This rare opportunity to add a public institution and an urban landmark to Beirut comes with the challenge of having to make this institution constantly evolve with art, with Beirut, and with how Beirut produces and shows art. This project fuses together two seemingly opposed motivations: to mark and to change, to anchor Beirut and to express its dynamism, to produce a living landmark.
The urban design is centered around a linear paved plaza that cuts the site east west along the edge of the University creating an open commons for the USJ campus, surrounded by the existing campus buildings, the proposed build- ing(s) and BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art.
This paved plaza is covered with parasol pines, reconnecting the Pine Forest of Beirut with the remaining green patch- es to the east of Damascus Road. The plaza provides an open space for the USJ campus that is shared with the city as well as a gathering space for outdoor activities for the community arts program and for public display of art. It also serves as the drop off zone for BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art.
Importantly, BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art anchors the intersection between the Museum Road and the Damascus Road, the 0-0 crossing of metropolitan Beirut. It fills a gap in a ring of freestanding objects along with the National Museum while also defining the Damascus Road.
The Museum Building is conceived as an urban block carved out of the city's fabric with a base that connects to the ground of the city and lifts it to a plinth, and then into two cubes, one facing the parasol plaza and one turning side- ways to face the Museum Crossing.
The simplicity of these two cubes stands in contrast with the intense activity of Beirut, celebrating the city's vitality but also the opportunity for mooring moments.
The break of the mass into two cubes also helps mitigate the scale of the museum with its surroundings. The interplay between these two volumes, one hovering over the lower ground, the other elevated and cantilevered over the base, one belonging to the city fabric the other detaching from it, translates the surrounding urban conditions into an inter- nal vitality. It gives the city the two faces that are almost similar, one at the level of physical access from the parasol plaza the other at the level of visual access from the National Museum.
The massing also reflects the programmatic organization of the museum: The major public programs are embedded in the base connected with the city and its outdoor spaces, and the permanent and temporary collections occupy each of the two cubes.
PUBLIC SPACES AND PROGRAMS:
BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art begins on the street and in the plaza. The lower ground floor activities include the Community Arts Center, the Bookstore, Library, and Restaurant. All these functions have separate access from the street and plaza but also from the interior of the atrium. The ground rises in the form of a stepped ramp to the upper ground level that includes the foyer, a bar, information spaces around the atrium and the main Temporary Arts exhibition space. The public spaces rise with the atrium all the way to the top of the building culminating in an outdoor gallery and public terrace that overlook the city.
The black box is part of the public program. It is located below ground level but is accessed through a large atrium from ground level. It is located under the northern side of the building.
There are three main ways for the public to move around BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art, I, X, and O. These three paths are interconnected and can be used by the museum to curate the flow of visitors differently depending on the seasonal organization of exhibitions. It also allows the public a degree of freedom in the way they move through BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art. The three systems connect around the atrium and provide a clear set of choices for both the public and curators of the museum.
I: This is the vertical movement that connects within each cube in the form of elevators that also link to the service platforms underground. They also provide access to the black box and its support services
O: This is the movement around the atrium that allows the public to move between exhibit spaces in the two volumes and links them to the mezzanines and terraces.
X: This is a diagonal movement through the atrium creating intermediary spaces that can be used for intermediary exhibits, relief spaces, or viewing platforms.
A service spine along the eastern face of the building connects the different circulation systems together.
The exhibition spaces consist of: 1) three main floors of permanent and temporary galleries, 2) of mezzanine spaces within the atrium and within the galleries, and 3) of outdoors terraces.
1) The main floor galleries are square spaces organized so they are approached from the edges and left open on the interior with the degrees of openness between circulation and display controlled by the curators. They are capable of holding temporary mezzanine exhibition spaces as well that are accessible by ramps along the main facade.
The top floors of the temporary and the permanent have skylights introducing natural light to the exhibit spaces.
The temporary collections cube has a major space at foyer level to bring recent exhibits closest to the entrance. The permanent collections cube features an outdoors gallery around its top floor overlooking Beirut.
This flexibility in circulation and layout between the two cubes allows the curatorial staff of BeMA: Beirut Museum of Art to constantly calibrate the degree of connection between its temporary and permanent collections.
2) The art also meets the public in the parasol plaza, in the foyer and foyer terrace and in the many levels of the atrium and its bridges and in its mezzanines.
3) The staggered terraces between the two cubes also offer an opportunity for outdoor display whether collectively or individually (as is demonstrated in the rendering) spilling out from each of the floors. On these terraces the city and the sky provide the backdrop to the art.
Photo Credits to SARCH s.a.r.l., Beirut