Two decades after the Lebanese Civil War reduced Beirut, that storied Paris of the Middle East, to dust and rubble, the city is reemerging a hotbed of design. But whereas many of the earlier rebuilding efforts were either faithful reconstructions of the past or cheap proxies for the future, the latest batch of designers is forging a bold new path. They’re both riffing on the city’s history and gently defying it. From a gorgeous bar in an old booze factory to modernized Roman baths, the aesthetic is unexpected, occasionally dark, and always terribly cool.
Architecture and design are often excellent barometers of regional aspirations, and by all appearances, Beirut not only wants to reclaim its title as the Paris of the Middle East but hopes that one day people will think of Paris as the Beirut of Europe. Below, we’ve got a sampler of some of the city’s best new design.
More vaulted interiors from the Harvard-trained Lebanese architect Paul Kaloustian. His MYU restaurant and bar (up top and below) is a refurbished liquor factory in Beirut’s ur-trendy Gemayze district. When he found the place, it was plastered with graffiti. Instead of covering up the walls, he draped them in see-through black fabric, creating two tunnel-like spaces — one for the restaurant, one for the bar.
On the opposite side of the grayscale, we’ve got the architect’s office, a symphony in white:
Like any city red-hot with ambition, Beirut is luring its share of bluechip foreign architects. Swiss duo Herzog & de Meuron has plans to design a high-rise apartment along a new yachting marina, hard by a dump of war-time debris.
The higgledy-piggledy floor plans produce all sorts of garden terraces and overhangs. They’re meant to evoke the city’s multi-layered history, with its traces of Phoenician, Roman, Arab, Mamluk, Ottoman and colonial rule.
British landscaping firm Gillespies recently landed a gig revamping one of Beirut’s most hallowed sites: the Roman Baths. The renovation is expected to gently nudge the ruins — which are smack dab in the middle of the city — into the 21st century with lookout platforms and low-slung glass walls. Developers are keen to turn the area into a modern concert venue and visitors’ center, without destroying its historic fabric. Lord knows, the city’s had enough of that. Check a video of the proposal here.