AUB Main Gate

The AUB Gateway on Bliss Street, known nowadays as the Main Gate, has stood on Bliss Street since 1901, as a kind of a local two-faced Janus. For ancient Romans, Janus, the two-faced mythical creature, is the God of beginnings and endings, of transitions and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, and passages; its two faces simultaneously look to the future and to the past. The Main Gate has two facades: one looks outward onto Bliss Street, and the other into the lush campus and community that AUB represents, and hence, it, too, seems to look two ways. The Main Gate is indeed a symbol of transitions, and passages, of beginnings and endings, a Janus-like monument with a dual nature, one that seems to glorify, symbolize, embrace and embody transformations, contradictions and possibilities.

The Main Gate of course defines and marks the main entrance to AUB, but it is many things to many people: it is an entry point into a community; a marking of a privileged space; a dream passage way to strive after and enter through one day; a gate house entrusted with the security of the campus, a symbol of and a doorway onto a greener and richer space, an emblem of the safe haven that the AUB campus affords its community; a point at which to declare one's identity, perhaps by presenting an ID, or for that matter, to leave it behind and blend into a more diverse environment in which past and confined identities are perhaps better left behind.

The Main Gate is also a building, not simply a facade, one with a roof, staircase and basement, that is in fact a beautiful work of architecture. It was designed by a world renowned architect, none other than Edward Pearce Casey (1864–1940), the American designer and architect noted for his work in Washington, D.C. and New York City, and  responsible for the design and interior decoration of the oldest building of the famous Library of Congress, the Jefferson Building, among other projects. The Main Gate was at first known as the Gate House since it housed the President's Office as well as a reception room for visitors,   perhaps indicating the readiness and willingness of the University to engage with its surroundings and its community. For many today, in fact, the Main Gate is indeed a symbol of AUB, one that even stands on a par  with College Hall and its Clock Tower, which it was actually meant to mirror, having been deliberately placed at a parallel mid-point facing College Hall.

In this exhibit, we propose to look at the history, planning and  initial function of the Main Gate building, the architect behind it, the evolution of the building over time, and its impact on and integration into the life of AUB along several axes: security, community, possibility, struggle and hope.

 Exhibit Curators: Samar Mikati and Kaoukab Chebaro, with background research by Iman Abdallah

Acknowledgments: Many thanks go to Iman Abdallah, Mervat Kobeissi, Dalya Nouh, Hana Sleiman and Sara Jawad for their background research and support.

American University of Beirut / University Libraries / Bliss Street / P.O.Box 11-0236 / Riyad El-Solh, Beirut 11072020 Lebanon / asc@aub.edu.lb