The Architect: Amale Andraos, WORKac
Amale Andraos, former dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, current special adviser to the President of the University and co-founder of New York City architecture firm WORK Architecture Company (WORKac), describes her design of the planned building as an act of willful optimism to help the Lebanese imagine a joyful future. Amale Andraos explains that the building was conceived to be accessible to all with the art it showcases and the vital cultural interactions it can generate around it.

“The building’s architecture is in conversation with the city’s past urban histories and its present vibrancy.” Amale Andraos
An Act of Willful Optimism and Resilient Hope
In an act of willful optimism and resilient hope for Lebanon, the new Beirut Museum of Art (BeMA) has been reimagined around the three central pillars of its mission:

• To expand BeMA’s unique work around education and community engagement
• To lead in the development of national and regional conservation practices through the Museum’s exemplary ongoing restoration work
• To disseminate to the broadest possible audience Lebanon’s longstanding artistic and intellectual engagement with modernity through the extraordinary treasure that is its underexposed National Collection of Lebanese art.

With the National Collection occupying the heart of the museum on two of the three gallery floors, the new BeMA presents a unique opportunity to re-read the history, evolution, and legacy of modern art in Lebanon across painting, sculpture, drawing, and photography. Bringing together, for the first time, over 2,300 pieces that span from the 19th century early photographic portrait-paintings through the young nation’s golden age of Abstract Expressionism to the beginnings of politically engaged art of the late 1960s, BeMA’s collection reconstructs the national archive and its history while moving beyond the ubiquitous narratives that have haunted the nation’s reading as both literally and conceptually fragmented, individualistic, derivative or dispersed.

Galleries, Conservation, Education and Performance spaces

Over the past years, BeMA has engaged in extensive work of archival research, restoration and conservation of the collection, and this pioneering work will now be featured prominently on two floors of the museum. State-of-the-art workshops and storage will be housed in the building’s basement. 

On the first floor, public-facing laboratory spaces will be combined with a dedicated area for educational programming and community outreach. 

The lobby level will welcome visitors through an open and porous space with a café on the one side and a bookstore on the other, animating the surrounding streets. 

A column-free, seven-meter-high gallery space on the top floor will serve as a temporary exhibition and multipurpose space, connected to an open roof terrace for outdoor events. 
Historical Crossroads

Situated on the Université Saint-Joseph campus at the heart of Beirut, the museum faces one of the most important arteries of the city: Damascus Street. 

Once the Civil War’s dividing line, Damascus Street unfolds as an architectural and historical record, stretching from the mythical Sodeco Tower at one end to neighborhoods of residential Art Deco buildings at the other, adjacent to many of the city’s important institutions such as Beit Beirut, the USJ Human Sciences buildings, the French embassy and Cultural Center, the MIM Mineral Museum, and the National Museum.

An Ode to the Balcony
The Museum’s balconies and outdoor rooms vary in depth and height, with each façade of the building attuned to the context around it. 
The main Damascus Street aspect is the deepest, at six meters. These spaces evolve upward, enabling community events at the education and conservation level, providing outdoor exhibition spaces that connect to the gallery levels above, finally extending the roof terrace/event space. 
At four meters deep, the side façades serve as circulation spaces with extensive Xeriscape landscaping, creating a vertical garden for the city.

The back of the building is conceived as a highly articulated fourth façade, expressing the vertical systems of the museum that move air and people, through extruded arcs and volumes that elongate the edifice.

A single-story structure there holds the loading dock, the parking ramp, and administrative offices, connecting at the roof to the education and conservation level to provide an elevated playground and outdoor garden that complements programming for schoolchildren.

Open Museum
Conceived as an “open museum,” WORKac’s design enlists the ubiquitous Modernist balcony and hybridizes it with Beirut’s unique Art Deco legacy of deep, ornate verandas. 

The result is a thickened envelope of outdoor project rooms, galleries, event and educational spaces, and gardens that transforms the traditionally closed fortress-like museum façade into a more accessible typology for the museum of the future – dissolving boundaries between the inside and the outside, between the museum and the city and between art and life, inviting people of all walks of life to engage directly with the art. 

Visitors create their own path – overlooking the National Museum to the east or the old Hippodrome to the west – as they ascend from the lobby level to the education and conservation spaces, the permanent collection galleries, the temporary exhibition, and performance space right up to the outdoor roof event space that commands panoramic views of the city and the mountains beyond. 
In Dialogue with City Landmarks
The balconies morph at ground level to further connect the Museum to the streets and life around it. At times, these extend beyond the front of the building to create a singular canopy marking the Museum’s main entrance on Damascus Street, and at others expand into a slightly elevated platform, which allows the café to spill onto the outside or create zones of opacity and varying scales to designate drop off, parking and loading zones.
Green Philosophy
With a more efficient structural system, passive approaches to dehumidification, increased solar capacity, and an extensive and varied integration between the inside and the outside as well as between the Museum and the city, the project represents a culmination of WORKac’s decades-long practice of situating architecture at the intersection of its urban, cultural and environmental contexts.

The end goal is to foster encounters and new relationships, further supporting and advancing BeMA’s core philosophy of creating a dialogue centered on education, conservation, and the arts, and running across Lebanon’s extraordinary richness and diversity of intellectual and artistic production: past, present, and future.