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The New 'Context' in Architecture: Learning From Lebanon


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.

The Lebanese American University Campus in Byblos. Image © Nadim Asfar The Saint Joseph University Campus of Sports and Innovation. Image © 109 Architectes The Saint Joseph University Campus of Sports and Innovation. Image © 109 Architectes The Issam Faris Institute at the American University of Beirut's Historic Campus. Image © Zaha Hadid Architects.

Beirut Terraces / Herzog & de Meuron

Beirut 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...

Courtesy of Benchmark Courtesy of Benchmark Courtesy of Benchmark Courtesy of Benchmark

i-SKI /

  • Architects: ACCENT DESIGN GROUP
  • Location: Faqra, Lebanon
  • Lead Architect: Elie ABS
  • Design Team: Charbel Karam, Elie Mattar, Rita Tedy
  • Client: OMBA
  • Area: 1100.0 sqm
  • Project Year: 2012
  • Photographs: Courtesy of ACCENT DESIGN GROUP

Courtesy of ACCENT DESIGN GROUP Courtesy of ACCENT DESIGN GROUP Courtesy of ACCENT DESIGN GROUP Courtesy of ACCENT DESIGN GROUP

NAAS Springs - FFA Proposal / Hapsitus Architects

The design proposal for NAAS Springs, a well-known wellness center and place of relaxation in Beirut, is formed by a series of walls projecting into nature. They alternate between large living spaces with roofs for residences and uncovered elongated spaces for the passages, which form an extension of nature. Designed by Hapsitus Architects, the architectural landscape is created in the spirit of water following down a sloped terrain. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Beirut Multi Art Use (MAU) Project Proposal / Dina Hadi

Designed by architect Dina Hadi, the proposal for the Beirut Multi Art Use project represents a total art mass from the city with different rhythms and patterns. It becomes a live scene from local artists that is captured into this box. With a focus on art as a foundation base for cultures, this project becomes a model for global art beyond. Her study was also awarded the best prize at the Oslo School of Architecture under the title, ‘Excellence in Professionalism’. More images and architects’ description after the break.

BANKMED Headquarters Winning Proposal / John Robertson Architects

John Robertson Architects (JRA) just won an international competition to design a new 16,400m2 headquarters for BANKMED in Beirut, Lebanon. Located at the center of the Mina El Hosn district and near to central Beirut, will become a landmark in Beirut and provide an innovative, stimulating and practical environment for employees, executives and the bank’s customers. Their proposal includes three interconnected office pavilions, which step up in height from 9 to 19 storeys. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Zaarour Club Resort Second Prize Winning Proposal / 109 Architectes

Designed by 109 Architectes, their proposal in the Zaarour Club Competition, which won the second prize, takes advantage of the natural setting while creating a distinctive yet unobtrusive project identity. Consequently, the primary challenge with the Zaarour Resort is to construct the density required while still respecting and incorporating the rich natural environment. More images and architects’ description after the break.

House 0614 / Simpraxis Architects

  • Architects: Simpraxis Architects
  • Location: Nicosia
  • Architect In Charge: Marios Christodoulides, Christos Christodoulou
  • Design Team: Christos Pasadakis, Maria Karydou, Stelios Zenieris, Stella Parpa
  • Construction: Hadjivassilis Construction LTD
  • Structural Engineer: Platonas Stylianou
  • Mechanical Engineer: Kikis Hadjifrangiskou
  • Electrical Engineer: Loukianos Raftis
  • Area: 339.0 sqm
  • Project Year: 2011
  • Photographs: Marios Christodoulides, Christos Papantoniou

© Marios Christodoulides, Christos Papantoniou © Marios Christodoulides, Christos Papantoniou © Marios Christodoulides, Christos Papantoniou © Marios Christodoulides, Christos Papantoniou

Residence Staircase / .PSLAB

Courtesy of .PSLAB
Courtesy of .PSLAB

Designed for Bernard Khoury of DW5 for a private residence in Beirut, .PSLAB’s aim for the staircase in this space is to highlight the distinguishing features and shape of the staircase, all the while offering a distinctive experience. inspiration in this project came from the staircase’s main characteristics. The aim was to create a lighting concept that would not only mirror these distinguishing features but also complement the structure. The constraints encountered came not from the space but from the lighting fixture itself which required special handling to turn a concept into reality. More images and architects’ description after the break.

