Youssef Aftimus

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Youssif Aftimus
Born(1866-11-25)November 25, 1866
Died(1952-09-10)September 10, 1952
Spouse(s)Rose Bechara
BuildingsBeirut City Hall and Hamidiyyeh Clock Tower

Youssef Aftimus (25 November 1866 – 10 September 1952); (يوسف أفتيموس) was a Lebanese civil engineer and architect who specialized in Moorish Revival architecture. Aftimus was the leading Lebanese architect and urban planner during the first half of the twentieth century, he is the author of many of Beirut's well known landmarks such as the Beirut Municipality Building, the Grand Serail's Hamidiyyeh clock tower, the Hamidiyyeh Fountain and the Barakat Building.[1][2] Aftimus was also an academic, journalist, visionary urban planner, patriot, politician and philanthropist.[3]

Beirut City Hall

Early life[edit]

Youssef Aftimus was born on November 25, 1866 to a Greek Catholic family in the historic town of Deir el Qamar. Aftimus attended school at Collège des Frères Maristes in his hometown as of 1875.[4] In 1879 he transferred to the Syrian Protestant College (later known as the American University of Beirut to complete his studies where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Aftimus taught Arabic at his university for two years and co-authored an Arabic grammar textbook before he left for New York City where he studied civil engineering at the Union College as of 1885; he graduated from UC in 1891.[2][4] The Pennsylvania Railroad company presented Aftimus with his first job; he worked on the Hudson Canal and the Pennsylvania Railways;[4] he was then recruited by the Thomson-Houston Electric Company and then by General Electric.[5]

In 1893 Aftimus was working under a pioneer in Moorish revival architecture and was chosen to design the "Persian Palace", "Turkish Village" and "Cairo Street" pavilions for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Cairo Street was a particularly popular attraction in the fair.[2][6] Aftimus went on to work on the Egyptian pavilion at the Antwerp exposition and the following year he went to Berlin on an extensive research trip on construction engineering before returning to Beirut in late 1896. In 1898 Youssef was recruited by the Municipality of Beirut as municipal engineer and he directed the construction of the Grand Serail Clock tower.
During his work in Beirut he met Manouk Avedisian, better known as Bechara efendi al-Muhandes his future father in law, he married Rose Avedisian on May 1, 1899.[4]


Career in Lebanon[edit]

Between 1898 and 1903, Youssef Aftimus became an engineer of the Municipality of Beirut, he designed the Hamidiyyeh Fountain in 1900 which was dedicated by the Beirut Municipality to Sultan Abdelhamid II. The fountain, originally on Riad el-Solh/as-Sour square was later moved and is still presently in the Sanayeh park. In 1911, Aftimus founded a consultant office in partnership with Emile Kacho who was also an engineer. Aftimus won the design competition for Beirut's City Hall in 1923, the municipal building still stands at Weygand and Foch crossroad.[4] Aftimus served as the minister of public works in the 1926-1927 government led by Auguste Basha Adib.[5]

In addition to his engineering works, Aftimos published an architectural treaties on Arabic architecture entitled "العرب في فن البناء"; he was also elected a member of the Damascus based Arab Academy and president of the Syrian Protestant College alumni association. Aftimus helped found and headed a non-profit charity organization aiming to eliminate tuberculosis.[5]

Other works[edit]

  • 1920 Damour: Old Damour river bridge (bombarded in 1941)[5]
  • 1923 Beirut City Hall
  • 1924 Nabatiyeh: drinking water supply
  • 1924 Nicolas Barakat building
  • 1925 Buildings in the Hotel-Dieu de France hospital
  • 1927 Construction of Aftimus House (Kantari)
  • 1929 Conference on Arab Architecture. (Death of his son Fouad Aftimus).
  • 1929 Issa building (Trad Hospital), housing the US consulate.
  • 1932 Zouheir building (Haïgazian College)
  • 1933 Beirut Municipality building, Sage Hall (BUC).
  • Grand Theater in Beirut facing Maarad Street.[4][7]

Unrealized projects[edit]

  • 1935 Unbuilt project for a Greek Catholic Cathedral.[4]

Works Abroad[edit]

  • 1903 irrigation projects in Upper-Egypt for the Egyptian Government
  • 1910 Iran: works in the North of the country[4]


