WORKac’s Marea, inspired by Mediterranean hill towns, redefines Lebanese housing

In the multi-family development of Marea by WORKac, housing reflecting the natural landscape of the Mediterranean creates a new layer for Batroun’s history.

by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Nov 15, 2022

What entails a multi-family development on the once-occupied territory of Lebanon?

Occupied by the forces during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, Marea stands on a once abandoned land. Twelve years after the Syrian army withdrew from the country in 2005, the owner of the site, Chafic Saab, in 2017 hired New York-based WORKac to develop a multi-family housing there. As a foreword to the inception of Marea residential complex, principal architects Amale Andraos - who was born in Lebanon - and Dan Wood, narrate the once dilapidated state of the site, "Saab recalls walking the half-demolished site after the Syrian army’s withdrawal, having left behind concrete blocks, rusted steel, plastic tents, tires, and garbage bags." However, the owner's enthusiasm to build a multi-family housing on the site is rooted in the natural beauty of the land. "Yet throughout all of this destruction, the view of the Mediterranean remained, sparking a feeling of optimism and the possibility for a new life for this spot," the architects share. Though the Mediterranean's serenity and beauty are blinding, building on the land’s textured history of being a once-occupied territory, and people’s psychological restraint associated with it, appeared as significant constraints. Through the design of Marea, WORKac brought forth a new concept for the Batroun and its residential development culture, seemingly, adding a new layer of hope to the historic context.

  • Marea is a multi-family development on the Mediterranean just outside the city of Batroun designed by WORKac | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    Marea is a multi-family development on the Mediterranean just outside the city of Batroun designed by WORKac Image: Bruce Damonte
  • The project investigates density by combining an approach towards shared circulation and infrastructure | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    The project investigates density by combining an approach towards shared circulation and infrastructure Image: Bruce Damonte
  • The project was a true collaboration between the client and the architect | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    The project was a true collaboration between the client and the architect Image: Bruce Damonte

In order to bring Saab's concept for the site—"to embrace a radically different approach to development in Lebanon by creating a multi-family housing project in which building sizes vary from very small studio apartments to duplexes, combined houses, and stand-alone villas”—the American architects were hired in 2017 to conceptualise it. Following the proposal that embraced density in housing, the architects presented individual units that would offer the best views of the Mediterranean sea and by 2021, Marea was realised. “Our project investigates density by combining an approach towards shared circulation and infrastructure with the construction of private terraces featuring extraordinary views,” state the architects.

  • The client’s concept for the site was to embrace a radically different approach to development in Lebanon by creating a multi-family housing project  | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    The client’s concept for the site was to embrace a radically different approach to development in Lebanon by creating a multi-family housing project Image: Bruce Damonte
  • WORKac’s response was to embrace density in housing and celebrate the variety of housing unit sizes | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    WORKac’s response was to embrace density in housing and celebrate the variety of housing unit sizes Image: Bruce Damonte

In four terraced rows that step down a steep slope to the beach, the architects laid out the 60 units of Marea. In descending order, smaller studios sit at the top of the site, followed by larger dwellings such as townhouses, semi-detached houses and individual houses on the lower tier. In Marea, architecture and landscape design become one entity, oscillating between the necessities of both. Resembling a Mediterranean hill town, the landscape and architecture follow a complex geometry of planted, triangulated folds. This triangulated approach directs the development, imparting a visual interpretation of Marea where the form becomes an abstracted extension of the sea’s waves.

  • Marea is also an attempt to capture what is so magical about Lebanon: the incredible range of landscape, most visible in the compression from mountain to sea | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    Marea is also an attempt to capture what is so magical about Lebanon: the incredible range of landscape, most visible in the compression from mountain to sea Image: Bruce Damonte
  • The project was conceived to bring together landscape and architecture, with the vista of triangulated green roofs and an undulating topography that descends towards the sea | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    The project was conceived to bring together landscape and architecture, with the vista of triangulated green roofs and an undulating topography that descends towards the sea Image: Bruce Damonte
  • The diversity of unit types all feature unobstructed views and each owner enjoys access to the public beach through a series of ramps, stairs, and streets that connect the units | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    The diversity of unit types all feature unobstructed views and each owner enjoys access to the public beach through a series of ramps, stairs, and streets that connect the units Image: Bruce Damonte

The site plan places the different dwellings in levels, adopting a complex geometry where the correlation between the built and unbuilt spaces gives birth to spaces in between which then act as 'streets' of a hill town. Aside from being a path of circulation, the streets also encourage interaction between the habitants, thereby reflecting the practices of a Mediterranean hill town. Among these social spaces that naturally instigate a sense of communal living and family, elements like wooden patios, swimming pools, and lush planting beds become extended additions for recreation. Adding to it, the WORKac states, “Its shared restaurant on the beach has become a destination for people from all around the country, giving an even more urban character to the streets and passageways in the evenings."

  • While architecture merges with landscape, landscape also becomes architecture | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    While architecture merges with landscape, landscape also becomes architecture Image: Bruce Damonte
  • The houses are set in a complex geometry of planted, triangulated folds, creating streets | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    The houses are set in a complex geometry of planted, triangulated folds, creating streets Image: Bruce Damonte
  • Even with the site’s high density, the units have substantial privacy | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
    Even with the site’s high density, the units have substantial privacy Image: Bruce Damonte

As the concept of density is primarily explored in the site planning of Marea, the American architecture studio also gave necessary attention to the high density of the site, to create privacy for the inhabitants. While designing the accommodation units, the primary intent was to provide an unobstructed view of the sea and nature beyond. Every unit features a double-heightened living space that opens onto a private patio (or to a roof deck for the upper units) with either a private or shared swimming pool. As per the needs of the inhabitants occupying the units, the layout of the space varies— smaller studios, townhouses, semi-detached houses and individual houses. About the realisation of Marea, the architects said, "The project was a true collaboration between client and architect. Chafic Saab lived on site for three years to oversee the construction of the project and has since completion continued to make it his permanent home.”

Marea aims to be a model of how density in urban development can succeed in fostering a sense of collectivity and community while still maintaining individual difference and privacy | Marea | WORKac | STIRworld
Marea aims to be a model of how density in urban development can succeed in fostering a sense of collectivity and community while still maintaining individual difference and privacy Image: Bruce Damonte

The uniqueness of Marea lies in the coming together of all units rather than the design of each, much like the geography of the coastal town. Placing a scale built of this proportion on the natural landscape with green roofs, further adds to the narrative of residential architecture that is rooted in the land and its context. The form of the housing also engages in a dynamic reflection of undulating topography with the architecture in a constant dialogue with the nature of the Mediterranean, the history of Batroun, and the future of Lebanon. "Despite the tremendous overlapping crises that the country has faced since 2020, Marea is now fully occupied and has become a thriving community with some residents living there full time, as well as a model of how density in urban development can succeed in fostering a sense of collectivity and community while still maintaining individual difference and privacy," share the architects.

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