Following the devastating explosion that took place on August 4th, 2020, Studio Etienne Bastormagi, along with Nada Borgi and Sandra Richani of Hatch Architects and Planners have designed a modular public installation for the historic Sursock Museum in Beirut, Lebanon, a structure that was heavily impacted by the explosion and is currently undergoing renovations. Titled "Diving Board", the installation creates a new link between the museum and visitors by opening up the structure’s gated esplanade, creating a new interchangeable public space within the culturally-rich district.
Diving Board is a 400 sqm intervention made of soft rearrangeable foam pieces that become a raised platform once assembled together. The installation invites passersby to leave the bustling city streets and enter the serene plaza, stepping into a more inclusive and interactive place that contrasts the historic architectural identity of the museum.
The Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum is housed in Lebanese art collector Nicolas Sursock’s former residence, built in 1912. The Eastern-Beirut villa integrates Venetian and Ottoman elements, typical in Lebanon at the turn of the century. Many of the rooms remain intact, such as the Salon Arabe, where Sursock greeted his guests, the Damascus-imported hand-carved woodwork that makes up the walls and ceiling, and some of the mansion’s original tiles. In 1999, the building was classified as a class A historical building by the Directorate General of Antiquities. As for its current function, the Sursock modern and contemporary art museum first opened in 1961 and remains functioning to date.
The installation is designed for the museum under a previous curator, Zeina Arida, and her team. The museum is temporarily closed until renovation works are completed. The architecture, along with many artworks that were on display, were severely damaged during the explosion as it sits nearly 800 meters from the port. A grant from the Swiss-based International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), and a one-million-euro Italian government grant, via UNESCO, were secured to fund part of the reconstruction. The French culture ministry has also supplied a 500,000 euro grant for the stained glass work, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris is undertaking the restoration of a torn portrait of Nicolas Sursock by Dutch-French painter Kees van Dongen, one of the 57 works in the museum collection that were damaged by the explosion.