BYBLOS – Lebanon’s World Heritage site Byblos, often referred to as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has got a modern addition. The city has expanded heavily, so that most of its population now lives in the suburbs outside the old city core. The addition of a new town hall is part of the efforts to re-centralise the city and make it more inhabitable for its residents.
The architect is Hashim Sarkis, originally a Beirut-native who has been living in the US United States for the most part. He has recently been appointed dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT and is a leading expert on design in the Middle East. What could have easily turned into an exercise of flamboyance is instead a frugal and purely functional complex. The three large blocks each serve a different purpose, and, although they look formally separate from each other, they are carried by shared circulation cores on the ground level.
As the city is practically built on sandstone cliffs, the locally available material has been used as cladding to protect the new town hall from heat, as well as noise – it is adjacent to a busy motorway. The future urban planning includes options to position/build a pedestrian bridge over the highway to allow for better accessibility.
It is a good time for the Lebanon to be investing in the infrastructure within the country. It will be needed; currently one fifth of the population are Syrian refugees. In these uncertain times – Lebanon has an empty presidential position, postponed elections, the imminent choice between IS and Hezbollah and on top of all that, the US or Russia could get involved in the conflict – the town hall could also be seen as a symbol for a country which takes on and invests in its own future.