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Lebanon – Sama Beirut

The pros and cons of Beirut

by Nada Nohra

Beirut will soon have a new tallest building. Called ‘Sama Beirut,’ developers have already broken ground on the 50-story luxury residential tower in the Sodeco area. Launched in mid-August by Sama developer Antonios Projects, it is expected to be completed by 2014. The tower will rise from a 5,000 square meter plot, of which the actual building will occupy 1,200 square meters, leaving the rest for a private garden.

Tower specifications
Sama Beirut will be 200 meters high, with six underground floors used for storage and parking for 560 cars. An underground floor will also have a gym with private access for the tower’s residences. Six shops will be divided between the ground and the first floor. Offices will be situated on the third and the eighth floors.

The tower will host 58 apartments of various sizes, ranging from 300 to 1,500 square meters, as well as duplexes and a penthouse. Apartments start at the 9th floor and have a private entrance from Elias Sarkis Avenue. Part of the land belonging to the development will also be used to enlarge the road, with the aim of decreasing traffic. It will also utilize green technology.

“We have a beautiful sun in Lebanon, and we will be using it as much as possible,” says Fady Antonios, chairman of Antonios Projects. He explains that the tower will use solar energy for water heating, thus saving a substantial amount of electricity. Antonios says the tower will be more than 250 meters above sea level, thus higher than the city smog.

“The tower will be taking the fresh air from the top and feeding the whole building,” explains Antonios.  Waste water will also be treated and reused for irrigating the large garden.

“We have other features like the insulation of the building which will be of very high standards, so it will need less heating and less cooling… We have all the electromechanical requirements of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.”

Antonios says that one of the reasons why he chose the Sodeco area is its strategic location.
“You are five minutes from Solidere and very close to the airport. You are close to the main access of Beirut,  [be it] towards the north, the south, or to the mountain. It is a very quiet area. It is very well located and the people love to be in Achrafieh.”

The other reason why Antonios chose the Sodeco area is rather sentimental. “I come from that area and I love it. I attended school there.”
But some weren’t so happy to see the new tower’s plans.

Beirut’s tallest tower in Ashrafieh?
The new skyscraper is exciting news to real estate investors and wealthy buyers, but it is not the case for heritage activists who think that Sama Beirut is one of the many misplaced developments that will ruin the historical cluster still present in the Sodeco area, like Monot and Abdel Wahab Al Englizi street.

“It is on the edge of one very important cluster,” says Mona Hallak, an architect and a member of the Association for Protecting Natural Sites and Old Buildings in Lebanon (APSAD).
Hallak adds that due to a lack of  proper urban planning to prohibit building towers in historic areas, Beirut will lose its historic neighborhoods in a few years.

“Now we have [a tower] at the edge of a heritage cluster. In two years we will have it in the middle of the cluster,” Hallak says.
Fady Antonios says that he had the possibility to build six identical small buildings which would be cheaper, but instead chose to use only 20 percent of the land and leave 80 percent for gardens and greenery.

“On the contrary, the tower leaving all this space will bring all the historical buildings into relief, since they will not be hidden by just concrete blocks.”

Wael Hmaidan, executive director of IndyAct, a league of independent environmental, social and cultural activists, agrees with Hallak saying, “we are definitely against it.”
“We need to understand the value of old architecture,” Hmaidan says, explaining that Lebanon’s comparative advantage to places like Dubai is its old architecture, moderate climate and social life — not high-rise towers.

Hallak says that high rise towers need to have more open space to breath. “This… is not a place for a tower. Nobody will notice how bad it will be until it is done and there will be no sun in that area,” she says.

Both Hallak and Hmaidan say that the only solution for keeping heritage clusters from being ruined is to have a proper urban plan. Currently, to get approval to build a tower, the permit has to be reviewed by the directorate general of urban planning for the purpose of stopping random urbanization. But so far, Hallak says, all proposed towers have been approved. “If you are approving all towers, why are you reviewing them in the first place?” she adds. 

There are also no public meetings to discuss the construction with the nearby businesses and property owners before the towers are approved.

A downbeat first reaction
Others had a similarly negative reaction to Sama Beirut. Massad Fares, whose company Prime Consult is managing Sama’s marketing and sales, said Minister of Interior Ziad Baroud was not very enthusiastic when he was first asked to sponsor the launching of the tower. He even mentioned so in the launching ceremony, where he said that he was shocked at first by the news and not very supportive, but then changed his mind when he saw the green surrounding Sama Beirut.

“We sat with him and showed him what we are doing and how we took from our land to enlarge the road and the green space that we kept — it increases the value of all its surroundings,” explains Fares. “Instead of building concrete, we are going to build a high, beautiful tower and put it in a nice environment.”

Sales have started
All the construction permits have been approved and sales have begun for apartments and offices in the building.

“We have a waiting list,” says Fares. Until now, Fares says that the interest came from only Lebanese people, either residing in Lebanon or abroad.

“It doesn’t mean that there will be no Gulf people, but so far, we only have Lebanese buyers.”
Apartment prices range from $5,000 per square-meter to $15,000. Offices are priced around $4,000 per square meters, while shops go for up to $11,000. Offices and shops are not only offered for sale, but also for rent.

“The good thing about this portfolio and this client for us is that he is financially sound and not pushing to sell,” says Fares.


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