The Lot for this tower project is located a stone's throw from the one of the largest green spaces, one of the few left in the city, the AUB campus. 50m up the road from Bliss Street, is the ~2700m2 land, a very rare commodity in the prestigious Ras Beirut neighborhood. An existing old house, remnants of the rich past of the 1940's. The house is a fantastic three-floor building, sandstone construction, with belvederes, a terraced south facade, and a grand traditional triple bay north facade.
The Old House
The site is located on one of the Ras Beirut streets that still house symbols of Beirut's rich architectural heritage of the early twentieth century, and which unfortunately is slowly being lost.
One of these traditional homes is that which is part of our site. Local residents can identify this house as a sort of landmark to the area; the red house covered in lush greenery. Whereas passersby cannot help but stop and gaze at its grand façade and imposing stand on the street. One of the initial premises of the project was the preservation of this old house. This was a clear instruction from the developer and a welcomed approach from our side.
The preservation of the old house, which became a fixed parameter for us, came with many implications. We had to give it enough room to breathe from the south side, where the tower will stand. We could not excavate underneath it. Above that, it required its own private access and a private garden almost at street level to the west, and, of course, we had to renovate it and upgrade it to ensure that it is equipped with all modern levels of comfort and technology.
The Urban Positioning
The remaining Built-Up Area, approximately 20,000m2, was to be divided onto a vertical residential community. The neighborhood the project is situated in is one of the busiest hubs in the city, bringing to its core people from all walks of life. The streets buzz every day with students, businesspeople, residents, tourists, etc… Above that, it is one of the areas with the highest pedestrian traffic in the city. Consequently, it is a neighborhood experienced mostly on foot. This gives any building a new role of how to communicate with pedestrians; the buildings become the frames and the edges in between which the pedestrians' paths are drawn and determined. A study of the urban context provided the understanding of the street as a series of urban accidents, comprised of buildings dating to different periods with many from the 1960's onwards. The alignment of the buildings with respect to the street is also a changing element along the street, which gives the street a playfulness and a varying feel to its width, thus creating a breathing rhythm of buildings moving back and forth along its edges. The newer and higher buildings seemed to set back further from the street, such as the building adjacent to ours to the west, which is set back ~13m from the street, as well as the office building further west along the street. Following the same logic, and exploiting the corner location of our building, we adopted the same approach for the set back of our tower, away from the street and deep into the site.
The Architectural Approach
The diversity of the volumes in the street brought about the buildings dating to various eras, their positioning with respect to the street and their heights, was a characteristic that we saw to bring into our project. The variety and play with the volumes also had a role in breaking down the scale of the tower. This aspect, along with the setting back from the street, provides the tower with an imposing yet comfortable presence in the street.
The entirety of the tower’s volume is sliced by a series of walls or planes, of varying heights and depths that subsequently create a visual grid and further enhance the language of the broke down volume. The planes are the principle structural elements that support the tower. They also play a role as shading elements, as well as in framing the views towards the sea, the city and the mountain.
Our approach to the materiality of the tower was to provide a combination that can work seamlessly together and with the setting. The challenge was not to overcrowd the tower with numerous materials that will leave it looking too loud, and at the same time not to use too little materials and end up with a monotonous tower that is too imposing on the neighborhood. The choices of materials included glass, stone and wood, a combination of light, dark and transparent. The wood provides the warmth and is in direct dialogue with the old house, the stone provides the texture and earthiness and the glass provides the transparency and lightweight feel.
The planes that compose the mass of the tower are designed to be directed North-South. This directionality provides a sense of connection that weaves our street with Bliss Street. The spaces created in between become various opportunities for bringing in light, direct and indirect, in various forms and degrees. The openness created by this directionality also provides the opportunity for exploiting the façade for solar panels that can become the source for hot water and heating. The directionality of the layout, a parallel to the principle of planning in traditional houses, is also a tool to maximize the quality of natural cross ventilation.
The different levels of porosity
As previously mentioned, the spaces created between the planes provide various opportunities for furnishing the apartments with a diversity of natural lighting. Making most of this opportunity also requires us to diversify the levels of porosity and the finishes and materials through which we bring in light. Consequently, the façades become a play of transparency and opacity, with different uses of windows, balconies, landscape, glazing, and louvers.
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