The Dimas Master Planned Community (DMC) is a 280 Hectares development, 20 km North West of Damascus currently being developed by BENA Properties, Syria’s largest private real estate company. This particular competition we participated in was an international competition for select regional and international firms to design the Sales Center Complex. The requirements were for a complex that would house the sales center (2000sqm) and offices for BENA properties and third party consultants (3200sqm). The brief of the competition introduced the project as follows:

“The vision for Dimas Master Planned Community is to create a lifestyle destination which delivers efficient, versatile and high quality product in a sustainable environment.”

“DMC will provide an Integrated community with residential, commercial, sport, educational, cultural and community facilities. It will also be a signature destination for hospitality and leisure.”

The brief of the competition called for two design approaches to be considered, as explained below:

“Modern Style – contemporary modern complex of buildings that will reflect its geographic location.

Traditional– To appear as traditional Damascus/Syrian building in the 21st century and not to mimic the old architecture.”

Our approach to the project stemmed from our understanding that the vernacular is about the necessary dialogue between the needs and the givens. What we took from our reading of the traditional was not the elements of expression, not the forms or the colors, materials or techniques, but rather, what we took was the sensitivity with dealing with the environment, the logic of reacting to the constraints and the efficiency in providing for the needs.

Consequently, our concept depended on two primary driving forces; the subtlety of interacting and responding to site conditions as well as the organic development of the urban fabric.

Our initial goal was to develop the bulk of the project in such a way that it meshes seamlessly with the surrounding site. The intervention is a delicate one that respects the autonomy of the environment and belongs to it as opposed to forcing itself onto it. The natural sloping topography of the site allowed for a clever tucking in of the project between the different levels, exploiting the directionality to allow for maximum natural light to penetrate the spaces within.

The second goal was to create an urban dialogue and interaction between the intimate private spaces and the open public spaces. The aim is to achieve an organic weave of paths, volumes and spaces that are drawn by the necessities and the spatial experiences of the users, as concluded from observing traditional neighborhoods, roads and walkways, how they are created, how they grow and develop and how they are experienced and transformed by the users

Our instinct, in reaction to the requirements which allocate the majority of the program to the offices and not to the sales center, was to avoid arriving at a large imposing mass that sits, rather  to design a discrete, subtle structure that respects the nature of the site, and sits quietly in juxtaposition to the sales center. The result is a terraced structure that sits within the natural slope, situated in the northern half of the 5000sqm site. It functions efficiently with respect to its orientation, with the roof becoming a large louver field, filtering natural light deep into the office space.

Volumetrically, the building follows an abstracted form of the existing contours of the site creating an artificial continuation of the hill side, viewed by the user from the outside as part of the landscape. As for the experience inside the offices, it is one of openness and light. The three levels of the project overlook each other as the free slabs overlay inside a cocoon created by the shell of the terraces, and enjoy the light that freely pours into the space from the entire ceiling.

In juxtaposition to the tucked in structure of the offices is the building of the sales center which serves as the beacon of the project and the whole of the DMC development.

The sales center structure is a pure, clean intervention that sits independently on the site, it almost seems to rest there, like a peaceful viewing platform.

The interior spaces reflect the quaint passages and dense old city fabric within a contemporary spatial application. The path of the visitor is wound around the main courtyard of expositions, connecting both levels via stepped ramps, staircases and elevators. There is no end to this winding loop; the visitor is always drawn to continue his walk, his discovery of the space, even connecting to the outdoor reception terrace which extends visually and physically over into the desert garden.

Natural light is always filtered through into the different spaces, falling blissfully from the roof light courtyards, gently reflecting onto the textured walls, silk screened glass panels, and other patterned surfaces, properly located elements and signals, rooting the whole experience in a contemporary but familiar feel.