CMA-CGM Headquarters / Nabil Gholam Architects

  • Architects: Nabil Gholam Architects
  • Location: BCD, Beirut, Lebanon
  • Structural Engineer: Bureau d’études Rodolphe Mattar
  • Electro Mechanical Consultant: Barbanel Middle-East
  • Façade & Energy Consultant: ARUP Façade Engineering
  • Landscape Architect: Atelier Renée el Khazen
  • Area: 6300.0 sqm
  • Project Year: 2005
  • Photographs: Geraldine Bruneel, Richard Saad, Fouad el Khoury

© Richard Saad © Richard Saad © Richard Saad © Geraldine Bruneel

Zaarour Club / Najjar-Najjar Architects

The design proposal by Najjar-Najjar Architects for the Zaarour Club Project intends to combine a year-round destination for mountain lovers in Lebanon with the requirements for a sustainable development in Zaarour. In this regard, the architects believe that it is most important to balance the development of real estate with attractions and activities in a healthy environment. The concept considers different functions and facilities in order to attract diverse users groups of all ages during the year. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Armenian Genocide Memorial Winning Proposal / Etienne Bastormagi Architects

“In order for a pain to be healed… you have to acknowledge the fact that this pain has occurred” Maya Lin. Construction of the first memorial began in 1966 (during Soviet times) in response to the 1965 Yerevan demonstrations during which one million people demonstrated in Yerevan for 24 hours to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Genocide. Inspired by the above events as well as the specificity of this memorial regarding the site conditions, the winning design of the project by Etienne Bastormagi Architects had to undergo a conceptual brainstorm. The design proposes a space – not only to remember the ones that died through the act of genocide-that is designed to celebrate the ones that have survived and helped us reach to our existing status. More images and architects’ description after the break.

Architecture Research Center / Petros Konstantinou, Yiorgos Hadjichristou

  • Architects: Petros Konstantinou, Yiorgos Hadjichristou
  • Location: Egkomi, Cyprus
  • Architects: Petros Konstantinou, Yiorgos Hadjichristou
  • Collaborators: Veronika Antoniou and Joao Teigas
  • External Collaborator: Alessandra Swiny
  • Owner: University of Nicosia
  • Constructor: Lois Builders ltd
  • Project Year: 2011
  • Photographs: Agisilaou and Spyrou

© Agisilaou and Spyrou © Agisilaou and Spyrou © Agisilaou and Spyrou © Agisilaou and Spyrou

Achrafieh 732 / Bernard Khoury Architects

© Bernard Khoury Architects © Bernard Khoury Architects © Bernard Khoury Architects © Bernard Khoury Architects

Plot 4328 / Bernard Khoury Architects

  • Architects: Bernard Khoury Architects
  • Location: Lebanon
  • Architect: Bernard Khoury Architects
  • Client: Loft Investment
  • Project Year: 2010
  • Photographs: Unknown photographer

© Unknown photographer © Unknown photographer © Unknown photographer © Unknown photographer

In Progress: ABC Dbayeh Department Store and Cinema Façade / nARCHITECTS

Courtesy of nARCHITECTS
Courtesy of nARCHITECTS

Architects: nARCHITECTS Location: Beirut, Lebanon Design Team: Eric Bunge, Mimi Hoang (Principals); Tiago Barros, Stephen Hagmann, Hubert Pelletier (Project Architects); Seung Teak Lee, Julia Chapman, Christopher Grabow (Design Team); Competition Phase: Alice Wong (Project Designer), Dominique Gonfard, Adam Vana Architect of Record: ABC Technical Team: Lamia Jallad, Bascir Muhanna, Johnny Salman Client: ABC S.A.L. Structural Engineer: BRM Lighting Designer: DEBBAS Landscape: ZMK Project Year: 2011 Project Area: 50,000 sqm Photographs: Courtesy of nARCHITECTS

Courtesy of nARCHITECTS Courtesy of nARCHITECTS Courtesy of nARCHITECTS Courtesy of nARCHITECTS

BLC Headquarter Landmark / Hapsitus

Courtesy Hapsitus
Courtesy Hapsitus

Beirut based, Lebanese architect firm Hapsitus has presented us their work for the BLC Headquarter Landmark high rise design competition in Beirut. Follow after the break for more images of their winning proposal for this highly visible project.