Zeytouneh Square

Gustafson Porter + Bowman:: The Shoreline Walk project by Gustafson Porter + Bowman is a proposal for a sequence of new public squares linked together as a linear route within the heart of downtown Beirut, Lebanon. In the 1960s, Beirut was a bustling melting pot of cultures and religions. But in 1975 civil war broke out and continued for 15 years, destroying the city centre and leaving the communities physically and mentally divided. The war ended in 1991 and faced with the huge task of rebuilding the city, the government created Solidere (the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District). Guided by a new masterplan, Solidere are successfully reconstructing the city. Areas have been preserved, others demolished and the war time landfill is being remediated creating a vast new 61 hectare business district projecting out into the Mediterranean sea.

Situated to the south of the Old Shoreline Walk, Zeytoune Square is a key link to the surrounding city. The square will become a celebration of modern Beirut and a place for cultural activities. Terraces make utilise the existing slope to provide open space for cultural activities, such as concerts, festivals, films. The surfacing of the square is extended across the surrounding roads, by using bold paving colours the surfacing reads as one, uniting the enclosing buildings as one space. The bold paving patterns are inspired by the black and white patterning of the traditional architecture like Khan A’sad Pasha in Damascus. The paving stripes change with the height of the ground plane creating a fractal landscape as the contrasting colours interact with the terraces. Throughout the square, specially designed benches placed under the branching shade of the Buhinia trees provides an ideal location to relax and rest in the city.

A grove of Royal Cuban palms will provide a visual link with the Shoreline Gardens. At the base of the trees lies a calm pool gently flowing towards the north edge, the water spills over in a long cascade, signalling the entrance to the square. A wide stone bridge crosses the lower pool and leads towards the black and white terraces which step up the slope, extruding from the ground plane like rock strata. Each terrace provides a platform of open space for activities such as markets, concerts or simply seating. A kiosk is placed on the upper terrace, selling newspapers to visitors at the top entrance. Passing up through the terraces is a subtle ramp, with angled geometry distorting the perspective and increasing the perceived size of the square. The sound and view of the top cascade entices the visitor up the path.

From the top cascade a water rill tumbles along the edge of the path, down to the bridge and the lower pool. By the rill, three sets of oversized steps provide seating allowing views back across the terraces, under the spreading shade of Silk trees (Albizia julibrissim). The lower step drops down to the water rill, where visitors can wash their hands in the cool water or sit and listen to the tumbling sound. At sunset these terraces become illuminated by the soft glow of orange uplighters under the tree canopies, the cascades are lit from below by an intense blue hue. The edges of the terraces are emphasised by linear slits of light, reversing the day time shadows. The terraces culminate in a viewing platform at the top of the main path. Timber and stone benches placed under leafy shade allows views back down the space. The top pool appears bottomless reflecting the view as the water slips over the cascade edge. From this vantage point you will be able to watch the activities of the square, the tumbling water rill, the seating steps and the performance terraces. Beyond this, a panoramic view of the Shoreline gardens and the evolving city skyline illustrates the splendour and bustle of the redeveloped city, the bold stripes and acute angles of the square represent a dynamic future.

Client: Solidere
Location: Beirut, Lebanon
Size: Smaller than 1ha
Status: Completed and opened to the public August 2012
Engineer: Nasr & Khalaf and Bureau Michel Chacar
Water Feature Specialist: Fountain Workshop
Local Architect: Imad Gemayel Architects
Cost Consultant: DG Jones


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