Our participation in this project was part of a limited invitation-only competition.
The location of the ~1500sqm lot is within the Aadliyeh area, diagonally facing the National museum, opposite a grand church, and adjacent to one of the more iconic new office buildings in Beirut to the east, and abutted by a 50s low rise building to the west.
This avenue wrapping around the south side of Beirut, has recently been compared to Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, in matters of proliferation of new construction projects either attempting to achieve an iconic status and competing in height, or simply re defining the urban landscape by their sheer scale. From office parks, to bank head offices, to residential condominiums, and a retail strip, this belt has it all.
The immediate context dictated our concept.
-The powerful highway enforced a full street frontage at least on the lower floors
-The intent to offer a breathing area to the south west side vintage building enforced a setback from it, generating a much appreciated corner situation and opening up the view towards the hippodrome, particularly on the upper levels.
-Another corner was created to the north east, to clean up the outline.
-The inevitable comparison/relation to the recently completed office building was an issue which created a fourth cut in the volume. This time it was on the upper levels, pushing the project away from its neighbor.
-The language of the skin was the last element to be determined.
Driven by a will to design a skin which dialogues with the context, while still demonstrating contemporary skills whether in the material itself or in the method of construction, we managed to design a skin that doubles as the main structural elements of the building as well as becoming the architecture of the building itself.
The exposed white concrete columns were organized in a rhythm suitable for both a structural performance a well as respecting the more detailed interior planning offices grid of 150cm. The glazed infill panels are intended to be as inconspicuous as possible; they are mirror finished, to offer glimpses of the context for the passengers of the cars driving by. The intentional circular shape of the columns allows a clearer viewing angle from within the offices, while also clearly connecting to the past Peristyle like reading, present in both the ruins garden to the southwest as well as in the art deco facade of the National museum.
We felt the project needed to have a physical expression associated with the existing icons in the immediate context. We preferred a simplified and purified external treatment, counting more on the low percentage of openings (40%) and the physical blocking of the sun to control sun/heat penetration.
The general volume was sculpted out to give a reading of three masses composing this building, contrasting again with the neighboring new office building.
Its look is one of permanence and eternity, in contrast with the more fashionable architectural styles which influence a few of the projects on the avenue. The neutral look of the concrete columns, abutted to the neat glass void of any aluminum or other detail, creates an absence of scale; slabs and floors cannot be discerned, the building becomes an object, a pure sculpted volume.
The internal planning benefits from all the generated corners as well as form the main garden at the 5th floor. A 70sqm light court doubled by a 100sqm garden in the neighbors lot, allow for a very generous north light to serve the long side of the project.
We concentrated common functions (auditorium, cafeteria, private dining hall) on the 5th floor to reduce vertical traffic, and spread out the other functions in compliance with a very detailed program issued by the bank's development management team.
We addressed all technical issues, for MEP/HVAC and fire escape strategy, and included the conclusions within the project, while respecting the purity and integrity of the external expression.
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