In photos: The creative cave

Beirut’s unconventional architecture

Every human dwelling owes something to the primordial need for shelter that is associated with the stereotype of a caveman — which is usually a synonym for a life with ample room for cultural refinement. But unfortunately, far too many apartments and even so-called villas of our day and age fit the caveman ticket at least in their exteriors. Cities today, just like the past 100 years have the flair of stacked caves that are crowded into buildings are deficient of character. They are structures built from primitive design or shortsighted greed, or both. Consequently, millions of buildings in thousands of cities are only theoretically conducive of social life and economic activity, lacking structural character that would support their owners and tenants in improving their lives.

Beirut also is stacked with buildings that create feelings ranging from distance to disgust, whether as fancy but wholly unimaginative towers or as barely functional boxes used for commerce, housing, leisure or education. But that is not the whole truth. There is not only a small and dwindling portfolio of heritage buildings that help the city to breathe civilization, there is also a small but growing stock of new buildings that represent ingenuity and some that even make us think — and perhaps help us think more constructively.

When Executive last month surveyed one such building, the new home of the Issam Fares Institute think tank on the grounds of the American University of Beirut, IFI director Rami Khouri said that the new building had immediately boosted his team’s ability “to do better work.” Part of this was due to the structure’s information and communications technology features and the high visibility that the building provided. But another part of the productivity gains derives from the building’s design and the conducive environment that it generates, Khouri said, inspiring staffers to conduct their “core activities with much greater enthusiasm.”

With a tip of the hat to the project owners, architects and developers that have invested themselves in unconventional projects, Executive has put together a selection of recently completed buildings that impress us as concepts, and which give us something to think about. Some may even be seen as entrenched, positive elements of the city’s fabric in 100 years time.

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly listed Peia Associati as the architects of the Holcom Head Office; it is Atelier des Architectes Associés (AAA) with lead design by Lombardini Italy. It also listed the office at 10,000 sqm instead of 33,000 sqm. Apologies.

Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years.

Greg Demarque

Greg Demarque is a photographer based in Beirut.


  1. Joey said:

    As an AUB alumni, I can assure you that the vast majority of AUB students I’ve talked to find the Issam Fares building to be absolutely hideous.