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Coming Back to Life

Jean Paul El Hachem (JPAG)

The tower of time and bitterness.

"Coming back to life is an architecture movie, a cinematic narrative loaded with emotional content and dramatic sceneries", thus Jean Paul El Hachem describes his latest short film for JPAG. "It is a modern fairy tale about architecture, including a plot twist."
JPAG is a Lebanese group "of creative minds, architects, and artists operating within the field of architecture and digital art", as they present themselves. Just like a new wave of architects from this nation, their interests revolve around the reappropriation and restoration of their architectural heritage.

The architectural animation "Coming back to life" is paradigmatic in this sense: it is the representation of an obsession for the Burj El Murr, "the tower of bitterness", a soaring monument and an old legacy of war, in the heart of Beirut. Today the 40-story monument rests unfinished, its construction interrupted since the civil war in 1978, where the office block was used as a hideout for numerous snipers - giving them more than 2 km of a panoptic view in all directions - and a host of endless bloody battles. Using the animation and digital technologies, JPAG seems to wonder: how can we rejuvenate this space, how can we invent a new future for such a historically charged space?

Burj El Murr is at the center of the scene since the very beginning of the film: at first, we observe it from the window of a gloomy apartment, filled with televisions and a disturbing buzz… that transports us inside the tower. Since the end of the war, the tower is a forgotten space and the hall has been filled with greenery, the concrete body naked or spraypainted with the names of the martyrs.

"Today, the abandoned building remains an icon situated as a reminder of the horrors and cruelty that the nation has overcome, however standing spiritlessly, hoping for someone to save the life that was never actually given to it", says JPAG. "Trees start to grow inside the empty spaces, encapsulating the concrete, eating away its lifelessness and giving the tower a heartbeat; and so it begins, one branch at a time, a new green lung amidst the chaos of the city".

Divided into five movements, the film revolves on the interiors and exteriors of the building, focusing on its inner and forgotten yet (and paradoxically) kind-of-enchanted spaces and its space in the cityscape and skyline. Such as in "LANDMARK" video, we feel a sense of suspension, as if the people have left the building without warning - JPAG depicts an old-looking computer, waiting for its owner to return. Papers are scattered on the desk, along with a newspaper announcing the rebirth of the tower. The title itself, "Coming back to life" is written in the dust on the screen. Watching closely, you may catch the shadow of a human figure, a phantom caretaker bidding goodbye to the building now that his work is done. It's a journey through time, an attempt to keep the futuristic attitude of the original architecture with the horrific memories and the historical charge that place this building in a specific space in time.

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)


Mentioned project: Burj El Murr
Project location: Beirut, Lebanon
Music and sound design: Hadi Hosri
Featured artwork by: Ayman Baalbaki, Marwan Rechmaoui, Yazan Halwani

Lebanon 2019
Duration: 4'42"