The site for the BLF New Headquarters is located in the heart of the Mar Mikhael district, that presents a mix of living, working and leisure uses. It is charged with the opportunity to be conceived as a hybrid development that interweaves the bank headquarters with public functions in order to remain active throughout the day. The site is an opportunity to introduce “inclusionary public culture”, described by the brief to uniquely exist in the Mar Mikhael district through the spontaneous use of stairs and streets and the permeability between the inside and the outside. This end of the Mar Mikael district does not present such elements that can be used by the public. The new building is an opportunity to introduce such elements and present the public with a permeable building that they can use in an informal way.
Furthermore, the site enjoys uninterrupted views of the Mediterranean Sea to the north, of Beirut city center to the west, and the Mar Mikhael district to the south. To contextualize the BLF headquarters within its context, the new BLF building must enfold spaces within its organization that allow employees, visitors and the general public to connect to these views.
Plot 659, where BLF’s new headquarters will be located, borders the main highway in and out of Beirut and consequently will be very exposed to the everyday experience of leaving and entering the city. To develop it as a “responsible landmark”, its architecture must go beyond image making, and be rooted in the provision of spaces that inspire employees to visit BLF daily like a “second home”, and the general public as their social hub.
The building is arranged as a 25 story tower within the maximum buildable envelope defined by the urban planning restrictions. However, a tower would break up the functional divisions of the bank into very small floor plates and provide minimal communication between them. The small floor plates also do not allow any space for internal social life outside the offices. An alternative scenario is to arrange the building as a lower tower sitting above a podium, similar to the residential tower on the adjoining site. Though this scenario can provide spaces for social interaction in the plinth, the small floor plates of the tower cannot. We propose a 42.5m ‘block’ that takes profit of the maximum depth permitted by the buildable envelope as defined by the urban planning restrictions, to build in the potential to introduce atriums and terraces within the building to encourage social life.
We propose to organize the functional program into two volumes interspersed by two public levels: one at the ground and first floor, accommodating on the ground, the lobby, the branch with its supporting mezzanine, and the auditorium extending to level -1, and, on the first floor, accommodating the Customer Meeting floor with its supporting mezzanine and the remaining area needed for the Branch; and another level dedicated to the public on level 7, accommodating a public terrace.
This arrangement will create a hybrid building that does not limit the inclusion of public culture to the ground floor, but extends it to level 7 where the public and the employees can interact with one another and enjoy views of the Mediterranean Sea and Beirut city center on a shaded recreational terrace.
The façades of the building are designed to provide two different types of interfaces between the BLF Headquarters and its urban context.
The ground level public floor is designed with its western and southern façades entirely openable, and the side fronting Charles Helou Avenue screened by louvers as the traffic to the basement floors move passed it. As the auditorium and the branch are self-enclosed, the rest of the ground floor lobby can be opened in good weather to promote the permeability between the inside and the outside and to welcome public culture within the building. Inside, the auditorium is strategically partially submerged into level -1, allowing a grand stair to be stacked on top of it to connect the public to the Customer meeting floor and the branch meeting rooms. This stair doubles as an informal space where gatherings, and events can spontaneously take place much like the Vendome Stairs in Mar Mikahel. The public would therefore go to the BLF Headquarters for many reasons: to visit the branch, to attend a planned meeting in the customer meeting floor, to visit friends on the level 7 terrace, or to simply use the ‘BLF Steps’ on the ground floor as a social hub.
The façades of the rest of the building must provide a different kind of interface between the workplaces and the urban context. They must provide maximum daylight and views of the exterior, but they must also manage the ‘visual clutter’ that naturally grows in any workplace over time and which becomes increasingly visible as daylight levels reduce during the day and reflectivity of glass gives way to transparency. With this in mind, we propose to clad the glass curtain wall of the offices with perforated aluminium louvers. The perforated louvers have the advantage that they allow views out, but screen views into the building. The louvers are unevenly distributed to vary the extent of uninterrupted views out and their density across the building elevations has been fixed in order to reach sufficient level of screening without compromising the views out. The use of perforated aluminium louvers also contextualize the building in the industrial history of the site.