Bitar’s work at Bitarchitects and Charity Donation Foundation aims to lift people up.
Terry Bitar had to rebuild from scratch at 15 when her father died, and had to start from scratch again when her family lost everything in her home country Lebanon’s economic collapse. Yet despite major personal and monetary losses, after moving to D.C. in 2020, her architecture company Bitarchitects is up and running with 14 people on her team.
“America is still the country of dreams,” Bitar says.
The entrepreneur, philanthropist and architect reiterates her business isn’t just about building structures. As a multihyphenate, she’s building a lot of different things: relationships with clients, equity in architecture and alleviating poverty through her NGO, Charity Donation Foundation, enriching and giving back to society by embodying the belief that kindness is the guiding principle.
We got to catch up with Bitar to learn more about her life, her goals and her many different ventures.
District Fray: How has your work changed between Lebanon and D.C.?
Bitar: It’s definitely different. We are talking about the political capital of the world; the most important people are here. Everyone is highly educated and competitive. With the Lebanese rivalrous educational systems, it was a seamless shift in terms of education, understanding and the way of work.
The only thing that is different is the architecture. Our approach to construction in Lebanon primarily revolved around concrete materials, whereas the prevailing architectural practice here predominantly embraces wood-based structures. However, owing to our robust educational background and extensive expertise in working with concrete, our adaptation to this new context has been remarkably smooth. In our first year of operation, we successfully completed a total of 48 projects, reflecting our commitment to excellence. With our unwavering dedication and refined skills, I am optimistic that our project accomplishments will surpass this figure in the current year.
Why did you choose D.C. when looking for a new home?
The most influential people are in D.C. The city is about class and education. It’s about cosmopolitanism. It relates to my personality. My target wasn’t solely about doing an up-and-coming business and generating a lot of money. I was really focused on culture, understanding influences, talking about sustainability, changing the rules and creating a long-lasting impact. I believe that change starts in D.C. and goes to the whole world.
Tell me more about your charity work.
Working in charity is so fulfilling; being able to help people is so profound and no words can really explain it. Personally, I have a very deep connection to charity. Just the fact that I can help someone — it gives my life a meaning of immediacy. In the realm of charitable endeavors, our organization consistently conducts weekly campaigns aimed at making a positive impact. These campaigns are structured to address the pressing needs of underprivileged families within our community. Through a concerted effort, we orchestrate the distribution of essential provisions such as nourishing food and crucial hygiene products. This proactive initiative is a testament to our unwavering commitment to alleviate hardships and contribute to the well-being of those facing challenging circumstances.
What’s the practical side of the charity? What’s happening after you’ve raised the money?
So, we don’t have money in the charity. Most people think that we fundraise, but we don’t. The charity is basically funded by in-kind donation items. So companies send us big chunks of their overflow of food, hygienic products, clothes and anything of value. And we do bi-weekly campaigns to the people in need. And we do that service for about 100 to 150 families every two weeks.
Does the charity have reach beyond Lebanon?
It’s operating only in Lebanon for now, especially after the major Lebanese economic collapse. In 2017, we launched an office in Jordan, where we held some events. The plan is to start up in the U.S. in the next two years. We are big in Lebanon — we had a factory and we were producing snacks that are branded and sold for this and we employ many people, under the brand name “Love Bites.” It’s not just giving items to people, but actually creating employment opportunities for these people. They have achieved sustainability and no longer rely on external kindness or sympathy to afford their expenses; their contentment is derived from their willingness to engage in productive work.
Why was it important for you to focus on alleviating poverty?
Poverty is often seen as the underlying cause of numerous challenges, prompting individuals to resort to drastic measures to acquire funds. However, when you can afford things, it’s so nice to give back and show people the way, to go back to equity and equality and less competitiveness, more collaboration, genuine kindness.
Have you seen the people you employ rise out of their situation?
There were people that had personal and educational challenges. With our guidance, they held positions and overcame hurdles. We give opportunities to people that do not have a lot of experience, and we employ people that have all sorts of disabilities. It fills our hearts with satisfaction.
You mentioned your architecture firm focuses on equity. What does that look like on a day-to-day basis?
We embrace the engagement of younger individuals, actively imparting knowledge and guidance. Our commitment extends to affording opportunities to those with limited experience, as well as fostering a diverse workforce that includes individuals with varying abilities.
On the other side are our clients. Sometimes we have clients that have smaller projects, and we have a department that tackles these, because we want people to be able to do their projects with professionals. We also have an additional drafting department tailored to cater to clients whose projects may not necessitate direct architectural involvement. This initiative allows individuals to engage in a comprehensive design process, ensuring a holistic experience. While we certainly serve a diverse array of clients with specific requirements, we equally welcome those who wish to explore architectural collaboration and engage in a distinct specialized experience. Concurrently, we are diligently working to enhance accessibility to our services, extending this enriched architectural experience to a broader spectrum of clientele.
I see that you’re interested in fashion. You always look great. Why is that important to you?
To me, fashion is more than just clothes, it is an embodiment of femininity. It represents a combination of colors, passion and positive feelings. It’s enjoyable to dress up and appreciate life through this lens. This aspect is a big part of who I am. Just like adding various colors creates a stunning picture, embracing femininity adds charm and energy to my life journey. Fashion is about embracing the power within, our uniqueness. It’s a reminder that we are not confined by societal norms; instead, we have the freedom to define our own elegance.
Stay tuned for the opening of Bitarchitects’ new office and catch them at the American Institute of Architecture Students Grassroot Conference. Visit bitarchitectsllc.com and follow Bitar on Instagram @terrybitar.
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