Issam Fares Institute, Beirut by Office dA
A building for the School of Public Policy and International Affairs designed by the Boston architectsoffice dA; © by office dA
Towards an integrated philosophy
For an Institution whose mission is to inform and enrich debates on public policy, international affairs, public health, agriculture, urban planning, and energy policy (among other more traditional fields), it is appropriate to conceive of a building whose performance, identity, and ethos emerges from the very philosophy for which it will serve as home. Our proposal is designed as an integrated building, bringing together its various features into an organic synthesis, much in the same way a policy on energy may be at once linked to planning, the environment, as well as public health. The techniques employed in the Issam Fares Institute offer new and inventive ways of integrating architecture into the educational environment of the American University of Beirut, using its own platform and philosophy as the basis for contributing to the physical well-being of the campus.
As a center for interdisciplinary research in the social sciences, the building accommodates four basic programmatic groups: a conference area, an auditorium, a reading room, and offices for faculty and administration. Each of these programs demands a different degree of privacy, and, moreover, the particular relationship between the programs often changes. As such, the building is designed to provide a high degree of flexibility in their interaction. The relationship between the conference area and the auditorium, for instance, can be either continuous –providing a large, multi-purpose event space– or segregated –allowing for several simultaneous independent activities. The areas devoted to scholarship are located on the upper levels. These programs include a double-height reading room, office and administrative spaces, as well as a faculty lounge. All of the programs are linked together by a vertical promenade which offers a series of views out to the campus while providing spaces for interaction between different programs. This promenade culminates in a monumental loggia, which looks out to the green space on the south.
In formulating an architectural language for the project, we took cues from the grove of trees into which the building is set. We arrived at a system of triangulated structural steel members that branch out, hold up the floor plates, and terminate in a diaphanous canopy over the loggia. The structural system uses triangulation among its members to give lateral stability to the building, resisting seismic forces, while offering the best views out towards the surrounding context. Contrary to conventional shear wall systems, triangulation offers an efficient structural model that is not only economical, but also one that resonates at a poetic level in relation to the trees for which it acts as background. In a similar way, the vertical promenade, while offering an integrated social life for the building’s scholars, contributes to the natural ventilation of the building, using the stack effect to draw cool air breezes into the building, while permitting the hot air escape from out of the top. As such, the vertical street serves both a social and climatic function within an integrated philosophy of the building. Similarly, the image of the building emerges from a dialectical process whereby the global ambitions and regional responsibilities of the institute are folded together in an environmentally responsible building. Drawing on materials and methods of fabrication from the region, the image of the building is at once both blended and defamiliarized. Embedded in the cluster of trees, the identity of the building owes it iconography to its natural context, while it simultaneously borrows its material palette from the architectural heritage of Beirut and beyond.
ISSAM FARES INSTITUTE
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