‘Mauj’ is a public space intervention project located in the city of El Mina in Tripoli, North Lebanon. It is done in collaboration with the RELIEF centre and funded with the support of Otto per Mille of the Waldensian Church of Italy.
El Mina has a lot of potential for enhancing public space especially along its corniche, which is one of the few public spaces in the city that is accessible at any time and often used by diverse groups and communities. This project seeks to build on this potential by working with citizen scientists from the area to reflect on how residents’ experience of public spaces in El Mina can be improved. Through a participatory approach, this project focused on an area in the corniche that is near some of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods of El Mina: the social housing in Al-Masaken, and the informal settlement of Hay Al Tanak.
Phase 1: Understanding the site of intervention
This project is underpinned by a participatory approach which engages seven citizen scientists in the research, design and monitoring phases. Each of these citizen scientists has either a civil engineering or architectural background, enabling them to fully contribute to the research and design of the space. Starting with research, citizen scientists were trained to use various methodologies to carry out space use observations of the site. Their aim was to get a better understanding of how the site is used. This included counting the number of people using the space, as well as mapping the activities taking place during weekdays and weekends, and at different times of the day. They researched the different modes of transport people used to travel to the corniche. They also interviewed users to understand their needs and their perception of the corniche. These findings were analysed and helped citizen scientists understand better the site of intervention, what it was lacking and what aspects could be changed or improved. Through this reflection process, this project also seeks to contribute to the broader discussion of how residents and regular users of public space can participate in the design and co-production of infrastructure that addresses their vulnerabilities.
Phase 2: Translating ideas into design
After conducting an analysis of the research findings, the next part of the project saw citizen scientists come up with design ideas and develop the design brief of this spatial intervention. Citizen scientists reflected on the design strategy to scatter the spatial intervention along the corniche and preserve the multiple qualities the space offers. They observed a lack of seating along this section of the Corniche, with users of the space having to bring their own chairs and tables. They noted that this prevented community interaction, as users stayed close to their own private set ups. Other important aspects citizen scientists thought could be improved were creating an infrastructure that is more suitable for children and wheelchair users, a place that is safe and accessible for all. The design ideas they suggested were all rooted in addressing these findings.
Phase 3: Design consultations and final design
Building on the design brief prepared by the citizen scientists, we developed the preliminary design of the intervention that was presented in a series of design consultations with citizen scientists and the municipality, as well as a public design consultation on the site of intervention. During these design consultations, the proposed design was represented digitally with 3D views and satellite images, explaining the key findings about the site and the process behind the project. The feedback collected during these consultations was then incorporated into the final design.
The final design consists of three different stations spread across the corniche to enhance existing uses of the space, creating a leisure infrastructure for all, a child friendly space, a safe and accessible space to all. The three stations are scattered along the corniche to preserve the public space quality that is free and accessible to all. Reflecting the name of the project Mauj (waves in Arabic), the design for these spaces is influenced by the sea. Each station is bordered by a long, multi-level bench which can be used to sit on and play along, meeting the needs of both caregivers and their children. The bench is made out of concrete which has been dyed in shades of blue to enhance the feeling of proximity to the sea. The floor of these spaces is intersected with blue cement flooring, representing water. Amongst the water there are a number of different ‘rocks’ on which children can play. On these rocks there are different play opportunities for children built around the idea that children can climb up the rocks and then jump off into the ‘water’. This is enabled through steel components that create ladders to climb and poles to slide down. One of the stations also has speaking pipes that have the look of periscopes ‘appearing’ from the water. Children can use these to communicate with one another. To increase accessibility, access ramps were added in front of each station. Fish silhouettes were painted on the sidewalk connecting the three stations in a fun promenade and encouraging the use of these spaces. A windmill attracts passersby from a far distance, inviting them to come and enjoy the space and the beautiful sea view.
Phase 4: Construction, activation and monitoring
Using local material and hiring local skilled labourers boosts the local economy, develops local skills and increases the feeling of ownership and positive impact of the intervention. With the help of citizen scientists, we were able to identify local skilled labourers and local material, which allowed the community to be actively engaged in the construction. Citizen scientists were also involved in the construction phase, supporting the site supervision and conducting construction phase observations that allowed us to monitor the interaction of users of the corniche with the site of the intervention, explain the intervention to people passing by and ask them for their feedback. We also worked with the citizen scientists to plan a series of community activities to activate the space, this includes clean ups and co-design activities such as painting and building. The aim of these activities is to promote the sense of ownership, and devise ways in which the community can lead in maintaining the quality of the rehabilitated public space. These activities started following the inauguration of Mauj which took place on April 9, 2022. The citizen scientists also did a post-implementation monitoring phase which allowed us to assess the impact of the intervention in more detail and explore future interventions with the citizen scientists.