We had already designed an office building on plot 1106 Zokak El Blat few years back for its previous owner.
At the time, we were enthusiastic to the thought/challenge of fitting a commercial building on a plot located in an area so characterised by being residential.
In fact, starting west, and except for the accident of Burj El Murr (accident not for its urban setting but rather its eternal presence – its physicality – and absence – never completed and threatened by a roller coaster ride of demolish/preserve strategies –, so aside from this to be commercial project, the stretch of 2km heading east is only dotted by modernist standalone residential buildings from the late 60’s early 70’s, or villas/palaces surrounded by gardens.
In fact this hilly setting is the natural southern border to Wajdi Abou Jamil, a real neighbourhood type, historically rich with old houses dating back to the 20’s and 30s for some of them, French mandate period buildings and also new contemporary versions of the same.
A year back, the plot changed hands, and the project became residential. Small units (60 to 135 sqm for the most part, 1BR to 3BR).
The design process has been two fold.
Outside in, the inspirations and references were very clear for us, we wanted a building that blended, a building that felt it had been there for a while, one that did not shock by its language, morphology, materials, finishes and details.
In fact, being bathed by direct sun (east, south and west) the building’s exterior offers a thickness to it via its balconies, sun breakers, precisely located planters and solid/void composition, the twin light coloured external renderings very typical of the series of buildings dotting that strip…all work into making this building sculpted by the sun, “belong” to its context.
The volumes were sculpted down in scale to offer a massing that resembles the surrounding built volumes, but also to allow for 6 or 7 keys (depending on the floors) to fit in, have their individual balconies and privacy.
The building is also designed without any particular alignment, it is skewed in relation to the building to its north, and it has no contact with any other built forma since it is surrounded by roads and mandatory right of way towards a standalone villa to the east.
The only sign of a “contemporary” presence is witnessed in the ground floor retail space which is occupied by a single tenant shop on the full plate at that level.
We came to terms by completely cutting it off from the above built mass via a powerful canopy, freeing up the curved/fluid profile of the traffic on this corner plot, and allowing the more “rich” and begging for sun composition on the floors above.
Inside out, the project had to be extremely efficient in its planning, caring for 6 to 7 keys per floor, developed around a central core and a special architectural double height staircase natural sky lit, but also bringing natural light into all the circulation spaces.
It is an exercise in calculation and proportion to allow for each apartment to be balanced in terms of its areas, but also making it liveable and flooded with sunlight. All spaces have access out on balconies or external windows.
The central core manages to fit two passenger lifts, a separate and crucial service lift, technical shafts, circular circulation, and a naturally double height internal staircase.
The same “central” logic serves to plan the basements which follow a helical layout, allowing all cars to be freely laid out around the central ramp, parked on an ever gentle swooping floor.
This project has been an exercise in planning and design.
It was recently described by a friend as being “Mediterranean”. I have come to find this terms the design well.
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