We recognize the exceptional nature of the chosen site, perched on the edge of Beirut’s old coastal line, which is commemorated by the sinuous landscape of Gustafson Porter’s Old Shoreline Walk. Within this context, the site sits on the edge of a new extension and vision for the city. Our proposal contributes to the rich urban life that already exists in Beirut - and is in development in the new Hotel District - in three significant ways.
First, we reinforce and accentuate the master plan. The shops hold a hard edge against the Old Shoreline Walk. A bridge across the planned water feature aligns with a breezeway that leads to a central enclosed courtyard and to the new district north of it. We have proposed a third large reflecting pool stressing the direction of the promenade towards the waterfront.
Second, the ground level of our proposal attempts to absorb adjacent landscapes and urban pedestrian corridors, creating an invitation to the site with expansive glass storefronts, intimate plazas and a network of open pedestrian galleries. In doing so,the building’s ground floor is divided into "an archipelago of islands" off of the old shoreline, each passageway providing entry to the dispersed ground floor public and social programs.
Third, the proposal offers three public spaces to the city that will enrich the outdoor life of downtown Beirut: the Entry Court, Rotana Plaza, and the Shopping Court. Each of these serves the civic nature of the site in a different way: the Entry Court guarantees an entry sequence that is both easily comprehensible and fittingly grand in its scale; Rotana Plaza, a space between the main building and the smaller pavilion structure to the west, is envisaged as a node along the walk from the Place Zeytoun to the Marina and the future park; the Shopping Court offers passersby an opportunity to shop in a dynamic space that is cooled by the shade of a rooftop pool.
Our design operates within two contexts: one is of course the city of Beirut, its Central District and the new developments being built around it. The other is the context provided by the many Rotana Hotels in existence, from Damascus to Sharjah and beyond (the Rotana brand, in a word).
When one looks at the buildings preserved in downtown Beirut they fall into two general categories. First, there is the Mandate-era architecture of the early twentieth century of which there are many cherished examples. A second category is made out of excellent examples of mid-twentieth century Levantine modernity; this architecture, at times heroic and playful, inventive and well suited to the climate of Beirut, has contributed greatly to the overall image of the city, while it has been associated with the prosperity and joi de vivre of Beirut’s pre-war "golden era."
Our building offers a contextual response to its place in the tradition of this second category: we present a contemporary building, a building of today, that is very much of its time, drawing from, but not mimicking the local modern tradition, updating and enriching it.
We believe that the Downtown Beirut Rotana provides an excellent opportunity for the chain to reconsider its image (and with it, upgrade the perceived quality of its product).
Important developments have taken place in the hotel industry in recent years: The success of the W Hotels, Ian Schrager’s/Philippe Stark’s hotels and the many imitators that have followed throughout the world over the last decade have demonstrated the important role that design (imaginative, alluring, beautifully poetic design) can play an important role in the marketability and profitability of a hotel.
We can and would be pleased to play such a role in the relaunching of Rotana as a special, unique hotel brand with its new Beirut Central District hotel as its flagship.
Urban hotels today must provide their customers with memorable sensory experiences, which will lure them back to the place over and over again. Good memories are constructed out of fantastic situations, pleasurable moments or unique experiences. Desire is constructed. We believe we have created at least two such spaces in our design: the Entry Courtyard and the Shopping Court/Pool Terrace Pavilion.
The Entry Court provides access to both hotel rooms and the residential apartments via their respective lobbies, as well as access to shops. A single curb cut of 42 meters accepts all vehicular traffic: entrance to the underground parking and loading dock; entrance to the courtyard itself; a courtyard exit, and the exit ramp from the underground parking and service. The continuous ceiling plane hovering over the ground floor is "punctuated", as if were, by the conical, and folded, metal mesh screen lining the court’s shaft. In this way, the strong pentagonal figure of the courtyard frames the view of the sky above.
Driving in, an arriving guest is welcomed by a large canopy, waterfall walls, stone pavement, massive concrete columns, planters and benches and a low starry ceiling with lighting whose colors and intensity can be electronically controlled to produce different moods depending on events taking place in the hotel, or the time of day.
The Pavilion offers memorable experiences at the level of the Shopping Court as well as the Pool Terrace and Bar. The Shopping Court will be a commercial space like no other in Beirut, edged by shops and an open air shop itself. Shaded by flanking wings containing special hotel rooms and topped by the "belly" of the swimming pool, leaving a triangular void to frame the sky, again, when looking up from the courtyard.
The Pool Terrace and Bar will surely become an instant hit with visitors and residents alike, a stage for fun and pleasure in the heart of the city. With views of the Mediterranean Sea framed by the tall towers to the north and the open views of the city and mountains to the south and east, guests can sit by the pool or the bar enjoying the urban experience from a unique vantage point.