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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

November 2007 Issue

Two Trees Grow in Beirut
A landscape architecture firm takes on the challenge of creating a quiet space in the middle of a busy city and wins an Aga Khan Award.

Two Trees Grow in Beirut

Given its location in the recently reconstructed Beirut Central District, Samir Kassir Square, designed by Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture, acts as a prominent gateway, welcoming people to the heart of the reborn city of Beirut, Lebanon. The challenge of this project was to create a quiet refuge on a limited piece of land surrounded by buildings, while addressing the prominent street frontage that it occupies—in essence, to create a small escape dedicated to the city and its people. Samir Kassir Square was recently awarded one of nine 2007 Aga Khan Awards for Architecture.

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture was established by the Aga Khan (spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims) in 1977 to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of Muslim societies. The award recognizes examples of architectural excellence in all the places where Muslims live, in the fields of contemporary design, social housing, community improvement and development, historic preservation, reuse, and area conservation, as well as landscape design and improvement of the environment.

A serene and contemplative space in the heart of downtown Beirut, Samir Kassir Square provides welcome relief from the built-up urban fabric and frenetic pace of the central business district. Two historic ficus trees inspired the designer to create a composition that revolves around framing and highlighting these sculptural trees, which embrace and protect this public space. The trees provide shade at the center of the space, and a reflecting pool with water cascading over its edges marks the border with the street and visually expands the space. The pool is flanked by a rectangular timber deck that encircles the two trees and has at its western side a 20-meter-long bench of solid stone. The edges of the site have a ground cover of dwarf natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa), a water-conserving plant known for its dark evergreen leaves and its white, star-shaped flowers and red berries.

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