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Towards the restoration of the Sursock Palace

Giacinta Jean, Giulia Russo and Giovanni Nicoli are three experts in conservation and restoration of decorative surfaces. They came to the Sursock Palace to assess the extent of the restorations of the decorative surfaces.

Swiss experts from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI) travelled to Beirut at the end of September 2021.

In this interview, Professor Giacinta Jean talks about the mission, the emotions felt when entering the Palace. She also talks about academic collaborations that, with our support, could lead to a sustainable knowledge transfer and exchange.

Conservation and restoration experts

Conservation and restoration experts

MISSIONS AND OBJECTIVES

Giacinta Jean: Our aim is to contribute to the restoration of the Sursock Palace. We want to put our skills and knowledge at the service of education and research. These skills will be used for the conservation of architectural surfaces. We hope that our mission in Beirut will be able to provide concrete help to transform an emergency situation into a cultural project. Our hope is to initiate training activities for local professionals, but also to collaborate with those already involved in the recovery of this precious cultural heritage at different levels (architectural, technical, interpretative and curatorial). In September we focused on the analysis of the stucco decorations. These are an important part of the cultural significance of the Sursock Palace.

DISCOVERY OF THE SURSOCK PALACE

Giacinta Jean: When we first arrived at Sursock Palace, we felt a sense of inadequacy in the face of such profound devastation. A painful feeling of knowing that it will not be possible to recover this disastrous situation. The building was the precious chest of a whole history. On the other hand, a deep desire to help build a sustainable and meaningful future for this place.

THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE

Giacinta Jean: The explosion of August 4, 2020, caused very heavy damage. It also revealed some intrinsic weaknesses in the plaster decoration. The cause is due both to the execution techniques and to previous decay phenomena. Absence of nails or metal bars makes the decorative elements fragile and prone to detachment. The effects of the explosion were particularly severe on the second floor ceilings, as the wooden structure supporting the plaster was already weak and rotten.

In order to be able to carry out the best possible restoration of the Sursock Palace, we are considering forms of collaboration, both in terms of teaching and in a broader sense. This means thinking about the role that the memory of the past can play in shaping the future.

THE EXTENT OF THE RESTORATION

Giacinta Jean: The stucco decorations are handmade and partly composed of prefabricated elements mounted with a layer of plaster. These are the typical plaster decorations that can be found in the large houses of Beirut at the end of the 19th century. The challenge for their preservation is to create the technical and professional skills of the local populations capable of taking on this kind of work. How can this be done? In particular by balancing the issues of conservation and reintegration of missing parts.

TOWARDS COLLABORATION?

Giacinta Jean: During our stay, we were able to establish contacts with universities and professionals involved in the study, conservation and interpretation of cultural heritage. We are considering forms of collaboration both at the pedagogical level (technical and professional training).

We plan to start the project this winter with a workshop for Swiss and Lebanese students. The workshop will focus on emergency and safety measures to secure damaged architectural decorations.

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