Mazraa District, Beirut, Lebanon
The subject of sustainability in this project is a broader issue than energy conservation and building design. To meet the aspirations of the Beirut Museum of Art the Architecture and Urban Design should, in the first instance, cede to the nature of the place. To be sustainable the museum must first be viable and offer its audiences ways and means with which to absorb its coming role in the city. We propose that soon, maybe as soon as Spring 1/1/2017, the site be employed to engage BeMa’s audiences, develop a sense of place and gradually bring life to a neighbourhood that dies off after 5pm every week day, all day long on weekends and is deserted during public holidays. In its North East corner the site could host a covered market, street food trucks, a rhythm of trade and night life, out of work hours activity, Beirutis at weekends and a wider public during the 28 days of public holidays. In this first instance most of the car parking is retained and the neighbours kept happy. To become an urban anchor, to avoid the isolated environments that other local museums have found themselves struggling with, the BeMa starts off with a precursor to its future development while it settles in a new curator, expands its collection and devises its urban plan; a plan that will go hand in hand with curatorial strategies and future programmes. “To play a leading role in the Lebanese and Middle Eastern cultural landscape, BeMa will need to occupy an important position and fill a major vacuum that exists today. This vacuum is institutional in character and relates to the absence of a credible, mature, and capable art institution with a comprehensive portfolio, assets and programmes to deliver a recognised educational, formative, and research-oriented mission and have the audiences, means and facilities to sustain it. In addition to that, BeMa must succeed at the urban level, creating a catalyst in the city and contributing to branding Beirut as the city of culture and the arts.” 1 At this scale of study and at this stage of design the sustainability that we believe is relevant is that of the urban and cultural context. Two issues that we view as critical to this development at this point of its intellectual maturity. In the following pages we have set out a phased approach to this project and this is formed by questions of its feasibility, a need for sustainability and desire for longevity.