AN ALTERNATIVE GUIDE TO BEIRUT *A Studio on Infrastructure and Tourism
American University of Beirut, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Department of Architecture and Design Spring 2010
ARCH 304/ 406 Vertical Design Studio C | Mondays and Fridays 2:00pm – 7:00pm | Facilitators: Carla Aramouny | J. Matthew Thomas

The studio will begin by zooming in on four main infrastructural sectors: water, transportation, energy, and waste. Through analysis and mappings, their conditions and effect on greater Beirut will be explored, moving from the macro scale of the city to the micro scale of an architectural project. Students will then be asked to re-imagine the relationship between these public works within the peripheral city limits, and to propose a new architectural intervention that hybridizes infrastructure with tourist and public programs.

The future city is primarily an infrastructural one, overlapping networks and systems with our physical environment. The necessity and proliferation of these networks are detaching more and more programmatic usage from their dominating structures, forcing a rereading of our city’s fabric. Our cities are now collections of highways, sewage systems, electric power lines, and water channels. How can we re-instigate architectural and programmatic strategies into the heart of infrastructural systems? How can our built environment be re-imagined to couple the existence of such necessary networks with performative public usage? The interest in this studio will be to investigate infrastructure as sites of inquiry for architectural interventions. Tourism, the country’s most flourishing sector, and traditionally the typical lens for reading Beirut, will be considered as an essential framework for the development of such projects.

Throughout the investigation, sustainable thinking will be considered as an inherent need in our built environment. How can we propose new architectural strategies that impact our infrastructural cities within the impending crises of energy, environment and climate change? How can these projects once superimposed with infrastructure utilize tourist and public amenities to create attractor points in the city? The interest will be to propose hybrid architectural programs that support the diverse sectors, and help each sustain the other through repurposing, rehabilitating and reinvigorating.



“Beirut is Back” could be summed up as the refrain in last year’s song of travel reports. The City topped the charts in a number of newspapers and blog reports of the best places to visit in 2009. The numbers of visitors last year reached nearly 2 million – the largest number on record. But those already here, a more common heard tune was that of car horns, making “Beirut is Backed up” a more accurate chant. We all know too well that the city’s infrastructure is stressed, outdated and ready for new opportunities to support the locals and visitors alike in this city on the sea. Fresh thinking and new possibilities for the improvement of the city’s support systems are becoming crucial.
Beirut and greater Lebanon find itself sadly in good company in terms of cities and their infrastructure. While the old cities of the industrial revolution struggle to retrofit their centuries old pipes and transport, their mystic now seem rusty, with the new Asian cities growing without fear, implementing some of the most exciting and modern infrastructures seen today. Always hinging on that East meets West divide, Beirut too hears the call for renewal. This studio will take the strengths of the tourism industry as instigation for this development, and will encourage thinking of innovative and ecological architectural solutions that could re-invigorate the city’s infrastructural fabric.

“If the top-down big vision only leads to blinding reactionary anger, is the answer to take smaller steps, to retreat into our corners, ignore the morass of government and try to innovate by ourselves from the bottom-up? Or is it to take stock of the range of good ideas currently on offer and marshal them towards a passionate call to action? The kind of action that looks to our past while always facing forward. The kind that’s neither top-down nor bottom-up but laterally networked.” -Nancy Livenson (

According to Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, tourism brought in $7 billion dollars, or 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product to the countries annual income. The private investment of such monies has already begun to change the face of Beirut’s streets and public spaces. But as evidenced in several Western cities, new private and public arrangements are being created that can support local infrastructure and public amenities while intentionally capitalizing on the bottom-line and shareholders profits.

Recent government incentives (such as offering 50% off hotels outside of Beirut) have suggested that new strategies are being considered. As designers we have an opportunity to envision possibilities for a new city of hybrid infrastructures that engage new relationships, new spatial combinations, networks and diverse programming.

