For centuries, the coastline along the city of Beirut was home to a fishing community, and even as the city grew, the small homes in the fishing neighborhoods still had views of the sea. Over the last decade, that inevitably started to change: Developers realized they could build high-rises and offer those same views at a premium. But the huge new buildings cut off the rest of the city from the beach.
A new project from Najjar & Najjar Architects is designed to reconnect the older neighborhoods and the water in an unusual way. The Iris sits on stilts on the beach, looking a little like a stylish lifeguard station, but it’s not just a place to look out at the waves; the structure is also connected to a buoy on the water, which harnesses wave energy and then sends it back to the small neighborhood homes.
“The wave energy is kind of a gift to the community of fishermen that has been pushed aside,” says Karim Najjar, one of the firm’s co-founders. “And the small structure is like an extension of the old homes, with a window out to the sea.”
The design is more of a symbolic gesture than something very practical, since the waves don’t generate that much energy. The little building is also not really intended as a shelter. “It’s not architecture that protects, but an experience of being closer to nature,” Najjar says. As the waves go up and down, the door on the Iris opens and closes like an eye, reminding someone inside of the power of the ocean.
“It’s kind of like what the fishermen do–they go out, put their chairs up, they kind of live with the sea,” Najjar explains. “It’s an experience that’s in opposition to a high-end apartment with a sea view. We’re providing an alternative.”
For now, the design is just a concept, though the architects built a small prototype to test. Najjar, who is a professor at American University of Beirut, has been testing wave harvesting systems at other scales.
“This is just one output,” he says. “I’d like to build one, though I don’t know if it will be this design.”