by Anmol AhujaAug 31, 2021
An undulating site in Faqra, composed of shards of limestone rock, carved by millennia of rain and snow, sculpt the challenging conditions for a rectangular residential volume to be placed on, millennia later. What invites an alluring architectural intervention over this site though is the jagged landscape's reimagining as a canvas instead of solid bedrock. The result is a wondrous retreat nestled at an altitude, near monumental in virtue as opposed to proportion. The “second” residence design, by Beirut-based Karim Nader Studio, eponymously named after its principal architect and designer, assumes the proportions of a remote fort, and is immediately reminiscent of the architectural characteristics afforded to such a settlement, owing to its unique vantage. Alluding to the increasingly dramatic rock formations that nurture it, and to a way of drink best enjoyed from the enviable location of the house, 'On the Rocks' is pure indulgence in terms of residential design , drawing more from its natural surroundings than material opulence.
The small town of Faqra near Lebanon is well known for its ancient archaeological ruins dating to the Roman and Byzantine eras, along with the popular skiing destination it proves to be, situated on Mount Lebanon. The occasional snowing at the altitude provides a scenic backdrop for a retreat in the truest sense. While the sawtooth-like rock formations may be dubbed “houses of ghosts", 'On the Rocks' finds life, habitat, and a sense of enclosure, perched atop these. The designers at Karim Nader Studio then treat the house as an extension to the rocky natural environs, referencing the greys and the jaggedness of the limestone around it, in the house’s hue and texture. Amid an open, occasionally harsh terrain, 'On the Rocks' nestles intimate housing spaces in man-made fair faced concrete.
The house is accessed by a meandering floating staircase that braces the rocks’ ascension. Volumetrically, the structure is composed of three seemingly disparate 'boxes' that are bridged, symbolically, by a floating zinc roof that adds to the levity of the structure, in contrast to the deftness and weight that the concrete brings. The linearity of the overall structure is also carefully offset by the occurrence of the ‘solids’ and ‘voids’ in the house. An alteration follows: “where roof happens, enclosure disappears, and where enclosure happens, roof disappears”, states Karim Nader, rather genially, through an official release.
The interior spaces have all been pictured and designed as individual “warm worlds” within themselves, generously clad in wood, counterbalanced by a careful use of glass that comes alive in a dynamic relationship between the two materials. The bedrooms, particularly, are 'punctured' with an orifice at every entrance, wherein an angular scoop makes way for a small patio with a tree, a rock, and select avenues to the outside.
The reception is the first area to greet patrons into the house, leading up from the floating staircase onto the west side of the house. It overlooks an elongated terrace that is sheltered by an 18m long bridging roof, with a long pool jutting out towards the same avenue, cascading down the street. The southeast corner of the house retains an existing circular rock formation, becoming a suited receptacle for a sundeck with a fire, and an extended reception terrace with lavender plantations and scattered pebbles, in an effort to recreate zen tradition.
“Nature builds us and we build upon nature,” states Nader, summing up his overall composition and the intent with the house. While the grey, largely linear volumes formed of unyielding exposed concrete, and the roof surmounting it reiterate the elements of a house’s iconography, the structure is designed and constructed to let nature take over: visually, aesthetically, and rather euphorically. The site for the project, also the building’s greatest challenge, transforms into an evolving tapestry: naturally inviting its residents to sit out in the summer and spring, while shielding them from a harsh spell of winter. “I seek to always listen. To the site of course, and the voices of nature, but also to the human context,” concludes Nader, sardonically equating 'On the Rocks' to a British garden folly.