The Beirut National Museum first opened in 1942 and was designed in a neo-classical style by architects Antoine Nahas and Pierre Leprince Ringuet. Faced in local limestone, the original museum currently displays around 1300 objects from a collection of over 100,000 pieces dating from the prehistorical period through to the medieval era. Following an earlier restoration during the 1990s, a new wing was introduced, recently however, the museum was lacking space to display its growing collection, and desired to introduce a cafeteria to allow visitors to spend more time admiring the artifacts. Raed Abillama Architects were commissioned to design the new extension, which references the original museum building alongside, yet is distinctly contemporary in its character.
The project is composed of three main elements, beginning with the landscaping of the section of the archaeological gardens that now form the processional approach to the new addition. Local stone pavers and benches are complemented by indigenous planting, with the formation of the landscape design helping to guide visitors towards the new pavilion and cafeteria. The extension claims interest from the street, being visually linked to the main vehicular and pedestrian intersection in front of the Museum. The site on which the extension lies forms the peripheral limit between that of the National Museum and the Beirut Hippodrome, which offers an engaging backdrop.
Situated at ground level, the linear pavilion flows out into the welcoming courtyard of the archaeological gardens via a sequence of tall, glass doorways framed by limestone columns, which echo – in a contemporary form - the neo-classical pillars of the original Museum building nearby. The pavilion provides a generous, open and engaging venue for the display of art and has been designed to suit a wide variety of purposes and functions. The introduction of two large and adjustable skylights allows the space to be lit naturally from above or artificially illuminated when closed, maximizing the flexibility of the pavilion. The glass fronted cafeteria alongside frames open views of the gardens, while providing a welcoming destination in itself for visitors to the Museum, as well as a vital amenity. The creation of two basement levels allows for the discreet placement of restrooms and service spaces, as well as a fully functioning kitchen for the café, along with additional spaces for Museum administration and archives.
As well as enhancing and improving the level of amenities for visitors and their enjoyment of the Museum, a key element of the project was the introduction of new technical and support spaces characterized by their flexibility. This design philosophy carries through the entire project, with – for example – the main pavilion able to function as a dark room for cinematic and photographic displays, once window shutters and the skylight shades have been closed and secured.
Raëd Abillama Architects is an innovative and progressive award-winning architectural practice with an international portfolio of projects and broad experience in residential, commercial, retail and leisure commissions.
Led by founder and principal Raëd Abillama, the practice has extensive residential experience with apartment buildings and luxury single residences, both in Lebanon and further afield, including landmark projects in New York and beyond. The studio’s successes also include winery projects, restaurants and commercial buildings, with bank headquarters and offices prominent among them, as well as restorations of historic period structures.
The practice consists of over twenty architects, interior designers and structural engineers. The breadth of expertise within the studio offers clients the reassurance of a complete architectural and design service, encompassing each and every phase of a project.