Partners in Charge: Ibarhim Berberi
Architect in Charge: Kim Akiki
Team: Youssef Mallat, Marianne Safi, Maamoun Tebbo, , Richard Kassab, Joy Traboulsi, Nadine Eid, Layal Aoun
“’Draw me a sheep,’ said the Little Prince.”
Just when you think you understand Beirut, the light shifts. Reflections reveal new truths and shadows obscure assumptions. What existed yesterday looks different today; it will change again tomorrow, depending on your vantage point.
With cultural ties to the East and West, 18 recognized religions, at least four spoken languages and over 2,000 years of history, Beirut is a land of complements and contradictions. The city’s fabric is woven from clichés: a mosque’s call to prayer harmonizes with church bells; skyscrapers tower over traditional houses; shiny sports cars vie for road space with sputtering scooters.
The Beirut Museum of Modern Art (BeMA) belongs to the city. It should integrate with its environment, and as architects we look to local identity to establish context. There is no one-size-fits-all reference in Lebanon’s capital. Instead, contradiction creates tension, and from it erupts a creative energy unlike any in the world. Our identity transcends shape and form: it is the spirit of Beirut.
THE TALE OF THE LITTLE PRINCE
The Little Prince asks a traveler to draw him a sheep, and the traveler obliges. “It looks too sickly,” the boy complains, so the traveler draws it again. The next illustration looks too much like a ram. The exercise continues until the traveler presents him with a sketch of a cube.
“This is only his box. The sheep you asked for is inside,” says the traveler. The boy is satisfied. The cube is a neutral form in the Little Prince’s search for identity. Within it, he sees what he wants to see.
Our proposal for BeMA is a generic form that belongs to everyone. Anyone can see their Beirut inside it. The box contains whatever the viewer projects: the city’s chaos, diversity, creativity, history, streets and people.
THE EPHEMERAL BOX
Empty plots are rare in Beirut, and the scale of the city block designated for the museum and second-stage development is significant in its urban context, size and location. Rather than segregate the competition’s two elements, we believe they should interact, one enriching the other. Our intervention will shape the future of neighborhood.
A box stands alone at the heart of the plot, surrounded by event spaces. As the second-stage development emerges, the museum will fade into the background. Its presence, however, will swell; not just because the proposed networks of streets and plazas will attract a flow of people, but also because its mystery creates an air of magic. What’s contained in this curious structure?
The expectations we have for the iconic building will echo through the entire city block, maximizing the project’s effect on the neighborhood. Bustling with activity and bursting with energy, the area itself will become iconic as it democratizes creative culture. It challenges the notion of the museum as a temple, making art accessible to everyone as it spills onto the streets. Beyond an icon, BeMA will become part of Beirut.
Renders: Tony Antoun
Project area: 15000m2
Project status: Competition;