Visceral Vista

Architect Bernard Khoury’s Penthouse Embraces the Brutal Lebanese Cityscape

As one of Lebanon’s most noteworthy architects, Bernard Khoury is helping to shape the discourse on the current state of architecture worldwide. He does this through his strong stance on present day trends, as well as the way he protests through his works: producing constructions that refuse to be swayed by a need to emphasis syntax or stylistic and visual stamps.

‘I think it’s about time we cope with situations, and focus on our ability to cope (or not cope) with the sour realities that our environments are facing.’ he explained to us. ‘This is where the debate should be, not necessarily in our superficial worries that seem to be the more central focus of the media and of the architectural world in general.’

And indeed, his own home, which he designed in direct response to the location’s scenery and history, is a testament to his beliefs. The land that the building stands on had previously been left deserted for nearly a decade following the end of the 15-year civil war.

With a backdrop of various cemeteries, institutional buildings, and other constructions, Bernard’s home does not have your typical romantic vista. The idea, he told us, is to be able to ‘recognize and celebrate an urban reality, and to face the context you’re building in.’

We asked Bernard more about his penthouse and his works:
The Plus: How would you describe the style of your apartment?
Bernard Khoury:
We used certain materials that might seem brutal to begin with. We made use of black painted steel in a very large apparatus stranded in the ceiling, which contains the heating and cooling operation. We sculpted and engineered it with a mechanical engineer
These materials could seem very odd and peculiar in a reception or living room space; yet putting contrast with the abundant use of wood does create quite a great balance between the choices of materials. They were used very honestly.
There’s almost no decoration- I hope that there is some poetry that comes out of that.
I would rather be considered with artisans and practises that the building industry has been dismissing over the last two decades. That’s a form of resistance to the building industry, which is now blindly abiding by standards that come to us from manufacturers that are imposing new standards for supposedly economical reasons.

TP: How much did other people’s opinions come into play, when designing this-your private space?
The finishing materials, and furniture pieces were not solely my choice. My staff, friends and family were involved. There were also little touches here and there that were brought by outside influences. A friend of mine offered me a swing. It’s attached to the bridge, and it turned out to be a great addition. At the end of the night I often myself, or a friend, swinging and flying over the violent cityscape.

TP: What Is Your Normal creative process?
We start with the understanding of a situation, not by the act of drawing initially. We try to resist the act of drawing for quite a while, for as long as we can. We try to develop our positions to various aspects of researching and understanding the situation in different forms.
By drawing, I mean the act of translating into recognizable architectural forms. This leads us too quickly to stylistic issues, and visual trends and things that are very superficial. We try to restrain that for as late as we can, until we feel like we have very clear intentions.
I’m not interested in architecture for the sake of architecture. Of course at the end of the day I’m making a building and these ideas materialise into steel, stone, wood, etc, but this comes at a later stage.

TP: What is the best advice you have given to your students?
We should stop worrying about this morbid approach to architecture, which consists of picking up the pieces of what our fathers and grandfathers left behind in terms of syntax and styles. Instead we should look at the fundamentals of the project, both on a political, social and cultural level.
I have much more sympathy for what others may call ugly architecture (as long as it produces relevant meaning), than a very smooth and sterile work of architecture that falls within the expectations of present day trends.

Photo: Courtesy of Ieva Saudargaite, DW5/Bernard Khoury