UAE architects and academics propose design for abandoned Niemeyer site in Lebanon

UAE architects and academics propose design for abandoned Niemeyer site in Lebanon
Published: 24 July 2019 - 10:59 a.m.
By: Rima Alsammarae

UAE-based architects and academics have recently collaborated on a design for the Science and Innovation Center planned for Tripoli, Lebanon.

To be located on a site situated within an abandoned modernist exhibition complex originally designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in the 1960s, the design was created in response to a recent competition to revive the site.

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The team behind the proposal was led by Ahmed Khadier, founder and managing director of Dubai-based design studio Pragma, and Cristiano Luchetti, a professor of architecture at the American University of Sharjah.

"The concrete structures designed by Oscar Niemeyer turned into modern monuments that have long stood as scars in the face of the city's bright past and hopeful future," said the architects. "With considerable emphasis on the sensitivity of the site and a jury composed of multiple UNESCO and heritage preservation experts and progressive architecture figures, the competition brief placed significant emphasis on respecting the existing masterplan and architecture. The brief equally emphasised the project's complex programme requirements and budget limitations."

The proposal operates on two primary premises: one based on Niemeyer's massing strategy, which relies on an interplay of expansive horizontal surfaces and geometrically eclectic sculptural 'objects' sitting within a vast open field, and the other on a pragmatic approach to programme distribution and budget constraints.

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The excavated soil is reused within the project, modelling a new artificial topography, explained the architects. The programme requirements that exceed 60,000m2 of phased development within the given plot boundary mandated a set of multistory structures that would exceed the height of Niemeyer's structures unless partially submerged under ground. In response, Khadier and Luchetti implemented a cost-effective strategy that required limiting the excavation of the site to what would be optimally enough to maintain height limits that respected the datum height lines of Niemeyer's existing buildings.

"The project proposes a combination of linear bars that sit atop manmade landscape hills and sculptural towers that perform as solar chimneys drawing stagnant air out of sunken courtyards and plazas," the architects said. "The towers, besides housing special programmes, are landmarks signifying a new life inhabiting the long-abandoned site."

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The system of internal squares also defines functional clusters, they added. These squares mitigate the monumentality of the intervention by establishing an analogical relationship between the architecture of modernity and a contemporary approach to the design of more functional and less representative spaces.

"The development and general conditions of the contemporary economic scenario are undoubtedly challenging to predict," the architects said. "For this reason, a project of this size and impact must be able to best interpret the cost-effective changes at the regional and international level."

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While the proposal respects the brief, it pushes further and offers maximum flexibility and variations of functions and spaces. If needed, buildings can be adapted to functions that could also be typologically and functionally different from commercial uses. Most buildings can easily be converted into residences, host educational facilities (like a university campus), or become a shopping centre, said the architects.

"This flexibility is achieved through a clear and systematic structural organisation, circulation, and provision of technical services," they added. "Furthermore, the spatial simplicity of the internal spaces of the buildings allows low-cost modifications that could be implemented over time."

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The notion of simplicity and cost-effectiveness also extends to the materiality and articulation of the building envelopes, relying on conventional construction techniques and local know-how.

The facades are composed of pigmented concrete for the linear bars and bush hammered concrete for the sunken plaza levels. Simple vertical concrete bris-soleil diffuse direct sunlight and prevent overheating and glare. Perforated metal screens cover the towers rendering a monolithic character while also screening against direct sunlight exposure.

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Khadier and Luchetti worked with a number of other collaborators on the project including Nihal Halimeh, Jafar Abbas, Fayez Najeeb, Mariam Salama, Yasmine Fahmy, Marina Nassif and Abanob Zhory. Sustainability consultancy was provided by Abeer Manneh.

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