Batoul Faour, a student in the Daniels Faculty's post-professional architecture program, has been named the first-prize winner in the 2021 Avery Review Essay Prize competition. Her winning essay is a distillation of her Daniels Faculty thesis project, which critically examines the role of architectural glass in exacerbating the damage from last year's catastrophic port explosion in Beirut.
The essay, which won Batoul a $4,000 prize and top billing in the Avery Review's April issue, describes the way shattered window glass piled up in Beirut's streets after the blast. It traces the historical and contemporary uses of glass in Lebanon to reveal the politics behind the fragile material.
Desired for its transparency in a country that has none to offer its people, glass in Beirut is a valuable form of absence: it provides unobstructed views of the city beyond. Windows permit one to see without having to smell, hear, or touch the power structures at play beyond the transparent panels. As political and economic corruption flourishes and the outside world grows exponentially more inhospitable, glass proliferates across the city. Glass, in all its many iterations, was the last line of defense for a people attempting to make a life within and around the failures of the Lebanese state.
A material designed to uplift quality of life through light and views, glass has instead become a weapon wielded by a corrupt state. On August 4, it splintered and stabbed for miles across Beirut’s homes and streets — disfiguring, blinding, and murdering. Some victims, left with dozens of stitches, described how the glass hit them like “shooting guns.” Shattered and splintered glass was blamed for causing an overwhelming number of the recorded injuries and deaths.
The Avery Review is a monthly architecture journal published by the Office of Publications at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture. The April issue is readable online.
Top image: A pile of broken glass in Beirut, after the blast. Photograph by Batoul Faour.