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[Herald Design Forum 2023] Architect Lina Ghotmeh's roots in Beirut live on in her work

By Park Yuna

Published : Sept. 14, 2023 - 20:56

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Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh (courtesy of Gilbert Hage) Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh (courtesy of Gilbert Hage)

Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh's architecture philosophy is rooted in her hometown of Beirut. The port city is situated at the midpoint of the country’s Mediterranean coast, with a history of more than 5,000 years.

“At my practice, our projects are born from my methodology of design and research called ‘archaeology of the future.’ It is about finding the uniqueness of each situation, so every project talks about where it is. Archaeology of the future is influenced by Beirut, where I’m from,” Ghotmeh said in an email interview with The Korea Herald on Sept.11.

The 43-year-old architect and founder of the Paris-based studio Lina Ghotmeh- Architecture, said Beirut has been buried under multiple layers following many earthquakes, in addition to witnessing the history of the Phoenicians and the Greeks.

“I look at an environment, at the history of a typology, and I work almost like a detective, like an archaeologist. But because architecture is never an act of the past -- it's a space that exists in the future -- it's the archaeology of the future,” she said.

"À Table" shown at the 22nd Serpentine Pavilion in London (courtesy of Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture, Iwan Baan, Serpentine)

Selected as an architect for the 22nd Serpentine Pavilion in London -- an annual event that invites internationally known architects to design and create their first structures in England -- Ghotmeh showcased a wooden nine-sided polygon building called “À Table,” featuring tables and chairs in a polygon formation along the perimeter inside.

Internal wooden beams that encircle the perimeter of the structure emerge as thin tree trunks and the fretwork panels that sit between the beams feature plant-like cut out patterns, aiding ventilation and allowing natural light to come in. The pavilion is open to the public from June 9 to Oct. 29.

“The philosophy of 'À Table' is dialogue, conversation, people coming together. Instead of having separate tables and chairs, 'À Table' is about a communal gathering. It starts with this idea of how we bring people together with the intimate spatiality that is created by sitting on a chair at a table,” she said.

The pavilion embodies the architect’s focus on sustainability and designing spaces conceived in dialogue with the natural environment that surrounds them.

“Built of low-carbon wood, it extends the surrounding park by its material, telling of its capacity to be easily assembled or disassembled to be reassembled elsewhere and continue its life. Under a broad canopy, designed to resemble a tree's foliage, it invites the public to sit back and enjoy (for a) long time,” said Ghotmeh.

"Stone Garden" in Beirut, Lebanon, designed by Lina Ghotmeh (courtesy of Iwan Baan)

Another landmark work by Ghotmeh is Stone Garden, a residential building in Beirut. It is also known as the architect’s first project in her hometown, completed in 2020. The building itself conveys the city's history, which has been wounded, hollowed out, buried and violated many times, according to her studio.

“It talks about my experience in the city, growing up with the war, looking at the city completely eaten away, but at the same time the strength of the material that surrounds you, the ruins and nature coming in, and the power of nature to bring beauty even when it's all about destruction,” she said.

Stone Garden won the Dezeen 2021 Project of the Year award, and was lauded for its distinctive hand-carved surface.

Naming the Estonian National Museum in Estonia as a life-changing project in her career so far, what keeps Ghotmeh going as an architect is the idea of the “beauty of the living.”

“My studio continually pushes the boundaries of architecture, striving to create structures that are worth building and bring about a positive social and environmental impact. Throughout the design process, we carefully consider the interconnected relationship between the built and natural environments, viewing them as mutually beneficial symbiotic entities,” she said.

Ghotmeh will speak about “Living in Symbiosis – an Archeology of the Future" at The Herald Design Forum 2023 on Sept. 19 at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul. The 13th edition of The Herald Design Forum will be held under the theme of “Design for Coexistence, Exploring New Perspectives on Coexistence.”