by Sakhi SobtiSep 03, 2023
Bernard Khoury is an architect of contradictions. The founder of Lebanese practice DW5 is recognised for his serious (and seemingly apocalyptic) architectural visions, particularly those coming from the war-torn landscape of Beirut. A strong advocate of exceptions, Khoury has over the last 30 years delivered sensitive yet poetic work addressing precarious territories. One of his most recognised project is the coffin-shaped B018 nightclub – a deep subterranean night spot evoking our collective memory to an extremely problematic past of the site. Built in the Karantina area near the Port of Beirut, the grounds of this hip entertainment project - often referred as catastrophic and absurdist - are also the location of the 1976 Palestinian massacre. For Khoury, the project which evoked his own memory of witnessing the camp burning in flames, encapsulated a political stand in a relatively unserious space, such as a club. A testament to the project's sucess stays in the fact that though the building was initially meant to be a temporary project, 14 years later, it still remains there in that catastrophic landscape, eliciting the same flurry of emotions that Khoury wanted to communicate.
A key thread in Khoury’s multi-disciplinary practice is the experimentation with history and about raising a tabula rasa condition. An example of this practiced trope comes across in the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies from Armenia’s climate ravaged city of Gyumri. Built inside the Gyumri Theater – an important landmark of the city located in a largely residential neighbourhood. The 1850s site, surrounding countless dilapidated structures and a few protected buildings, has survived two major earthquakes and several alterations to accommodate programs ranging from a People’s House during the Soviet times to a local television broadcasting centre. The reason the site was popular was because it was once home to an opera house with a characteristic architectural language that attracted visitors from far and wide.
Khoury was tasked to mend and expand the building into a digital media learning hub comprising interactive learning platforms and performance spaces. A key consideration in the project was the sensitive restoration of the building's original features, in addition to creating a meaningful dialogue of the new programmes with the cultural fabric of the city.
Delving into the design from outside-in, the façade of the building reveals a characteristic dialogue between the past and the present. In the 2500 sqm centre, Khoury has restored the theatre’s southern and eastern frontages of local turfa stone construction and white plastered finish. The other facades and new additions are painted in a vibrant red colour. The exterior materiality thus creates a defining point of contrast between the old and the new.
The spaces within the 2475 sqm centre are distributed across its four storeys, and classified in four focus areas, namely animation, video game development, digital media, and web development. Khoury’s interventions address the challenges of the original architecture which included tight spaces and low ceiling heights. The programmatic layout proliferated the student spaces on the ground floor whereas all public facilities such as the main lobby, administration and public theatre are designed on the upper levels. Access into the students zone is via the eastern façade at the lower park level, and that of the public zone is through the roof of the ground level, connected along the western façade. This roof is a distinguished space of the centre that acts more than just a space of transition, and rather an element that bridges the architecture with its context. Nestled under a towering canopy with mirrored underside, one could see the activities of the space below – comprising an arch, bar and a common gathering space - reflected on the roof from afar.
In the interiors, the space for screenings and performances for students take form inside the ground level’s former 200-seat opera theatre. Inspired by the grandeur of its precedent, the former hall has been converted into stepped theatre with a pivoting stage that could double as a larger co-working space, 3D printing lab, and a recreational digital hub.
The permeating red of the spaces as well as the structural additions that have been grafted to the historic fabric elicits a certain seriousness, perhaps a mixed bag of exhilaration and deep remorse. Much like what each of Khoury’s projects, from his sharp and rebellious oeuvre, effectively manages to do.
A result of the collaboration between Khoury's DW5 and the centre’s team of local artisans and engineers, the project employed homegrown building techniques including specific masonry works, as well as local manufacturing of structural components and furniture pieces.
Name: Tumo Center for Creative Technologies
Location: Gyumri, Armenia
Project Type: Institutional
Status: Completed 2020
Built-up Area: 2,475 sqm