Amid the larger context of the Middle East, Lebanon has acquired very particular characteristics, mostly prevalent in its delightful, pleasurable and noteworthy architectural tradition solely specific and evident in the houses of its people. The soul and heart of this country is in its soaring mountains – rising above the ancient Mediterranean. The beautiful and vastly irregular terrain of steep valleys, rivers and estuaries created microclimates providing exquisite varieties of sun, wind, snow and fog. Communities huddling in villages and small towns have built dwellings specific to their local surroundings. A distinctive architecture was a dialogue between the Levantine ideas and the unique character of Lebanon. The strong vernacular expression was thus manifested across society. Starting with the simple shepherd house to the relatively luxurious houses of the upper classes, an evident theme ran through where architecture responded directly to its complex environment and surroundings.
A common thread classified these dwellings into particular typologies. Amongst these typologies emerged the rectangular house, the gallery house, the liwan/court house and most importantly the central hall house. Subtle varieties of the central hall house dominated the landscape and further gained significance over the other types.
The original composition of this central hall house in Baakline, Lebanon was designed by the architect’s grandfather in the 1930s. The central hall was deemed the nucleus of the house with most rooms grouped around it. A formal side entrance was devised to access the central hall from the exterior. Over the ensuing four decades, the structure had undergone numerous additions by the architect’s father now. Several terraces were enlarged and connected, as if naturally, to the gardens in order to accommodate the growing public and private functions held at the house. This enhanced the relationship of the structure to the landscape, allowing easy enjoyment of the outdoors yet keeping some of the formality in place.
The scheme envisaged by the architect here stresses two important issues. First is to preserve and enhance the vernacular architectural quality of the house, secondly is to address the contemporary needs for his family in making the necessary alteration and expansion.
Site: An entry archway leads to a pea gravel motor forecourt surrounded by tall privets and virgin oak trees dating back to the 18th century. At the end of the forecourt, a low metal gate opens to a formal paved plaza; on axis is a vast front sunken lawn with a pomegranate arbor in the distance. Along the perpendicular axis is the formal stairs leading the house entrance door. A side service entrance is accessible from the forecourt and leads the kitchen entrance and the wine cellar.
The need for separation between daily family activities and formal receptions was deemed necessary for the success of this renovation. The family courtyard is located directly outside the kitchen breakfast pavilion and is connected through a rambling trellis archway covered with ivy and clematis. The archway leads to western yard which serves as spillover space for extended family functions. This area overlooks a swimming pool, open air Jacuzzi and a pool house on the lower level. A vegetable garden with a parterre layout separates the swimming pool area from the front sunken lawn.
Façade: The original design called for a pyramidal roof with deep orange tiles. The roof was never built at the time of construction. As in most dwellings of that vernacular, the height of its peak is to match the height of its ‘piano nobile wall. The architect was able to source the desired terra cotta tiles from Cuichard Carvin et Cie in Marseilles, France. The rectangular tiles are designed to interlock and overlap to prevent water seepage or resurging. Roof dormers have been used throughout classical architecture in Europe. In this specific vernacular, roofs were considered unheated storage spaces, and in turn there was no necessity for dormers as they are rarely seen on any of the old houses. The architect added dormers to the roof and was able to use the attic as a gym and a playroom. There are also small bedrooms with bunk beds ideal for overnight impromptu guests. The dormers are made of standing seam copper and a teak inner lining exposed under the copper – adding an appropriately contemporary element to the façade. A similar copper-teak treatment was used for the projecting overhang in the TV room and in the bedroom abutting the south terrace.
Interior: The architect opened the central hall thus enlarging the living room into the dining room and relocated the kitchen on axis, and added a breakfast pavilion as an extension into the family courtyard. On the other end, the northern terrace overlooks the vegetable garden below and provides views of the snow capped Baruch Mountains atop with the ancient cedar trees. There are three en-suite bedrooms located on the other side of the central hall providing much need privacy and directly relating to the family functions on the exterior. On the floor below, also accessible from the interior stairs, a guest apartment includes two en-suite bedrooms, a cozy living room and a dining room capable of handling catering events. This apartment opens directly on axis with the vegetable garden.