BEIRUT – Before Zaha Hadid became known as the queen of the curve, her best known projects – both theoretical proposals as well as her built work – were widely admired for suspending fluid, crisp shards in space. In the latest finished project, the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, Hadid's architecture studio returns to its roots to remind us that the starchitect is not a one-trick pony after all.
Located on the university’s central, leafy campus, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea, the building is surrounded by a century old grove of ficus and cypress trees and sits on an incline intersected by various routes and shortcuts. The architects have drawn these into a series of platforms and ramps that encircle and bisect the building, whilst the bulk of the building’s mass has been lifted off the ground in an impressive, 21-m cantilever, preserving the existing landscape, while also affording panoramic views of the seaside from the roof terrace.
To materialise the building, the architects have turned to fair-faced concrete poured in situ, a material that both the architects, as well as the local contractors are familiar with. This allowed a combination of crisp edges, smooth openings for the windows, resulting in a high quality of details. Furthermore, the material lends the building the necessary thermal mass, all the while harmonising with the pale stone cladding of the older buildings on the campus.