Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Shoreline Walk in Beirut, Lebanon by Gustafson Porter
November 17th, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Gustafson Porter
The ‘Shoreline Walk’ is a sequence of connected spaces which form part of the reconstruction of the Beirut city centre. The area suffered physically and emotionally during the 1975-1991 Civil War. Beirut was once a melting pot of cultures and religions but the war created the ‘Green Line’, a physical barrier between the Christian East and Muslim West. This might have been difficult to erase, however the rebuilding demonstrates the Beirut’s character and resolve.
The city was once known for its rocky shoreline Cornice, with its avenues of palms and cafés but during the war a rubbish mountain grew from daily waste tipped into the Mediterranean Sea. Areas have been both preserved and demolished by the new master plan, whilst the remediated landfill is set to become a new district, projecting out into the sea. Rather than leave the old coastline land-locked and redundant, it was decided to create a pedestrian route that straddled the old and new city boundaries. The ‘Shoreline Walk’ is placed between the natural topography and rationalized medieval street layout of the old city, and the engineered grid of the new land-filled area. It is located between memories and aspirations, between activities that made a connection to an organic coastline and a new contemporary landscape.
Research revealed the evolution of Beirut’s coastline. The first Phoenician settlers arrived in 1220BC, followed by; Romans in 64BC, Mamluks in 1291AD, Ottomans in 1516 and the French in 1918. Successive civilisations adjusted the coastline to create harbours that brought wealth to the city.
Within this context, we have suggested a new line which guides and reveals elements of history and forms a connective spine. A continuous white limestone line marks the ground and a wide pedestrian promenade. Organic movement line runs along the length of the walk, links the four open spaces and re-establishes an East-West link between places that might not be connected by the new grid. Physical and visual links extend beyond the spaces to re-establish memories between key monuments and spaces.
The promenade is also inspired by the historic ‘Corniche’, a wide palm-lined walk which followed the coastline from the edge of the city centre to the public beach, 2km to the west. In a city with few parks and squares, this is the most popular open space with a constant flow of walkers, joggers, cyclists, bread sellers and wedding parties, watched by people in the cafés. The current ‘Corniche’ stops at the edge of the city centre but the Shoreline Walk will reconnect it.
It will be recognised by the paved and planted landscape, lighting and water features which combine to enhance its perception within an otherwise uniform urban context. To the south of the promenade, light coloured paving and trees signify ‘dry land’, as it existed before the war. To the north, open areas of dark granite, boardwalks and timber pergolas mark the sea’s previous position. The granite’s reflective quality is enhanced by water features or rainfall, creating the illusion that the sea has returned.
Research into the spaces of the walk revealed the character of the pre-war city and forgotten memories, which inspired four areas to pause and reflect. Each ‘memory’ generates an atmosphere with facilities and functions alongside required by a contemporary city.
All Saints Square will connect with the new Corniche and Marina. Before the war, the church occupied a headland surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Historic photos revealed a calm space and a promontory for diving into the sea. These qualities are re-interpreted in the new square, creating an intimate, self contained space, lowered to the original ground level adjacent to the church. Views focus towards the sky, the space is enclosed by soft green textured walls and sheltered from traffic, creating a haven of textures infused with the summer aroma of Jasminum officinale. At street level, a raised route provides direct passage through the space, connecting the walk with the Corniche whilst allowing views into the garden below.
Shoreline Gardens is the site of the historic ‘Avenue des Français’, Beirut’s first coastal promenade or ‘Corniche’. During the war years, it became deserted and buried under landfill. Our design revives the ‘Avenue des Français’, to provide a contemporary promenade. A long linear water feature and pergola unite the space, creating water movement over an undulating surface and dappled shade to sit below and relax ? and re-establish this area as a meeting point.
Zeytoune Square is situated to the south of the Shoreline Walk, and provides a key link to the city. The square will become a celebration of modern Beirut and a place for cultural events by utilising the informal terraces. The surface extends across the roads to the surrounding buildings, unifying the site to one large space. The bold paving is inspired by the black and white patterning from traditional Lebanese architecture and specially designed benches with WiFi are placed under the shade of Albizia trees.
Santiyeh Garden, separated from the surrounding streets by buildings on all sides, provides the perfect setting for a green oasis inspired by Middle Eastern Paradise Gardens. The garden occupies an ancient cemetery site, and encourages a contemplative atmosphere. The garden is divided into three distinct spaces: The entry space is a continuation of the Old Shoreline Walk promenade, emphasised by the line of Royal Cuban Palms connecting to the new souks. To the south, the lower entry square and a grove of trees provide shaded seating adjacent to a long ‘chadar’ water cascade, which leads to the upper garden containing a mosaic of sensuous planting and water features, based around a grid. A hierarchy of paths invites visitors to choose their space as they are guided from the formal edge of water tables into intimate groves of aromatic planting. The garden is enclosed by a wall of woven mesh pergolas with intimate seating niches. The construction programme allows for the staggered development of the spaces and the gardens will be developed in sequence with the adjacent building fabric.
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