UNESCO holds a technical workshop at the Rachid Karami Fairgrounds to support its conservation and future development

The UNESCO Office in Beirut held today a technical workshop at the Rachid Karami International Fairgrounds (RKIF) in Tripoli. The workshop aimed at advancing with the development of a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the fair, a project that UNESCO has been working on since 2019 with support from the Getty Foundation through its Keeping It Modern initiative. The meeting was held in collaboration with the RKIF administration board and with the participation of the Directorate General of Antiquities. It featured a gathering of local stakeholders and key community actors, as well as the CMP project team, which presented the outcomes of studies recently conducted by UNESCO, to understand the local circumstances that led to the initiation of the RKIF project, its initial conception as well as the present challenges of preserving and developing it. During the workshop, UNESCO revealed the results of the public survey that it had launched in October 2020, and which aimed at assessing the public’s heritage perception towards this modern concrete complex and understanding how they envision its use in the future. It shed light as well on the condition assessment that UNESCO has recently performed on the Grand Arch of the site. The workshop was also an opportunity to discuss the future conservation policies and future development of the fair prior to the finalization of the plan by UNESCO.

The results of these studies and workshop discussions shall enable the agency to develop the guiding principles and tools that will inform the Conservation Management Plan, at a time where a common vision for the fair is actively needed, with its recent emergency nomination to the World Heritage List. The CMP document will highlight the RKIF’s context and its cultural significance and the diverse values it mediates. It will also address the vulnerabilities of its physical fabric, and outline appropriate conservation policies to preserve what is significant about the RKIF. More importantly, it will ensure that any intervention carried out will accord with the framework of international conservation policies adopted by UNESCO.

Speaking during the workshop, Joseph Kreidi, National Programme Officer for Culture at UNESCO, affirmed that “through this project, UNESCO is working to encourage local actors to preserve the RKIF, and link it with the goals of sustainable urban development for the city of Tripoli and Lebanon”. “The Conservation Management Plan, which we aim to produce later this year, is a document that defines the distinctive characteristics of the fair, and establishes the appropriate policies to preserve it, manage it and value it, he added. It will constitute a starting point to bring attention to the importance of this edifice, and thus a catalyst for attracting further national, regional and international funding.”

“Getty is proud to be supporting this work as one of 77 projects worldwide that are generating important research and planning for twentieth century heritage,” said Antoine Wilmering, Senior Program Officer from the Getty Foundation. “I commend UNESCO and its partners for engaging the local community in this process and for embracing sustainability as they consider how to best preserve Neimeyer’s brilliant design for the future.”

The Rachid Karami International Fair 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, with over 20 structures, including exhibition spaces, pavilions, theaters, museums, and residences. It was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List in 2018 and an emergency nomination file was submitted by the State Party to UNESCO’s World Heritage Center in April 2022.