PAPER: "Hotels that Hail: Commercialized Hospitality, Infrastructures, and an Industry." Sorbonne, Paris

Presentation: Hotels that Hail: Commercialized Hospitality, Infrastructures, and an Industry. Conference: “ARCHITECTURE ET TOURISME. FICTIONS, SIMULACRES, VIRTUALITES.” Sorbonne. Paris, France. July 2017. 

Hotels that Hail: Commercialized Hospitality, Infrastructures, and an Industry is structured around the establishment of the Hotel District near downtown Beirut. This area was marked by a hopscotching of spaces of luxury, financial investments, and hopes put into hotels and the spaces that were housed in/around these structures from the turn of the century until the Lebanese Civil War. The analysis centers on three hotels: The Holiday Inn, The Phoenicia Hotel and The Saint George Hotel. These three structures, like stepping stones of greater height, offerings of pleasures, and circulations of bodies, index periods in the development Beirut: French Mandate (1923), after Lebanese Independence (1946), and the start of the Lebanese Civil War (1975). This paper explores aspects of each hotel (form/structure), each a stone’s throw away in distance, but decades apart in time. I argue that these hotels were where hopes and expectations were housed in real concrete infrastructures and supported through the vicarious beams built through tourism. Beirut became a city marked by huge movements of people, goods, and ideas during this Golden Age of tourism, yet hotels were never just tourist spaces, or simply about hospitality, but were social institutions. These hotels were forms that had a certain “mode of address that hails and constitutes subjects by virtue of that form” (Larkin 2015). As such, this paper explores how these three hotels have blurred public/ private spaces, created new visibilities through conspicuous consumption, and the manner in which tangible infrastructure was connected to building an affective and financial infrastructure for bringing bodies together. These hotels hint at an important process of capitalization, realized in commercialized hospitality, that foreshadowed future conflict. The methods of this paper consider eras of hospitality to explore three dimensions: the frame of a specific geopolitical moment, the form of the built structure, and the figure in the individuals who were present and indexed. 
(This paper is a revised version of "Meteorology of Affect: Tourism, Hospitality, and Infrastructures of Pleasure in Lebanon" presented at NYU in 2015).

Sorbonne, Paris - July the 4th to 7th, 2017

Organizing institutions:
University of California in Berkeley
University of Geneva
University Paris 1-Panthéon-Sorbonne (EIREST)

The aim of this conference is to question and rethink the built environments constructed for and by tourism. Such environments are commonly rooted in cultural imaginaries that become spatialized as simulacra for the purpose of attracting tourists. Simulacra may mean the reinterpretation of a medieval village as a shopping mall or the wholesale recreation of Venice in Las Vegas, or it may stem from virtual realities that have been populated by folkloric traditions, contemporary popular culture or science fiction such as Disneyland, Star Wars, or East Asian “anime pilgrimages” destinations (Contents Tourism).

We question the ways in which fictions, simulacra, and virtualities express tourism in the built environment and vice versa. What is the relationship between the “real” and the “fake,” especially within the so-called tourist bubble? How are these tourist worlds performed, and what is at stake in these performances? Who benefits from the creation of these touristic worlds? How might tourism environments influence the daily practice of architecture?

Since its beginnings in the Industrial Revolution and a concurrent new stage in Western European imperialism, an era that heralded the rapid urbanization of Western Europe, the phenomenon of mass tourism inspired built environments that have a constitutive, and sometimes problematic, relationship with the “real” world and its architectural references. On the one hand, such environments re-interpret architectural and urban archetypes such as the ancient palace, the Renaissance villa, the Cairene street, or the Mediterranean village. On the other hand, they spatialize perceptions of utopia: among them, pristine environments, Shangri-La, El Dorado, Eden, and Paradise. In most cases these two situations occur simultaneously, creating idealised places inspired by dreamed or utopian ideas.

Tourists are not only the “consumers” of these idealised worlds; they co-produce and they constantly re-interpret them through their imaginaries and their practices. Globally ubiquitous practices of tourism are similarly inspired to build their simulacra based on their imaginaries of both the “traditional Western world” (Shenzen, Windows on the World) and their virtual worlds (Hindu Temple theme parks). If these tourism worlds have been inspired by actually existing places as well as imagined worlds, then they have also inspired, in their turn, the places in which we live, work, learn, shop, study or practice our leisure activities.