Charles Hostler Student Center, Beirut by VJAA

Vincent James Associates Architects designed the new center for social and academic activities on the Lower Campus of the American University of Beirut

vjaa_charles_hostler_12All images, plans and information courtesy of Vincent James Associated Architects (VJAA); © by VJAA; Images by Paul Crosby
The design for the new Hostler Center uses a non-hierarchical synthesis of architecture and landscape to create a set of richly varied and environmentally diverse spaces for people to gather in throughout the day and evening.

In 2002, the American University of Beirut held a competition to design the Charles W. Hostler Student Center and Corniche Frontage. An internationally recognized jury awarded VJAA first place from a shortlist of six international design firms.


The new Charles Hostler Student Center incorporates a comprehensive collegiate sports facility with recreational amenities and a new gateway to the campus along the Mediterranean Sea.


The building complex, which includes a competition swimming and diving pool, gymnasium, squash courts, exercise and weight training, locker rooms, 300-seat auditorium, outdoor amphitheatre, a cafe, administration spaces, underground parking, and outdoor courtyard and garden spaces, was completed in 2008.


The completion of the Charles Hostler Center initiated an ambitious sustainable design agenda for the American University of Beirut and provided infrastructure for the further development of the Lower Campus. The project introduced a wide range of environmental strategies to reduce energy consumption, conserve water and provide spaces that take maximum advantage of Beirut’s Mediterranean climate.vjaa_charles_hostler_01

Charles Hostler Student Center

Sited on the Corniche, the important public boulevard of Beirut, the design developed as a response to this unique context and the University’s goal to create a new center for social and academic activities on the Lower Campus. Challenging the original idea of a single large-scale building, the design employs multiple building volumes to create an ensemble of outdoor spaces connecting the various sports programs. In this way, the design emulates the scale and diversity of spaces found in the original, and much loved, Upper Campus.


The site plan is organized around a series of radial “streets” oriented toward the sea, using circulation to weave together sporting activities, performance space, courtyards, gardens, and spectator areas. At the center of the project, a café and outdoor dining acts as a catalyst for social activities. The project synthesizes architecture and landscape to create a set of richly varied and environmentally diverse spaces for people to gather in throughout the day and evening.


Site and Program

Located on a dense 73-acre urban campus at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, the American University of Beirut (AUB) is at the center of the Ras-Beirut district. The AUB campus has been described as the Garden of Beirut, because the density of plant material stands out in contrast with much of the city.

The 204,000 square foot recreation center includes competitive athletic facilities for swimming, basketball, handball, volleyball, squash, exercise and weight training, an auditorium and amphitheater, a café, and underground parking for 200 cars. In addition to its role as a center for student life, AUB also sees the new Student Center as providing a model for environmentally responsive design in the overall development of the lower campus.

The design for the new Hostler Center uses a non-hierarchical synthesis of architecture and landscape to create a set of richly varied and environmentally diverse spaces for people to gather in throughout the day and evening.


“Everytime I look through my office window in College
Hall and see the Charles Hostler Center silhouette
over the Green Field, it seems to me that it had
always been there. Then I realize that it’s only my
love for AUB that makes me feel that everything that
is beautiful on campus had always existed there.”
Samer Maamari, Vice President for Facilities
Buildings Shading Spaces,Walls Shading Buildings

The orientations of the buildings for the Charles Hostler Student Center follow a north/south axis with the primary masonry facades facing east and west. The fanning nature of the Center’s plan places the buildings in close proximity to one another, achieving a substantial degree of self-shading while shading adjacent spaces.


The original AUB Campus Master Plan required that buildings follow the standard east/west rule to minimize surfaces oriented toward the sun. A more careful analysis of the shading properties of rectangles demonstrated that north/south courtyards actually provided more shade throughout the year. Moreover, the north/south orientation also enables the courtyards to open up to sea breezes.

Aluminum louver systems shade each building to the south, and the deep sections of the east and west walls provide shading for windows and doors. Significant landscaping provides a permanent level of shading for the buildings, gathering spaces and circulation areas between buildings.


Climate and Ventilation

The regional climate could be described as semi-arid and strongly influenced by the Mediterranean Sea. In
Beirut, the summers are typically hot and dry. Winter brings cooler temperatures and rain, mostly during the months of December and January. The average daily temperature range is narrow.
Topographical variations between lowland and highland areas create a distinct microclimate along the Lebanese coast. The interaction of topography, local urban form, and prevailing wind patterns significantly affect the AUB Campus and cause very specific environmental conditions.

The plan for the Hostler Center locates each programmed building to follow the north/south prevailing wind and local airflow conditions. By taking advantage of seasonal wind conditions and the cycle of onshore breezes during the day and offshore breezes at night, the buildings will have constant air movement to cool and ventilate the interior spaces. Cross ventilation in the summer months is through multiple openings in the east-west walls.

