Designed by Fouad Samara Architects, with Fouad Samara a key shareholder in the development, Modulofts aims to create a new residential typology reflecting Beirut’s rich urban living and responding to its evolving requirements. Inspired by the purity of the traditional Lebanese house – the ‘beit’ – and the flexibility of urban lofts in London and Manhattan in the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies, Modulofts is a 14-storey building made up of seven duplex lofts elevated off the ground level, on a single-aspect 206 sqm site, in Beirut’sestablished Ashrafieh district.
In addition to the commercial aims set for the project – such as catering to the market need for small- to medium-sized residential units – the design team’s aspirations for the project sought to imbue the lofts with the sense of ‘home’ often missing in developer-built apartments. Modulofts also provides truly flexible live/work spaces within the evolving and dynamic city of Beirut, and a rare moment of order among the chaotic built environment that has plagued Lebanese cities since the 1920s.
In designing Modulofts, the team aspired to capture the essence of the traditional Lebanese house, developing a plan for each of the seven vertically stacked lofts that has a central double-height main space – the living/dining area – with two rooms or modules at the lower level, and another two linked by a slender bridge at upper level. The plan is ordered along Louis Khan’s ‘served and servant spaces’, with all services running along the rear of the site in a 2.4m-wide zone, with an 80cm zone in front for the built-in cupboards and internal stair, leaving the 4.2m-wide ‘served’ spaces overlooking the street through a largely glazed façade.
In a dramatic move by the practice, outwardly sliding walls between the four single-story rooms and the double-height living/dining space provide 16 different ways to ‘tune’ each loft, varying its spatial configuration. The capability for internal flexibility has the added advantage of creating a continuously changing and unpredictable façade that engages with the street. It is this ‘tuning’ of the living space that celebrates the ‘art of inhabitation’, coined by architects and theorists Alison and Peter Smithson in the Eighties, where the piece of architecture is not complete until the tenant/owner moves in and makes it their own, ‘tuning’ it to their needs. Each of the apartments can transform the cellular bedrooms and traditional closed kitchen on the ground floor, to open mezzanine bedrooms, open kitchen, TV room, study, home office, painting studio, and so on. In total, given the 16different ways to configure each internal space, there is incredibly more than 268 million possible variations to the façade.
Like the traditional Lebanese house, and lofts of London and New York, the construction materials and method of assembly are evident and legible. All structural elements are in in-situ rough shuttered reinforced concrete, today’s indigenous material in Lebanon; steel and aluminum elements, such as the façade curtain walls, balustrades, internal stair, and sliding walls, are painted black; non-loadbearing elements, such as suspended ceilings and MDF cupboards are painted white. Fouad Samara Architects has achieved a legible clarity and a brutal honesty in how the building is put together, and how it works.
With Modulofts, Fouad Samara Architects aims to create an inspiring addition to the city of Beirut by capturing and reinterpreting the essence of the traditional Lebanese house. It also taps into the essential qualities we value in lofts: honesty in the use of materials, natural light, flexibility, and spatial luxury.
Notes to Editors
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The Lebanese house – the ‘beit’
The traditional Lebanese house, the ‘beit’, which was the basic residential type in Lebanon until the 1920s, had a very ordered plan with a central hall or ‘liwan’ in the middle with entrance at one end and a balcony at the other. On either side of the ‘liwan’ were typically two rooms, or ‘ouda’, opening onto the ‘liwan’. These rooms were used for living and working/food preparation during the day, and for sleeping at night. The central hall had a tripartite opening on its main elevation, the best way to have large fenestration with the load bearing stone technology of the time, and the rooms or ‘ouda’ had smaller simpler ones. The more important the room, the bigger the opening. These traditional houses were built using the indigenous stone, left exposed on the outside giving the house its distinct character.
About Fouad Samara Architects
Founded in Beirut in 1997, Fouad Samara Architects has earned a reputation for delivering design excellence and innovation in projects ranging from small private residential developments to projects in the commercial, retail and higher education sectors. FSA aims to produce an indigenous and authentic architecture that is derived from and is relevant to its cultural, social, physical, and economic context. This includes applying a stringent design process, nurturing close interactive relationships with clients, based on research and invention to develop an architecture of integrity. The practice seeks a unique architectural solution for all projects, devoid of any stylistic or branding preoccupation, and that aspires to the continuously fresh and relevant ‘l’esprit nouveau’ of the Modern Movement. Founder Fouad Samara studied architecture at University of Bath and has a particular academic focus on the work of Alison and Peter Smithson.