Youssef Aftimus - Upper Egypt - 1903

The end of the 19th century saw an Ottoman cultural revivalist movemement aiming at defining an architectural Ottoman style which was sparked by the publishing of Iprahim Eldem Pasha's Usul-i mimariyi osmani (Principles of Ottoman Architecture) in 1873. Ottoman architectural revivalism was very eclectic and drew upon many styles including Ottoman Baroque, modern Islamic architecture, vernacular Beaux-Arts, Neoclassicism. Aftimus' participation in the Chicago world fair was his break as an Ottoman revivalist architect. Although he had little knowledge of Istanbul's architectural culture, his expatriate work for the Ottoman government familiarized him with particular trends in the Ottoman capital. Aftimus introduced this Ottoman revivalist style from Istanbul and from the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition to Beirut by the end of the 19th century; his architectural influence would later dominate Beirut's public constructions in the last two decades of Ottman rule over Lebanon.[2]

The "Yellow house" controversy[edit]

The Barakat mansion also known as the "yellow house" was designed by Aftimus and was sentenced for destruction in 1997 since it was heavily damaged during the Lebanese civil war. The mansion is located in Ashrafieh's Sodeco area, intersecting the civil war demarcation line. It was saved by Lebanese activists (particularly the architect Mona Hallak) who had articles about the mansion published in the press almost on a daily basis, wrote petitions, and organized rallies in front of the building. In 2000, Atelier de Recherche ALBA produced a large scale installation based on narratives from this building and its neighborhood.[8] Protestations finally led to the suspension of the decision to destroy the Barakat building in 2003 and the municipality of Beirut decided to acquire it in order to install a memory museum with objects tracing the 7000-year history of the city. The municipality counts on the support of France to advance the restoration.[9][10]


  1. ^ Youssef Aftimus (1866-1952), pioneer in Lebanese Architecture", Al Mouhandess, n11, summer 2000, by Carma Tohme.
  2. ^ a b c d Hanssen, Jens (2005). Fin de siècle Beirut: the making of an Ottoman provincial capital. Oxford: Clarendon Press; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-928163-3. LCCN 2005296742. OCLC 58829013.
  3. ^ Atelier de Recherche ALBA (1999). "Youssef Aftimus". ALBA. Retrieved 2009-08-19.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Atelier de Recherche ALBA (1999). "Youssef Aftimus - Timeline" (educational). ALBA. Retrieved 2009-08-19.
  5. ^ a b c d Nehme, Adonis (2009-02-25). "جسر الدامور بناه للمرة الأولى ابن دير القمر المهندس يوسف إفتيموس مفخرة من مفاخر دير القمر". AnNahar. Retrieved 2013-06-05.
  6. ^ Bowling Green State University. "The streets of Cairo" (educational). BGSU. Retrieved 2009-08-19.
  7. ^ Anastassiadou-Dumont, Méropi; Institut français d'études anatoliennes d'Istanbul (2003). Médecins et ingénieurs ottomans à l'âge des nationalismes [Doctors and engineers at the age of Ottoman nationalism]. Élites urbaines et savoir scientifique dans la société ottomane, XIXe-XXe siècles [Urban elites and scientific knowledge in Ottoman society, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. March 12–23, 2002. Istanbul, Turkey]. Collection Rencontres d'Istanbul (in French and English). Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose; Beyoğlu, İstanbul: Institut français d'études anatoliennes. p. 387. ISBN 978-2-7068-1762-5. OCLC 56798381. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  8. ^ Atelier de Recherche ALBA (2000). "Machines Celibataires". Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  9. ^ "C'est une maison jaune!". Retrieved 2009-08-19.
  10. ^ Auzias, Dominique; Labourdette, Jean-Paul (2008). Liban [Lebanon]. Petit futé, Country guide (in French) (6e ed.). Paris: Nouvelles éd. de l'Université. ISBN 978-2-7469-1632-6. OCLC 470949164.
  • Youssef Aftimus (1866–1952), pioneer in Lebanese Architecture", Al Mouhandess, n11, summer 2000, by Carma Tohme.
  • 1891 Union College Yearbook
  • watercolor Thure de Thulstrup. Brown, Julie K. Contesting Image: Photography and the World's Columbian Exposition, University of Arizona Press, 1994

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