Ramzi Naja

Architecture City Guide: Beirut

© Flickr User Omar Chatriwala

Following a brutal 15-year civil war that tore the city apart, has recovered remarkably; it was voted the number one destination to visit by the New York Times in 2009, and, more recently, received a similar title by Frommer’s. The city is in the second phase of one of the biggest urban reconstruction projects in the world, run by Solidere, which has brought architects like Steven Holl, Herzog & DeMeuron, Zaha Hadid, Vincent James, and Rafael Moneo to the local scene. In less internationalized parts of the city sit the landmarks of the 1960s and 1970s, Beirut’s pre-war glory days, including buildings by names such as Alvar Aalto, Victor Gruen, and the Swiss Addor & Julliard. With a city growing as fast as Beirut it is impossible to have a final city guide, so we look forward to hearing your suggestions and building on this over the years.

Photos and a map of Beirut’s most exciting buildings after the break…

AD Classics: Swiss Pavilion / Le Corbusier

Courtesy of Samuel Ludwig

In 1930, was tasked with designing a dormitory that would house Swiss students at the Cité Internationale Universitaire in . At first the architect and Pierre Jeanneret, his partner at the time, refused to take on the project due to tensions with the Swiss after their handling of the architects’ proposal for the League of Nations competition. Eventually, however, they agreed to see it through and worked on a very limited budget, which led the building to become a summation of ’s modern principles, forcing him to focus on dwelling before all else.

The New ‘Context’ in Architecture: Learning From Lebanon

The Issam Faris Institute at the American University of ’s Historic Campus. Image © .

Context in architecture has become a subject bloated with discussion and debate over the years. And, as a matter of fact, it has come to matter very little in its formal and typological sense. Take, for instance, the fluid forms that compose Zaha Hadid’s hundreds of projects around the world, or Frank Gehry’s exploding compositions seen from South America to the unmistakable Guggenheim in Bilbao. The form architecture takes in these cases, and countless others, is in itself a deliberate disregard towards context in its literal sense.

But is this disregard for context a mistake? Observers would often say so, though I would like to disagree. It has become frequent that projects like these, largely formal and not politely accommodating their historic surrounding, actually take greater interest in social urban issues that have a direct impact on the city dwellers. Quite simply, successful architecture today is one that serves society culturally and practically, addressing tangible problems of 21st century cities and dealing with context in a solution-oriented manner, going beyond aesthetics (whose value is only temporary) and into future-invested urbanism. Case-in-point? My hometown: Beirut, Lebanon.

Cases from Lebanon on this new approach to context after the break…

AD Classics: Boa Nova Tea House / Alvaro Siza

Courtesy of Samuel Ludwig

The Boa Nova Tea House, one of Siza’s earliest commissions, was awarded to him in 1956. His collaborator, Fernando Tavora, had won the competition for the project and passed it onto . Its location close to Siza’s home town had its significance, especially due to the architect’s intimate familiarity with the landscape. This is noticed in his incorporation of the rock formation, the ocean, and the greenery within the project, revealing a vivid understanding of the qualities of the local landscape. Alongside the Leça Swimming Pools, this project represents the foundation of Siza’s architecture with a compelling regard for nature.

Beirut Terraces / Herzog & de Meuron

Courtesy of Benchmark

Terraces rethinks the concept of the skyscraper, creating a vertical village composed of thin, elegant platforms layered in a playful formation. By offering lavish outdoor spaces, breathtaking views, and meticulously composed lofts, architects Herzog & DeMeuron bring an unprecedented way of living to crowded and dense Beirut.

More on these contemporary living spaces after the break…

AD Classics: Odate Dome / Toyo Ito

© Mikio Kamaya

The Dome in the Akita Prefecture of Japan was completed by in June 1997. The project is another example of the architect’s impressive canon, making use of cutting edge technology and bringing architecture closer to people. Seemingly floating a few meters above the ground, the dome leaves space for the people to flow in comfortably, while the use of wood is itself a way of bringing nature into architecture while adopting the latest technological advancements.

AD Classics: Tower of Winds / Toyo Ito

© Tomio Ohashi

The Tower of Winds is a project largely indicative of ’s approach to architecture, particularly his belief in the importance of technology and its vital role in the future of architecture. The project not only embraces technology and involves it in a dialogue with the city, but also establishes a direct symbolic relationship between nature and the installation.

AD Classics: Marin Civic Center / Frank Lloyd Wright

© Flickr User C.M. Keiner

The Marin County Civic Center was ’s last commission and largest public project, including several civic functions that would serve Marin County and , which after the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge became closer than ever. Wright was selected for the project in 1957, winning a vote out of hope he would be able to best represent a democratic government open to the people through the Civic Center.

AD Classics: Walden 7 / Ricardo Bofill

Courtesy of

Walden 7 is a project implementing some of Ricardo Bofill’s earliest ambitions and addressing most of the problems of modern city life. It is located on the same lot as Taller de Arquitectura, based in the refurbished ruins of an old cement factory. The housing structure benefits from Bofill’s earlier research and the idea of providing public spaces and gardens for residents to enjoy an enhanced quality of living.

AD Classics: La Muralla Roja / Ricardo Bofill

Courtesy of

La Muralla Roja, Spanish for ‘The Red Wall,’ is a housing project located within the La Manzanera development in ’s Calpe. The building makes clear references to the popular architecture of the Arab Mediterranean Area, a result of the architects’ inspiration by the Mediterranean tradition of the casbah. The striking colors that cover the outer and inner facades are selected to either contrast with nature or complement its purity.

AD Classics: Xanadú / Ricardo Bofill

Courtesy of

One of many large experiments in housing conducted by Taller de Arquitectura, Xanadú is an experimental prototype that reflects on the team’s theory of a garden city in space. Built as part of the La Manzanera development, which also houses the nearby La Muralla Roja, the project contains 18 apartments intended to be summer homes.

AD Classics: Parc Güell / Antoni Gaudí

Courtesy of Samuel Ludwig

Parc Güell is a park designed by Antoni Gaudí upon the request of Count Eusebi Güell, who wanted to build a stylish park for the aristocrats of Barcelona. The Count had planned to build a housing development that would take advantage of the area’s views and fresh air; however, only two show houses were completed. Gaudí himself inhabited one of them, designed by architect Francesc Berenguer in 1904. The house is now a museum showcasing some of Gaudí’s work. The park is a common tourist attraction in Barcelona, and is known for its famous terrace and iconic entrance, flanked by two Gaudí buildings.

AD Classics: Colònia Güell / Antoni Gaudí

Courtesy of Samuel Ludwig

Colònia Güell was a workers’ colony located in Santa Coloma de Cervelló, presently a town of around 7,000 inhabitants 20km outside . The area was a manufacturing suburb that grew rapidly around the turn of the 20th century. In 1898, Antoni Gaudi was commissioned by Count Eusebi de Güell, who wanted to provide a place of worship for the booming suburb, to build a Church. It was never actually completed because the money ran out as a result of economic hardships. When work stopped in 1915, only the crypt was completed, though it is nevertheless listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. In 2002, a restoration was carried out by architect Antonio González Moreno who was widely criticized for allegedly mistreating Gaudi’s work.