A House of Arts and Culture at the heart of the Lebanese capital Beirut is a rare opportunity for a public place of culture. Committed to creating a truly public platform, the House starting from a timeless cube, undergoes a series of operations to allow an uninterrupted pedestrian flow, encourage social interaction and promote cultural exchange.
More information about this project Concept and Volumetric | Programmatic Strata | Public Plaza For A Diverse Audience | Performance Black Box | Circulation Trajectory | Structural Design | Mobile Unit
Driven by the site geographical, social and cultural attributes, a series of operations transform the initial pure cube into a new volume. The resulting form aims at creating a truly public House of Arts and Culture through its architecture, its program, its organization, its audience, its outdoor plaza, its performance box, its circulation trajectory, its exhibition spaces, its structure and its mobile unit.
The major operations performed on site are:
- starting from a classic a-temporal cube
- the cube is cut-out by the street typography
- a secondary cube: the performance box is inserted and hanging over the plaza
The benefits of such operations are to:
- allow an uninterrupted pedestrian link between the Ring road on the south and the Down Town of Beirut on the north of the site
- create a public playground
- maximise the north light on the public plaza
The project’s architecture reflects the House’s independence and openness. Far from the transient nature of ‘fashion architecture’, the project’s design doesn’t lend itself to the trends of the moment; instead, it reflects the House’s timeless existence. The House’s bold architectural gesture will quickly inscribe itself in the collective mental image of Beirut. Located on a prominent spot between the down town area and the ring road, the cut cube is highly visible yet unobtrusive. The cube mass emerges from the site, rather than sits on it, it is bold and remains welcoming, powerful and keeps its transparency, accommodating for the visitors as well as the general public and the city beyond. With its assertive presence and large open space, the House inscribes itself in Beirut. The city flows uninterrupted on the public open plaza, and filtrates naturally inside the house.
The project aims at gaining a diverse public that goes beyond the few regulars that usually attend cultural events in Lebanon. In addition to the Lebanese regulars and the Lebanese youth, the house aims at attracting the larger Lebanese public as well as a regional and international audience, by offering a truly public plaza, a flexible space and a number of facilities for visiting artists to exhibit, put together a performance, use the workshops or give a presentation.
The approach focuses on maximising public space, without separating it from the programmatic content of the House. The cut out in the cube creates a multifunctional public space that will also act as an outdoor auditorium, a projection area, an exhibition space, an artistic playground and a social plaza that opens up to the public square located to the north of the House. The urban ambiguity of the shaded plaza gives the visitor a feeling of being inside the building and out, reinforcing the fusion between the house and the rest of the city. Visitors and passersby will naturally be drawn on to the plaza, and from there inside the building. This truly public plaza will have a great influence on expanding the pool of visitors and cultivating new arts and culture lovers.
The geometry of the plaza is designed to foster interactions. Very shallow steps covering the plaza create an uninterrupted circulation across its surface. However, in some instances, flat areas are inserted in the slope creating social pockets where people can gather. These flat insertions in the sloped plaza, will allow visual peeks and natural light to enter into the workshops and training spaces embedded in the plaza mass. The configuration of this plaza, and the workshops embedded under the public surface, will encourage interactivity between the public and the artists rehearsing in the studios. This exchange will naturally activate the plaza, while revealing to the visitors a glimpse of the art production process behind the scenes. Because the openness and transparency of the House are major components of its design, the architectural approach encourages exchange between the house, its artists and its visitors, by creating physical and visual encounters.
Inserted as the centre piece of the project, the performance box contains all the performance and cinema programs. On the outside, it is a media box continuously broadcasting to the city around. Along the circulation trajectory, visitors are exposed to parts of the backstage areas otherwise hidden in typical theaters. In addition, within the performance box, a public stair allows the public to circulate easily between the large performance hall, the small hall, the cinema, the meeting rooms, the hall as well as the backstage areas.
The house aims at naturally drawing visitors/passersby in, and gradually engaging them within the House. The circulation of the House is designed to be a continuous loop that progresses from the backstage production to the end result exhibition. The loop connects all the floors and forms a single composition, which unfolds for the visitors as they go. The circulation trajectory starts on the public plaza, goes through the different programmatic departments, widens at times to create the large exhibition spaces, provides the connections to the performance box and finally reaches the party deck on the roof. As such, in a single day, a visitor is granted easy access to the many events taking place simultaneously in the House.
To achieve a continuous flowing public plaza and an unobstructed visual openness through its site, the project’s structure is conceived as a steel truss frame. The load is transferred from the cantilever’s farthest points upwards to the counterbalance wall, through which the load is transferred downwards to be anchored in concrete toes underground. Within that truss, the performance box is a rigid frame with very little openings.
To reach those not able to visit the house, the project has a mobile unit. A piece of the North-West corner of the project detaches itself from the building and can be mounted on to a truck front, to drive around the country. This container-like mobile unit is a projection surface that broadcasts, shares arts and culture works while driving around of the roads of Lebanon.