Lebanon's Master Architect
The Asmar Villa
EL Khoury is also a master of residential design, as exemplified by a house for Bechara Asmar in "Rabieh," a hillside near Beirut. The site is very steep and can be reached from streets both above and below it. The owner insisted that access be from below because he felt that the lower street would be less busy. This presented the architect with a problem. He was accustomed to providing such sites with access from above in order to leave open the view from the front.
To comply with this constraint and with the site topography, EL Khoury designed the house as a sort of a cube elevated above the garage level. One enters the house from below, under the "pilotis," and then moves into the garden level. The living level overhangs the garden; above it is the bedroom level.
Because the direction of the slope did not coincide with the axis of the view, the architect made the plan in the shape of a parallelogram. The structure follows the site configuration, while the living area faces a different direction looking out toward Beirut.
Although this skewing gave the cube an interesting geometry, allowing EL Khoury to add large pergolas and balconies, it created a structural problem. Supporting columns in the living area could not align with the columns of the other levels.
The solution was to hang the floors from the upper level using stay rods. This created large floors free of columns, rather like a loft. This open plan will allow the space to be reorganized in the future to accommodate the changing needs of a growing family.
I believe it is rare nowadays to find an architect whose work is both theoretical and practical, but this is the case with El Khoury. His work stands on its own without intellectual discourse. We can understand his architecture simply by observing it.
Victor A. Khoueiry is an architect and journalist living in Beirut.
Photography by Geraldine Bruneel, Joseph Brakhia, and Joseph Faycal, supplied courtesy of Pierre El Khoury.