Against all economic and political odds a Lebanese businessman has proposed to build an enormous island in the form of a Cedar tree for the coast of Lebanon. The building of the Palm Islands and The World in Dubai has provoked reactions everywhere. In the Netherlands a massive tulip was proposed, in Canada a big Maple leaf, in Russia a mini-Russia and now in Lebanon a mega cedar tree.
At a different time and at a different location, the plan probably wouldn’t have met the criticism it is now receiving. The economic crisis is putting projects on hold everywhere, whereas the recent war with Israel puts question marks behind the supposed political stability of Lebanon. The Lebanese businessman however sees his project as a great vehicle for Lebanese people all over the world to invest in their country.
Who is going to say whether it is possible or not? Or more importantly, whether or not the plan should be embraced? It could well become a symbol of hope and pride of Lebanon, a piece of architecture that would positively put the small country on the map. It could also very well turn into a big middle finger, pointed towards Israel. On the other hand though there are concerns about the destruction of the underwater landscape of the Mediterranean.
In order to discuss the applied iconography a comparison with the Palm Islands is instructive. In Dubai form and function do match. It is a holiday landscape shaped like the symbol of all sea vacations. It is exactly like the duck-restaurant shaped like a big duck that Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown showed in ‘Learning from Las Vegas’.
And the king of Dubai says the palm-figure is practical too. In order to accommodate a lot of tourists (again in order to diversify the economy) in the view of the king the city-state needed more shore. The palm figure provides exactly that: kilometers of pristine shore.
The plan for Cedar Island lacks both virtues. It doesn’t represent the vacation-image, nor does it add that much shore. What to make of this the plan then?
Although Cedar Island is almost exactly the same size as Palm Jumeirah, the first palm-island in Dubai, its contents are completely different. The Cedar Tree is a national icon in Lebanon, similar to what the Maple leaf is for Canada and what the Tulip is for Holland. The local tree is actually called the Lebanon Cedar and is depicted in the national flag of the Middle Eastern country. The response to the murder of Hariri in 2005 by the media has been dubbed the ‘Cedar revolution’.
Cedar Island isn’t a vacation island. It is more like a city, with a little bit of everything. According to the statement of the developer the island has a mixed program and a mixed density. On the renderings in the ‘center’ of the island a ‘downtown’ with a ‘central park’ is drawn, whereas little ‘suburbs’ are located in the ‘periphery’. Just like the Palm-islands in Dubai, Cedar Island takes the morphology of the tree as a diagram to differentiate the density of the island. Dense quarters echo the stem, free standing houses are an abstraction of small leaves. In the architecture of the islands the applied iconography is not two-dimensional, but three-dimensional.
What can we expect next? A ‘stars and stripes’ archipelago? An island featuring canals depicting the Union Jack, the nation flag of Great Britain? A moon and a star for Turkey? Another star for Israel? A perfectly round island for Japan…? Should a country count itself lucky when their national flag is easily translated into an island, or a couple of islands?
Read further on the website of Cedar Island.