Radiant Cooling: Geothermal and Waterwalls

In addition to the emphasis on air movement, the project relies on radiant cooling techniques for select areas of the building where larger gatherings occur on a regular basis. Human comfort is more rapidly improved through radiation rather than air movement.
Radiant cooling and heating also achieve equivalent comfort levels at higher temperatures (30C) and lower temperatures (18C). This allows for an efficiency that is more suitable for the utilization of renewable energies. The heating and cooling system uses 33% radiation and only 66% ventilation and air.
vjaa_charles_hostler_02 The gymnasium, pool, theater, squash courts, and café all utilize seawater as a cooling agent to reduce ambient temperatures. Seawater from 30 meters below the surface is piped into a central plant that provides chilled water. This water is used for radiant cooling in the indoor spaces and for evaporative and radiant cooling through the outdoor courtyard water-walls.


“This project uses elements in a thoughtful way to
create a rich urban place. Smart use of its surfaces
and resources and in keeping with the local
conditions. The outdoor spaces are more comfortable
because every piece of the building is leveraged to its
best advantage. This could have been a monolithic
program but instead the architects created an
enlivened urban quarters connecting the campus to
the water.”
Jury Comments, 2009 National AIA Honor Awards



Courtyard Level
1 Gymnasium
2 Yoga
3 Locker Room
4 Fitness
5 Squash
6 Reception
7 Café
8 Breakout Room
9 Conference Room
10 Auditorium
11 Green Field


Terrace Level

5 Squash
10 Auditorium
12 Gymnasium Seating
13 Pool
14 Gallery
15 Internet Café
16 Green Field Seating


Roof Terrace Level
17 Open Office
18 Sea Garden
19 Pool Seating
20 Amphitheater
21 Outdoor Café


Environmental Section: West East

Large north- and south-facing windows in the gymnasium and pool pavilion provide views, daylight, and natural ventilation. Solar gain through the southern windows is controlled through horizontal aluminium louvers and vertical fins integrated into the curtain wall system. These vertical fins also block the early morning and late afternoon summer sun on the large north windows. Precast concrete louvers on the east and west walls shade windows and doors.

The north-south orientation of the main building volumes shades courtyards throughout the year and opens the courtyards to prevailing sea breezes. With the primary masonry facades facing east and west, the fanning nature of the plan places the buildings in close proximity to one another, achieving a substantial degree of self-shading and reducing solar gain.

Radiant Surfaces
Given the substantial building mass from the concrete structure, an integrated system provides radiant surfaces used for cooling and heating to the majority of the program areas. Only radiant heat is provided at the swimming pavilion pool deck due to the substantial amount of natural ventilation provided. Exterior water walls provide evaporative and radiant cooling zones in the courtyard spaces.

Displacement Cooling
Dehumidified fresh air is supplied low, at the level of building occupants. Warm air is pushed up from this layer of cooled air and exhausted through the rooftop skylights or returned into the ventilation system.

Solar panels on the roof of the gymnasium and pool pavilion heat water for the pool, showers, and other domestic hot water needs in the facility.


Environmental Section: South North

Natural Ventilation
The steep hillside topography of the AUB campus faces north and is densely planted. Air cooled by these shaded portions of the campus drops toward the sea during the day, creating a constant cooling and flushing of the air. At night, the site’s prevailing winds are redirected toward the land by its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. The building and courtyard orientations and operable windows optimize the use of these naturally occurring breezes.

Sectional Migration and Microclimates
Building volumes and circulation are woven together by a series of intimate social spaces emphasizing lush and aromatic foliage, cool shade, and the sound of moving water. Three levels of gardens and terraces provide a diversity of gathering spaces and microclimates. In addition to an amphitheater for evening concerts, the theater, café, and gymnasium connect directly to terraces for social gathering.

Roof Gardens and Green Courtyards
Green spaces visually integrate with the upper campus, provide usable rooftop areas for activities, and insulate the roof from its direct exposure to the sun. Many of the existing native trees were preserved, non-native plant species removed, and new native sea and drought tolerant species planted throughout the complex.

Water Collection and Gray Water Reuse
Storm water is collected through appropriately placed site drains and rooftop landscape surfaces and reused for irrigation. Potable tap water is dedicated for indoor use only – kitchen, lavatories, and showers. Gray water from showers and lavatories is collected within a separate piping network and treated for use in toilets.

Seawater/Geothermal Cooling
Chilled water is provided by an advanced seawater-cooled centrifugal, absorption chiller and heat exchanger. Since heat rejection uses seawater, no additional cooling tower make-up water is required.

Environmental Section:


1 Daylighting
2 Precast Concrete Shading Louvers
3 Radiantly Cooled Surfaces
4 Displacement Cooling
5 Solar Panels
6 Cross Ventilation
7 Stack Ventilation
8 Skylights for Ventilation and Daylighting
9 Operable Doors and Windows for Ventilation

American University of Beirut
Climate Engineer
Transsolar Energietechnik
Landscape Architect
Hargreaves Associates
Associate Architect & Structural Engineer
Samir Khairallah & Partners
Mechanical and Electrical Engineer
Barbanel Liban S.A.L.
Civil Engineer
Wael Kayyali
204,000 Square Feet
Completed 2008

2009 National AIA Honor Award
2009 AIA/COTE Top Ten Environmental Buildings
2008 AIA Minnesota Honor Award
2006 Progressive Architecture Award

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