Meisa Batayneh discusses the Aga Khan Award's recipient - The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs Project

Amman | October, 2017 

Ms. Batayneh discusses the controversial Aga Khan Award recipient for the 2014-2016 awards cycle. A project by the late Zaha Haddid, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, completed in 2014, has been a hotly debated project in Beirut, Lebanon: "A new building, radical in composition but respectful of its traditional context, “floats” above an exterior courtyard. The American University of Beirut (AUB) held an invited competition for the design of a structure to accommodate a modern-day think tank on its lush middle campus, one that was in harmony with the rest of the university, especially mindful of the surrounding greenery, and to preserve, as far as possible, existing sightlines to the Mediterranean. The building had to fit into another stage in the implementation of a master plan for AUB, whose upper campus overlooks the water, and whose lower campus is located on the seafront. The architect responded to the project brief by producing a design that significantly reduces the building's footprint by "floating" a reading room, a workshop conference room and research spaces above the entrance courtyard in the form of a 21-metre-long cantilever in order to preserve the existing landscape. The 3,000 square metre building is defined by the routes and connections within the university; the building emerges from the geometries of intersecting routes as a series of interlocking platforms and spaces for research and discourse. The massing and volume distribution fits very well with the topography, and the nearby Ficus and Cyprus trees are perfectly integrated with the project. The building’s construction is a continuation of the 20th century Lebanese construction culture of working with fair-faced concrete."