Six months after the launch of its international architecture competition to build its new headquarters at the Northern main entrance of Beirut, and at the end of a rigorous and innovative selection process, Banque Libano-Française (BLF) announces the selection of the Norwegian-American studio Snøhetta.
“The Bank and the jury had the chance, but also the difficult task, to choose among 3 beautiful projects conceived by prestigious, passionate and committed architects who were fascinated by Beirut and its contradictions,” says Raya Raphaël Nahas, BLF General Manager. Snøhetta’s ‘Magic Box’ stood out among the three fantastic projects…
With its flexible and interconnected interior wide spaces capable of coping with the Bank’s future evolution, of stimulating synergies, enhancing productivity and innovation among its young and dynamic workforce, but also with its eco-friendly approach showcased in the sustainable development and public spaces open to Mar Mikhael’s neighboring community, Snøhetta’s project was a perfect fit to the BLF design brief and its objective to create a space “not to work more, but to work better”, explained Raya Raphaël Nahas who added:
Our ambition through this competition was to find the architect who is capable of embodying this will and rethinking our workplace while breaking the conventional codes of private construction in Lebanon, to integrate public spaces within the building without compromising its security, and taking into account the digital evolution and new collaborative methods at work. Snøhetta’s philosophy about collaborative spaces and new work methods, have seduced and convinced us. We have decided that the team shares our values, our attention to detail as well as our respect of the environment, the community and the historical legacy of Beirut…
“A client like BLF brings out the best in us!” explained the founder and partner of Snøhetta, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, upon announcing the results. “A city like Beirut challenges the definition of urban typologies and the contradictory architectural interpretations. A site like this captures the relationship between the different parts of Beirut, the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains. The project responds to these conditions”. The project reveals an extraordinary architecture, a stone veneer, multiple connections with the outside, large cuts and modular openings overlooking a 360-degree view, even a symbolic interpretation of Mar Mikhael stairway… Elements that will turn, without a doubt, the new headquarters into an inevitable urban landmark harmoniously blended in with its environment.
As a reminder, BLF’s architecture competition was officially launched in January 2016 when eight renowned architecture studios, Spanish Barozzi Veiga, Danish-American BIG, British Farshid Moussavi, Japanese Kengo Kuma, Italian Piuarch, Norwegian-American Snøhetta, as well as Lebanese Nabil Gholam and Youssef Tohme, were selected among 35 studios visited by Raya Raphaël Nahas and the architect, professor and consultant Luca Molinari. These studios had visited Beirut for an introductory workshop to get to know the Bank, the project site and the city.
They were back in Lebanon in April to showcase their projects in front of an international jury composed of Walid Raphaël (Chairman– General Manager of BLF), Raya Raphaël Nahas (General Manager at BLF), Luca Molinari, Hashim Sarkis (Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at MIT), Jean-Christophe Fromantin (Member of the French parliament and Mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine) and Li Brian Zhang (Professor at Beijing and editor-in-chief of the magazine World Architecture). Due to the remarkable quality of the showcased projects, the jury could not determine one winner. It chose three studios, Barozzi Veiga, BIG and Snøhetta, for a second round, requesting them to further develop their projects.
Throughout the competition, the architects’ visits to Beirut also featured gatherings between the architects and the Lebanese academic and artistic communities, as well as real estate professionals within the framework of conferences, exhibitions and receptions organized by BLF “The Bank made sure that this project is, above all, ‘a project for Beirut’”, says Luca Molinari. “We have conceived an ambitious and challenging process that allowed us to select some of the best architects and rising stars on the international scene. The extraordinary quality of the projects and the original and powerful character of the winning project are witness to the added value that this competition brought to the Bank and to Beirut! I am certain that it will be a reference for institutional architecture in the Middle-East”.
This statement echoed that of Kjetil Trædal Thorsen: “By setting higher the standards of architecture competitions in Lebanon, Banque Libano-Française took the expectations of its audience to a whole new level, which gives the Bank a huge responsibility, that of maintaining its professional, innovative and humanistic momentum“.
For over 25 years, Snøhetta has designed with some of the world’s most notable public and cultural projects. Snøhetta kick-started its career in 1989 with the competition-winning entry for the new library of Alexandria, Egypt. This was later followed by the commission for the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo and the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion at the World Trade Center in New York City, among many others. Since its inception, the practice has maintained its original trans-disciplinary approach, integrating architectural, landscape and interior design in all of its projects.
Among its many recognitions, Snøhetta received the World Architecture Award for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the Aga Kahn Prize for Architecture for Alexandria Library. In 2013, Snøhetta’s design for the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University was awarded the American Institute of Architects and American Library Association’s Library Building Award, among many other recognitions. Since its completion in 2008, the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet has also garnered the Mies van der Rohe European Union Prize for Architecture and the EDRA (Environmental Design Research Association) Great Places Award, as well as the European Prize for Urban Public Space, The International Architecture Award and The Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2010.