Beirut’s public stairs youth designed interventions

In partnership with UN-Habitat Lebanon, this project seeks to rehabilitate and revive the public stairs of St Nicolas, Vendome and Laziza in the neighbourhoods of Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh in Beirut. While staircases in Beirut are used for practical purposes, they are also used as lively spaces of social interaction. They are historical landmarks that have survived the city’s vast changes, representing years of collective memory. This project aims to preserve this heritage and enhance the social activities on the stairs by fixing damages, adding furniture and improving accessibility. Through a series of participatory workshops with the stairs’ multi-generational users, the design for this project has involved direct engagement with residents of these neighbourhoods with a focus on using Block by Block with adolescents. 

We ran a co-design workshop with young people living in Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh. Meeting at the project site, participants reflected on their use of the stairs, imaging themselves in the role of architect. They considered what they currently liked about the stairs, what they disliked and how they thought the stairs could be improved. Participants visualised these ideas by drawing and annotating axonometric views of the stairs. In the second phase of the workshop, participants built on these ideas using Block By Block to project their ideas onto virtual models of the stairs. Common ideas included planting more greenery, implementing street furniture such as benches, adding lighting and trash bins. Lots of participants also created different couloured steps, street games, play items and art to the staircases. Participants presented their ideas and explained their thought processes, enabling them to reflect on their use of the stairs but also communicate the ways in which they’d change them. 

In addition to these participatory workshops with youth, we also conducted interviews with regular users and residents of the stairs. This gave us an insight into how the stairs are experienced, as well as the issues residents faced and the ideas they had for improving them. 

The designs for the stairs’ interventions have also been influenced by the different characteristics of each staircase, striving to ensure that each retains its initial character. St Nicolas, for instance, has a very important history and is marked as a heritage site so the design is being coordinated with the Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA). 

The design for all three staircases involves making them more safe and inclusive. This will be achieved by adding handrails to each of the sites, as well as creating a structure for shading in Vendome stairs. To create more spaces for socialising, we have collaborated with UNIDO who are creating wooden furniture (platforms and seats) for the staircases, implemented by local carpenters. The benches will be placed along the stair landings to allow for gatherings and cultural events and on the stairs themselves to provide more comfortable seating. 

As part of our design, we have also sought to make the staircases more playful. On the Vendome staircase for instance, we are building a slide and a stage for cultural activities. We will also add coloured tiles to create segmented floor spaces for gathering and to bring colours to the staircases.

Project ID

Year: 2021 – 2022
Location: Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh Beirut
Status: In process
Partners: UN-Habitat Lebanon
Collaborators: UNIDO
Funding: UN-Habitat


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We empower communities through design