Death of the architect Jean-Marc Bonfils in Lebanon: “He brought a lot to Beirut”

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Ex-right-hand man of Jean Nouvel, the Franco-Lebanese architect Hala Wardé, who notably piloted the Louvre Abu Dhabi project with the star of his discipline, was very close to the Frenchman Jean-Marc Bonfils, who died during the gigantic explosions that shook the city of Beirut on Tuesday, August 4.

Very affected by his death, she looks back on the journey of an architect and an “exceptional” man.

You lose a friend …

HALA WARDÉ. Jean-Marc is a great friend, I am overwhelmed by his death. We did our architecture studies at the same time in Paris, before following our respective professional paths. We were very accomplices during our studies, we have a thousand memories of “carts”, those strong moments working on a project, spent together during these years …

What man was he?

She was a beautiful person. Humanist, generous, Jean-Marc Bonfils was an exceptional being, with a great culture. He was still smiling. Exciting, passionate, he was a workhorse and a jack of all trades. He was both a musician, he played the violin, a visual artist, a lover of words and colors, he knew how to express his architectural identity beyond that of his father, himself an architect. He died buried in his own architecture. Destroyed with it by a fierce blast as he gazed out at the sea. He died in a place he had personally designed and built, superbly thought out and written in all its details. A place which resembles it and which belongs, as the poet Paul Valéry says, to the rare buildings which sing in the city.

Why had he opened an agency in Lebanon?

He quickly chose to return to Beirut to participate in the reconstruction of the city, destroyed after fifteen years of war. (Editor’s note: 1975-1990), while I was staying in Paris. Even if he was the son of an architect, this choice was very courageous, because the conditions were difficult at the time. He brought a lot to Beirut, he invested a lot alongside other colleagues by approaching the Ministry of Culture and policies to preserve the heritage of the city. Many neighborhoods in Beirut have been taken over by real estate speculators. He has worked a lot to keep a little beauty in the city, because, unfortunately, too many places have been demolished …

He did not hesitate to denounce the corruption?

He was a committed man. Like many other architects who wanted to work in Lebanon again, he had to deal with corruption and intrigue specific to the country. I am thinking in particular of the public project of the National Library which he had won and which was torn from him at the last minute …

What does Lebanon need to rebuild itself? What message would Jean-Marc Bonfils have wanted to send?

In the reconstruction, which is going to be long and painful, politicians must use common sense. Jean-Marc’s fight must be continued so that Beirut regains its beauty, through its architecture.

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