepers and passer-bys from Bar Elias, of different nationalities, age groups and gender


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We empower communities through design