If we are to consider Beirut as a centralized compartmentalized city, its growth and development are rendering it more and more saturated. Urban sprawl is massive, happening all along the Lebanese mountainside, and extending outwards to incorporate the larger limits of the coastline. As Beirut becomes more and more dense, the sprawl keeps extending its greater limits more and more towards the other big Lebanese cities.
Rather than focusing on the centrality of Beirut in this studio, or turning our attention to the more or less isolated other cities for intervention, our intention will be to actually consider and focus on that sprawl zone, that peripheral “grey” zone that is encompassing the city’s main growth . The sprawl is not necessarily considered sub-urban, but more adequately “ex-urban”, an all encompassing urban extension beyond the assigned city limits. This peripheral zone will become important as more services possibly move there in the future trying to avoid the dense center. As the sprawl increases, the periphery will become the logical connector, the new “center”, an extended network of information and systems that link the different cities of the greater country. By considering this sprawl assumption, the interest for the studio will be to intervene and design hybrid possibilities that could be achieved, architecturally and infrastructurally, within this peripheral grey area, and that could instigate ex-urban and public renewal.

The course will be organized to include a number of design tools and techniques to add to your library of design processes. The studio will incorporate teamwork and collaborations as well as individual design work.
PHASE 1: Group Work | Week 1 to Week 3 | (15%)

Creating the alternative Guide / Strategies / Contemplations

The first phase involves research and analysis directed towards the four main infrastructural sectors: water, transportation, energy and waste, their current systems in Beirut and its greater periphery, their problematic and operation. You will be divided in four main groups each tackling one of these four infrastructures. You will start with a general investigation on the macro scale of Beirut’s metropolitan area extended to include the limits of Greater Beirut and its suburban periphery. Through research and analysis, you are asked to represent (re-present) the infrastructural systems as site mappings and urban diagrams for further exploration. At the end of this phase, you are expected to not only present your analysis and mappings of these systems in the city, but also to propose/suggest/ contemplate on possible rejuvenation strategies, new ideas of invigorating these infrastructural systems at the macro scale of Beirut and possibly Lebanon. These proposals are not necessarily architectural at this point, they should however be graphically and visually represented (animation, collage, diagrams, etc..)

This phase will conclude in a weekend workshop (Friday and Saturday) that will include guest critics and day charettes, and will result in the creation of a collective greater Beirut map/guide, a physical matrix situated in the studio, where the research of all 4 groups is overlapped in a visual representation of all systems. This “guide” will serve as a studio database for the entire semester, a graphical matrix of all the research that should keep informing your projects and interventions.

(More information and details about the workshop schedule will be distributed in due time)

Possible considerations by sector: (both physical and virtual)

Water: sources, pollution, distribution, access, allocation, physical manifestations
Transportation: roadways, railways, buses, bikes and boating, nodes, physical manifestations
Energy: types, production, pollution, distribution, allocation, scales, use, physical manifestations
Waste: sources, movements, collection, pollution and reuse, underground considerations, physical manifestations

Phase Requirements: DUE DATE SAT. MARCH 6th
- Collective studio map (The alternative guide)
- Power point presentation of research, analysis, new proposed strategies and contemplations

PHASE 2: Individual Work | Week 4 to Week 16 (75%)

A. Proposing Site and Program and preliminary strategy (15 %)
Focus of this phase: Proposing a hybrid program that combines tourism and your infrastructural system, in an appropriate site area of choice. (The site choice is not necessarily a pre-existing infrastructural site or edifice, but could be a new zone that has potential for possible intervention).
You are to propose hybridization between an infrastructural intervention / solution and a public touristic program. Research possible intersections of tourism and infrastructure, what would an ideal hybrid program be, what is the scenario within which this hybrid program works; The scenario for this hybridization (how could the two come together, what sort of programs and public use can result from it, how would it affect the site) should be presented diagrammatically and should result in a preliminary strategy of your intervention. This strategy should involve innovative thinking of architectural solutions that could provide new infrastructural visions, those that are inherently ecological, and that provide other amenities for public and touristic activities.
Each student will then focus their proposal to a zoomed in site of choice. Your site analysis from the previous phase should now be tailored to become more focused to your site of choice, and should deal specifically with the micro scale of its context. You are required to extend your focus of inquiry by looking into other inherent systems operating within the context of your infrastructure and site boundaries (environment, social, cultural, economic, political, other infrastructures, etc…).


