The Rachid Karami International Fair (RKIF) was designed by renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, in 1962, as a permanent fairground and exhibition center in Tripoli. However, the outbreak of the civil war and its aftermath hindered the fairground’s completion and its later development. Although it remains unfinished, the RKIF is considered one of the most iconic architectural projects of the modern period in Lebanon. It incorporates over 15 structures, including exhibition spaces, pavilions, theaters, museums, and residences. The functional variation of the structures is matched by a distinction in their architectural forms: while they belong to a coherent whole, each structure has a unique architectural identity. The RKIF was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List in 2018.
The Fairground’s structures are vulnerable to decay, and repairs are currently needed to ensure the survival of this modern legacy. However, prior to undertaking physical repairs, restoration, or development initiatives, a consensus on a general conservation policy is essential. Similar policies are usually compiled within a planning document known as a Conservation Management Plan (CMP). Such a plan acts as a guiding tool for property owners and managers to have informed decisions related to the future conservation and development of the Fairground.
With the support of the Getty Foundation’s “Keeping It Modern” initiative (2018), UNESCO Beirut Office is collaborating with a team of local and international experts to conduct the research and studies necessary for developing a CMP for the Fairground. This document will study the RKIF’s context and highlight its cultural significance and the diverse values it mediates. It will also discuss the vulnerabilities of its physical fabric, and outline appropriate conservation policies to preserve what is significant about the RKIF in future restoration or reuse plans.
Before formulating a future vision, it is necessary to study the historical background of the Fairground, its current general condition, and the structure of its governance. The development of the RKIF_CMP will be based on data collected through archival research and oral histories, field evaluation of the RKIF's material fabric, the interests of local stakeholders, and Tripoli’s needs as an urban entity. This data will enable the development of guiding principles and conservation policies which fit the local context and encourage the development of Niemeyer’s ‘Rachid Karami International Fair’ without jeopardizing either its integrity or authenticity.
The RKIF_CMP project adopts a participatory approach that invites the Fair’s administration and other major stakeholders to be involved in the preservation of the valuable structures and landscape Niemeyer designed.
The RKIF_CMP project aims to prepare the appropriate Conservation Management Plan for the site. The set Plan ensures that no blunders are made in the future with regard to structural repairs and development, and that any intervention carried out will accord with the framework of international conservation policies adopted by UNESCO, while also responding to local needs.
The CMP’s aims are:
- Understanding the diverse values of the Fairground.
- Addressing current technical issues, impacts, vulnerabilities, constraints and opportunities.
- Developing guiding policies for preserving what is significant about the Fairground.
- Identifying possible adaptive reuse strategies towards the compatible development of the Fairground.
Largely comprised of research-based study, the first phase of this project involves gathering information through archival research, oral histories and field investigation. This field research closely assesses the current condition of fabric, construction techniques and materials used. The research further highlights the Fair's character-defining qualities, the structure of its management (both legal and administrative), as well as the potential stakeholders involved.
The analysis of collected data will deepen the understanding of the RKIF’s context and support an elaboration on the myriad values that need to be protected or preserved, including aesthetic, architectural, technical, social, urban, economic and cultural values. Ultimately, the UNESCO team will draft the conservation policies that best protect the authenticity and character of the site and respond to the local context.
The CMP document will have an appreciably positive impact, by:
- Assisting the decision makers to take informed decisions towards better management of imminent change.
- Contributing to the proper restoration and development of the fair
- Contributing to the efforts of the State Party towards the inscription of the RKIF on the World Heritage List.
The RKIF_CMP project is a pilot project in Lebanon, through which UNESCO aims to set the standards and provide guidelines suitable for the local context, in order to encourage for similar practices to be adopted in the future, for all types of heritage buildings.
Areas of intervention
The Conservation Management Plan is a document that provides guidance for better conservation and management of the RKIF as a modern cultural heritage site.
The project encourages national stakeholders to consider how to link the RKIF’s function with the sustainable urban development goals of the City of Tripoli while safeguarding the Fair’s cultural significance.
Contributing to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in urban contexts, the CMP sets a course of action for future development policies and strategies of the city and the site itself. In particular, the project shall contribute to goal 11 of the SDG, specifically targeting 11.4: “Strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural heritage”.