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Liwan Bayrut
December 15th, 2008

Location: Beirut, Lebanon

Principals in charge: el-Khoury, Levit, Fong

Team: James Dixon, Sando Thordarson, Rui Zhou, Mike Fung, Renee Leung, Dickson so,Bhanu Sharma

Liwan Bayrut looms large and monolithic, like a singular geological event erupting in the city. Much like the Lebanese rocky landscape whose physiognomy is shaped by the persistent action of natural and human forces, Liwan Bayrut’s hard-edged constitution is carved out and softened by the teaming forces of its urban context.

Liwan Bayrut occupies the entire block but more than 50% of the ground area is dedicated to open public space. The central souk-like space–the Great Liwan–is the heart of Liwan Bayrut and a convergence point for multiple urban trajectories. Entirely open and accessible to the public 24/7, it is conceived as a seamless extension of the urban realm. It prolongs a major diagonal axis into and through the bloc, culminating in an ascending link to General Fouad Shehab Avenue or tunneling further across to reach the neighborhood on the opposite side of the Ring–we propose to relocate the projected tunnel to this site.

The building is also publicly accessible on the west side via a staircase that leads to an open-air theatre–the Bowl. The theatre is carved out the building mass, dedicating 30% of its volume to open public space. Multiple paths can be picked up from the elevated theatre, spiraling down into the Great Liwan or heading south toward General Fouad Shehab Avenue leading to a foyer overlooking Ghalghoul Street. Here a glazed tubular passage bridges across the Great Liwan to land in the multi-purpose hall/gallery where a staircase reaches back to the lobby thus completing the looping promenade.

The building adapts the familiar courtyard type to distribute the program in separate but interlocking wings. However discretized and differentiated the various functions come together as unified whole in their intense and sustained rapport with the central figures: the Grand Liwan and the Bowl.

The performance-related program––theatre/congress hall/cinema–is located in the southern and eastern wings. it is orchestrated as a linear sequence that engages and showcases the buildings most dramatic feature. It begins in the lobby under the looming underbelly of the Bowl with a diagonal axis leading to the cinema and a grand staircase that climbs twisting along the sloping vault of the Great Hall. The stair ascends to a curvilinear Gallery that provides access to the two theaters and a bar/terrace overlooking the lobby. the Gallery, along with a mezzanine linking the theaters’ balconies, swing around the vortex-like intersection of the Great Liwan and the Bowl, leading to a foyer overlooking Ghalghoul Street. Here a glazed tubular passage bridges across the Great Liwan to land in the multi-purpose hall/gallery where a staircase reaches back to the lobby thus completing the looping promenade. The ascent to the exhibition spaces moves in the opposite direction from the lobby towards the northern wing. A straight-run stair leads to the multi-purpose/exhibition hall. This large room is an amenity we propose as a compliment to the programmed exhibition facility. It is a versatile space that can accommodate more widely accessible or non-ticketed exhibits and events. Both programmatically and physically, as a site where theatre and exhibition path intersect, this is a space that mediates between performance and exhibition functions. From here the upwards course become a tilting switchback stair that follows the curvature of the Bowl. it reaches two floors of workshops and training rooms before surfacing in the upper exhibition hall that overlooks the entire sequence. form this vantage point the two exhibition halls are joined vertically in the canyon-like gap between the sloping bowl and the floor plates to become one unified space.