“Your 4 o’clock is here,” says Carine, Bernard Khoury’s young assistant, calling him by his first name. I was his 4 o’clock. It was the second time I interview the single most celebrated Arab architect in the world in 13 months. Not much has changed since my initial visit. The place was still swarming with young architects, Khoury still wore black, and I was still feeling as anxious about meeting him as someone about to greet a new dentist when they have a really bad root canal.

I didn’t have to wait long. As he stepped out to see me, I realized one not so minor difference about him: there was no cigar in sight. Before I worked up the courage to ask him if he had quit smoking, I realized he had a pipe in hand. He began fixing it. That was my cue he was ready to begin.

It’s been 13 years since BO18 and yet whenever one thinks of Bernard Khoury, they think BO18. Are you bored with being asked about BO18 or that people first think of this project when your name is mentioned?
Well there is a reason for that. You have to understand the recuperation of the project and the context of which it is circulated. BO18 was built in 1998, a few years after the so-called “Reconstruction Process” (of postwar Lebanon). At that point, we had been going through an amnesia period where all visible reconstruction efforts were not addressing our recent past or the present – a deeply scarred society. This is an issue that surpasses architecture. Everything that was built in the early 90’s in the so-called postwar period wasn’t very specific to the political and cultural traditions of the time. BO18 came as a sort of shock maybe. And it provoked a great deal of interest and initially to the foreign press, which could have had a more critical outlook on things. There were questions that locally people did not want to address and maybe that’s typical of a postwar situation. So I think it’s probably that is what brought this attention.

Obviously, this was exaggerated as time went by to the point where BO18 became some sort of postwar monument, which was not its intention. For me, it was much more a project about the present. It did not try to romanticize the war but it fell under the register of a postwar project to the point where it became fetishized by the media as it got circulated. Some went overboard and it became over-sensationalized. Of course, as it circulates, it becomes in the hands of the public. Of course, there are intentions; there are certain things you can provoke as you are composing a project. But at the end of the day, it takes on a life of its own and you have to live with it… It has a great deal of aura and interest to Beirut when it comes to war.