House of Arts and Culture
An International Design Competition
The House of Arts and Culture will be an important and unique institution for Beirut, a city with a rich and densely layered history of invention, innovation, creativity, destruction, and persistent reconstruction.
The HAC is poised to become the public heart of downtown Beirut, and the master-planned Central District (BCD). The house will operate as a spatial matrix of art, theatre, and culture, and must simultaneously perform as an inclusive public space for all Lebanese, of all ages and backgrounds.
Arts and theater institutions are often associated with, and most used by, ‘elite’ (culturally and/or financially) members of society. Our proposal for The House of Arts and Culture prioritizes the idea that this building, and its intervention into the urban fabric, be truly public.
The House as public space is achieved through strategic negotiation between context, form, and program. The first device, The Podium, is a high-performance container for large public lobbies, the three theater spaces, and their supporting program. Corresponding to the master-planned green space at the north side of the site, a grand stair stretches across much of the podium’s façade, wraps and terminates at its northeast corner. The grand stair has two primary functions: first, it connects the ground plane to the large public surface at the top of the podium, which includes: an outdoor plaza, ramping and bermed green spaces, a café, shops, and an outdoor (covered) cinema. Second, the stair serves as an ascending public field for gathering, sitting, social interaction, and contemplating the views beyond (downtown skyline, Mediterranean Sea, and mountains beyond/ to the north). Glazing at the stairs’ risers allows diffuse lighting at the adjacent spaces within, and a unique visual connection to those spaces. The podium-stair assembly and its relation to the green-space on-site and across the street, forms The House of Art and Culture’s ‘Public Carpet’. At the urban scale, the stair-to-podium surface flow is a continuation of the mandatory green-space that is part of the Beirut Central District Master Plan; a flow of public, urban space to the top of the po¬dium. The podium-top provides The House with a new and public ground plane that is almost the size of the site itself. The raised position of the podium above the highway is unique to its context, and instigates a new way of experiencing the site and its surroundings. This surface allows for structured or amorphous twenty-four hour public occupation. This occupation amplifies awareness of the House’s facilities and programs within, thus raising the profile, accessibility and use of the House of Arts and Culture.
The Tower, which ‘floats’ above the Podium, is the HAC’s second major architectural ‘device’. Different from the heavy stone podium, the tower is completely glazed, with much of the curtain wall allowing floor-to ceiling trans¬parency. On the southern facade, an array of semi-transparent and opaque glass, amorphous-silicon photovoltaics (asi BIPV) are deployed for energy generation, supplementing some of the House’s operations cost. Programmatically, the tower houses all program other than the theaters and related functions in the podium. The tower’s form is pure (and timeless) at the exterior as its glass skin is taught to the allowed zoning envelope when maximizing the forty meter height limit. This maximizing of the exterior surface allows for excavation within, producing courtyard-style floor plates throughout the tower. The elliptical voids in the tower-slabs engage the vertical circulation core, thus forming an anti-core. The voids grow in size from the first tower slab to the roof as the program is denser at the first tower-floor, and less dense at the top. The slab-cuts also occur through all the podium and sub-surface parking slabs. The array of modulating openings in the slabs, from subsurface floors, through all podium levels, and completely through the tower, when connected, generate an enclosed, continuous surface that, like a skewer through a kebab, connect all levels of The House. This void-space takes the form of a conical-like Tube; the third architectural device.
Conceived as a glass and steel assembly, The Tube allows light to the interior of the tower, the mid-underside of the tower, atop the podium (which without the tube would be dark), through to the public lobbies at all levels within the podium, and to all subsurface parking levels below. For example, an occu¬pant at the bottom of the parking garage is able to look up and through the entire building via the tube. Similarly, at the ‘public carpet’ (podium-top) level, one can approach the tube and look down to the bottom of the parking deck, five levels below ground. Catwalks to the circulation core that flank the tube allow users to stand within the tower at podium-top and top-of-tower levels.
Our proposal for The House can be summarized by the three elements and their unique assemblage: the Podium, the Tower, and the Tube. It is conceptually a simple solution to a complex, demanding program that produces a high-performance, dynamic, public building. There is timelessness to the scheme: the limestone podium, its grand stair, and its engagement with the ground-plane evoke a monumental permanence that are both contextually and programmatically appropriate. The Tower is simple and timeless in form but contemporary and technically sophisticated in its cladding. The tower becomes extremely dynamic at its interior with the hollowing out for the Tube: a digitally manipulated iteration of a pure form implemented to produce environmental, programmatic, and atmospheric effects. By penetrating all levels of The House, the Tube, in its singular vertical gesture and sinuous form, connects the House’s entire spatial matrix in a way that can be understood visually and experientially throughout. The tube provides the subterranean parking levels with natural light, ventilation, and direct visual connection to the surface.
Our intention was to successfully meet the demands of the program in an innovative, timeless, and flexible fashion, while considering the Lebanese Public in a real and inclusive way, both programmatically and formally, at both urban and building-element scales. The form of our proposal and its engagement with the site would set the stage for an exciting, productive, and public House of Arts and Culture in Beirut.
Status: Competition Entry
Location: Beirut, LB