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BeMa / Najjar – Najjar Architects
The Beirut Museum of Art / Competition 2016

Employees: Dana Mohsen, Ahmad Nasraldeen, Alaa Daher, Haydar Baydoun
Structure: Nabil Najjar
Climate Engineering: Transsolar

Caught between the present and the past, East and West, peace and war, Beirut, the city of oppositions and dualities, embraces the dynamic and the serene, the bold and the ordinary, the grand and the sensitive. Destroyed and rebuilt over the years, Beirut has been shattered into fragments of a kaleidoscope that still reflects the magic within. The Beirut Museum of Art (BeMa) thus aims at becoming a cultural catalyst, bringing the diverse communities of the city together.

The masterplan of the proposed project suggests a configuration around a central courtyard open to the public that comes together through two arteries. The main artery slices the site from the National Museum of Beirut across the pedestrian street to the back, by that stressing the equal importance of the National Museum, and opening up the central courtyard. The second artery cuts through the corner of the site near the USJ creating an interaction with the university. The arteries and hub create cultural trails connecting the pedestrians from different neighborhoods to the surrounding cultural landmarks.

Contrasting the surrounding rectangular and geometric city blocks, the main museum’s organic form sets itself apart. It stands as a grand gesture yet maintaining its sensitivity to the context and city. Challenging gravity, the heavy impervious form is elevated over light platforms that allow the crisscrossing of the public underneath. The main platform further acts as an open space that visually connects art and the public.

The building is sliced into two parts that represent Beirut’s duality. The two volumes shift defining the permanent and temporary exhibitions. The shift also allows Northern light to flow from the upper opening, and Southern light to be diluted through the lower opening; the latter also allowing visitors to visually interact with the street level. A kaleidoscopic structural core cuts through the entire building, filtering light into the spaces and fragmenting art across the museum walls. It also acts as a spatial connection for visitors across different platforms.

The organic form creates a dynamic public flow through the museum. The visitors arrive at a ground floor lobby that acts as a hub connecting the distinct functions together such as the administration, store, restaurant and underground black box. The visitors take the elevator to the top floor where their journey starts at the permanent collection. The visitors meander between the core and the outer skin looking into the museum and out to the city. The circulation flow leads the people smoothly downwards through stepped platforms, as they arrive at an interactive exhibition, where they could choose to end their visit, or continue downwards to the temporary exhibition through a long curved stairway along the slice of the museum allowing a panoramic view over Badaro neighborhood, the National Museum and the Hippodrome. After a flight of stairs around the core, the visitors are greeted by a café and an outdoor sculptural garden; a platform that also connects to the community art space in the secondary building block. The open plan here allows for a flexible space catering for community events, performances, screenings, etc. Visitors can then visit the library, museum store and dine at the restaurant.

The outdoor courtyard sinks partially to create a sunken garden that creates an access to the black box. The greenery also seeps into the building nesting in the structural core. The community art space and workshops are accessed through the secondary museum building ground floor each having a unique entrance. The workshops connect to the underground level, whereas the community art space grows vertically upward connecting the public through the outdoor platform. The roof hosts a sky lounge for parties, performances, and events.

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