Site model scale 1:1000 showing the extended site of choice with its urban context
Site analysis
Program research and infrastructural strategy (micro-scale) _ as analysis and visuals
Hybrid program proposal (including its constituents/usage and required spaces) and on-site strategy of implementation _ as analysis and visuals


B. Designing the hybrid Intervention (25%)

Focus of this phase: Formal strategy, in combination with site and program, and with ecological consideration.
Students will be asked to present a general formal design strategy that deals with their sector of choice that combines all their research in a new design of infrastructure.
How does your previous scenario for the hybrid program and infrastructural strategy transform itself into a formal intervention on your specific site choice? A conceptual strategy for the form should be considered, and produced through conceptual models. Testing and iterations on form are encouraged; notions of site and program should act as underlying flows and influences that could suggest formal applications. In other words, your formal intervention should be directly affected by your proposed strategies.
The culmination of the semester work will be in the same spirit as we began, with student proposals coming together into a shared mapping expressing the inherent interconnectedness of infrastructure and our built environment.

Requirements: TBA

C. Design Development and Final presentation (35%)

Focus of this phase: to fully develop your design and intentions into a mature architectural building that considers urban site-ing, access, functionality, orientation, public usage, materials, sustainable systems, etc… Functionality and performance of your building will be specific not only to your proposed public program but also to the hybridized infrastructural system as well.

Further details and Requirements: TBA

*Performance will constitute 10% of the grade

Attendance is mandatory for all class meetings. You are expected to be in studio at 2:00 pm on meeting days. In addition, students are expected to attend ALL student presentations and critiques. Attending partial class presentations will count as an absence. You must contact the professor PRIOR to meeting if you are expecting to miss class due to emergency, illness or related event. Students unexcused for more than 3 days of class will be considered for failure.

Grading will be based on students input and participation in studio meetings, design and presentation abilities and studio output. For student teams, grading will be based on participation and individual contribution in addition to the quality of work. The following requirements will determine your final grade for this course:

· Class discussion/respondent, on-line contribution and participation: 10%
· PHASE 1: Creating a Knowledge Base: 15%
· PHASE 2: A Identifying Site and Program: 15% | B Designing the hybrid Intervention: 25% | C Final Project and Presentation: 35%
Any student at the risk of failure will be notified after PHASE 2 part A.

Office Hours
To schedule meetings regarding administrative issues outside of class time, you may contact me us via email:, Office hours are Mondays and Fridays 12-2 (and by appointment), office 307, phone: 3675.

The University considers plagiarism (any attempt by a student to represent the work of another as his or her own) and other forms of cheating serious offenses and enforces serious penalties when they occur. In producing a professional body of research, you are required to acknowledge and cite sources for ALL material referenced in your any paper, case study, or presentation that you produce.

Student Notebooks & Studio Wiki
Students are expected to keep a personal notebook for sketches, design development and regular note taking during presentations and critiques. The course wiki ( has been set up as a collaborative resource for all students, faculty, and guest critics to use and exchange information about the studio sites. Readings, announcements and discussions be posted and student work will be posted as content is developed.

Studio Archive
It is a good habit to create well organized archives of your work. This task allows you to look back at your process as well as facilitate the creation of your portfolio and the further dissemination of your work. For this course you are required to create digital archives of all your work, which will be collected shortly after the deadlines. Be sure to document your progress throughout the semester with photography, scanning, etc.

Format: Be sure to create/capture high quality images of models and scan high resolution files of all drawings and sketches, no less than 300 dpi. Save in .jpg or .tiff format. Edit all files for spelling and grammar and provide notations as needed for public distribution.
Labeling: It is best to save all images using your first initials and full family name (ie. mthomas_01.tiff).
You must place your images in one file folder labeled with your name.

Final Collection: Archives to be burned onto a disc (CD-R or DVD-R). You are encouraged to combine files with classmates to save on the number of discs to be handed in. (Test your final disk to be sure all files are accessible and not “read in error”)
Archive Due Dates: One week after the final presentation of each phase
Phase 1_ GROUP CD: March 12th
Phase 2_INDIVIDUAL CD: June 4