School of Business, Invited Competition

American University of Beirut

Beirut, Lebanon

Competition: School of Business

Scope: Interactive tiered classrooms; faculty offices; full kitchen and café; reception halls; roof terrace; courtyard and viewing terrace; two-storey parking

Business schools often encourage active exchanges between the outside commercial world and the students and faculty within. The business schools we’ve constructed—including two since the American University of Beirut (AUB) invited us (and four other firms) to its international competition—started with an exploration of this fundamental value. We considered how architecture could open a school to a region’s business community and foster connections with executives, entrepreneurs, companies. We also considered how architecture could convey the standards of excellence and energetic pace consistent with today’s workplaces.

AUB had set aside a hillside site above the Corniche with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean. Our design makes two important gestures. We sited the business school at the edge of the lower campus so it would sit prominently on the Corniche and create a high-profile complex that is visible from downtown. Our design also makes a conscious nod to AUB’s landscape tradition by creating an expansive green, gardens and pedestrian paths that tie into the broader campus.

The space requirements for the new school were quite large, and our solution was to break the mass into two buildings, a sandstone bar and a glass tower, which connect via a planted bridge. This move creates a dramatic portal, which frames views of the Mediterranean and echoes a local leitmotif, in which many downtown streets offer sea vistas, creating beautiful perforations in the dense urban fabric. The buildings themselves are masses that harmonize with the campus and with the urbanism of the Corniche. Overall, our design creates openness, an outward orientation, and ample social spaces, including a reception hall and roof deck in the transparent glass tower. A floor below the deck serves as incubator space for local startups—an idea we used again for the Beacom School of Business in South Dakota. Both buildings open on the Mediterranean side to a terrace that overlooks the Corniche; below are two floors of parking.

Materials: Sandstone; limestone; steel; glass; concrete