If you’ve ever taken a stroll down the streets of beirut, you might have noticed some bizarre Legos in the Building cracks or pavements. If you also wondered who put them there, then join the club! It wasn’t until we found a little heart painted on the wall with the name Dispatch Beirut did we realize how one organization could create an inspiring public art movement that is incredibly devoted to rebuilding Beirut one brick at a time. Luckily, we managed to track them down and uncover the reason behind all their colorful installations.
Meet Pamela Haydamous, one of the two founders of Dispatch Beirut, who agreed to meet with us to give you all a little insight on what this initiative is all about, “In Beirut, we have a lot of war memories that could be filled with really nice colors and it would become a statement instead of just fixing walls with Legos.” That was what really stood out to us, it wasn’t just the vibrant colors of the bricks or that they were placed in very odd places but that they took the time to create something for their own city, “It makes it more human and familiar for the citizens because you get to know the nooks and crannies of your home and feel more connected with it.”
Pamela volunteered to take us around the city and highlight on some of their installations that remained intact after all these years since most were either stolen or hammered down. This raised our eyebrows and we began wondering why they would continue to put up the bricks even though they would disappear sooner or later. “The Lego bricks would always get stolen. That’s part of the process and we accepted it because knowing that we created something that someone wanted to steal is kind of rewarding. We also started to think that it might be a father who wanted to take them for his children to play with, or a child who took them home for their little sibling,” Pamela explained as she guided us down the street. “Every time we create an installation we would spray paint our name there. So even if they were stolen, the logo would still be there and it would act as a relic to our past work.”
Our first stop on the Dispatch tour was Minus 1 in Ashrafieh (hats off to them for taking the time to open up so we could have a look around!). As soon as we stepped up to the entrance, we spotted a bench they had constructed and decorated with Legos.
“It was done for an event in Station, Mar Mikhael called Waiting for the Train. We worked to really revive the train station and bring the artists together to say something about it or create their own installation. So, we got palettes where every group built a bench and added their own little touch to them.” You can find more benches around the city but some are calmly residing in a few offices, but their work remains alive in the gallery for anyone to pop by and check out.
Exiting Minus 1, we wanted to dig a little deeper at how it all started. So as we made our way to the next location, Pamela began to tell us the entire story. “I was inspired by a man, Jan Vormann, who did dispatch work around the world and contacted him to show him how these installations could be made here in Beirut. I was quite hurt by how people were living under a status quo and not really saying anything about their city, so I decided to do just that. It started with just Lea Tasso and I where we grabbed a bucket of Legos and started with a wall in Hamra. It just happened, we never thought it would become what it is today. Some people on the street were enthusiastic about the idea and would later contact us for more projects. Someone even built a heart out of Lego because they found a hole in that shape. That’s how the logo of Dispatch Beirut came, we never thought of sitting down and coming up with an identity.”
This was when we spotted a blue and purple house in the distance. We made it to Geitawi and stood in front of a project that is now known as “Little Wonderland”. “We collaborated with Paint Up for this, repainted the façade, repaired the water fountain, and reconstructed the side walk with permanent Legos. It was our effort in bringing a small piece of Beirut back to life. The house was condemned for demolition since everyone used it as a garbage dump so the owner of the house came to us and asked us to save it. We didn’t give it a second though, it’s not everyday someone comes and asks us to paint their house blue and purple.”
When we spotted the pavement that looked like it had been there for ages or the fountain that they rebuilt and painted, we wondered whether they were planning to do similar projects elsewhere. “We thought of the whole as a small prototype. We want to take this house and replicate it around the city. Now it is a destination for locals and tourists to check out. Even after three years, we still get tagged on Instagram by people who have taken a picture of the house.”
Even if the team is not directly in front of the installations, their work continues to live up to the name of Dispatch Beirut. Though, we noticed that they haven’t been as active as they were in the previous years, but Pamela assured us that there are some projects in the works, “We are planning many things but they all get stuck in funding or permits. Because what we plan on doing is so much bigger than simply putting few pieces of Legos in a wall. What we really did for Beirut was reclaiming the city in our own way, so we thought about the refugees and how there are camps in Chatila or Bourj Al Barajne with many who live there without really feeling like they own it. So we would involve the refugees and they would help create installations where they could reclaim the area and make them feel more at ease.”
We came to a stop and realized the tour had concluded, but the questions in our head were bursting to come out. We managed to get one statement from Pamela to wrap up our experience with her final words, “I love Dispatch – It is something I want to cling on to. What we really do is symbolize the toy bricks into concrete ones and reclaim Beirut because the streets have a lot to say. This way we can rebuild it brick by brick.”