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Native Daughter–Now Columbia University Dean–Returns to Lebanon to Design Beirut’s Museum of Arts

Elie Chalala

By Al Jadid Staff
On the left, architect Amale Andraos lecturing at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in the City of New York, and on the right, a rendered image of the museum’s design, courtesy of WORKac.

Lebanese-born architect Amale Andraos and her company, WORKac, have been selected to design the future Beirut Museum of Art. The art museum, whose project had previously been awarded to Paris-based Lebanese architect Hala Wardé in a 2016 competition, will now be built under Andraos, featuring an open-view walkway that transforms the museum’s interior rooms into an “indoor-outdoor” space. The site, owned    by Université Saint-Joseph, had marked the Green Line separating Muslim areas from Christian ones during the Lebanese civil war. The design is intended to “break down the barriers of the museum and allow members of the community open views and access,” in the words of Ali Oriaku from The Architect’s Newspaper. Oriaku emphasizes that the ‘“open museum” idea is especially significant when considering the building’s location on a site known for its history of religious segregation and conflict.”

The museum is planned to open its doors in 2023 with a permanent collection of modern and contemporary artworks from Lebanon, the Lebanese diaspora, and the broader region. According to Oriaku, the museum “will symbolize Lebanon’s transition from a country plagued by civil war to a unified republic celebrated for its ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity.”

“It’s really intended to be part of the campus and part of the city… to break down the sense that art is elitist and closed and instead become a place where there can be discussion and conversation,” said Andraos, as quoted in the New York Times.

Andraos was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and has lived in Saudi Arabia, France, Canada and the Netherlands, teaching in several universities such as the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Princeton University School of Architecture, and the American University in Beirut. She is currently the dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and co-founder of WORKac with her partner, Dan Wood. As cited in a feature article by Architecturalist Digest, Andraos said, “I never thought of myself as an immigrant, just someone who lived in and loved many different places—all interesting to try to understand.” And that, she says, is a good background for an architect. “The idea that you can always look at something in a completely different way,” said Andraos, “means that you can always reimagine it.”’

She developed a passion for architecture while watching her father, Farid Andraos, an architect himself, work. With her company WORKac, Andraos has received international acclaim for her design work in the Blaffer Museum in Houston, Texas, the Children’s Museum of the Arts in Manhattan, and the Edible Schoolyards at P.S. 216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn, among several others.

Andraos has published several books, including “49 Cities” (2015), “Above the Pavement, the Farm!” (2010), and most recently, “The Arab City: Architecture and Representation” (2016), of which she is an editor alongside Nora Akawi.

“The Arab City” explores tradition and modernity as represented in Middle Eastern architecture. Based on a symposium Andraos had organized in 2014, the book works toward subverting reductive notions of identity and discussing preconceptions that terms like “Arab” and “Islamic” evoke, as well as “perpetuated stereotypes and simplifications that plague discussions of Arab cities—the desert v. the oasis, the traditional v. the modern,” according to Amelia Taylor-Hochberg in an article for the online newspaper Archinect. The book compiles essays from 26 contributors, including writings from the editors. According to an interview with Felix Burrichter, Andraos explained, “When you read the press releases of all the big architecture firms operating in the region, they always say things like, “Oh, we took the pattern of the traditional Islamic city…” But what does that mean? As architects…we have a responsibility to produce work that constructs completely new narratives and possibilities and opens up new histories.”

This view has influenced her vision of politics. “It always seems that we can’t talk about the Arab world without talking about Israel. It’s refreshing to look at the region without constantly defining it through the opposition to another state,” she said in the interview.

On her appointment as the designer of the Beirut Museum of Art, Andraos stated, as cited by Arch Daily, “I am honored to have the opportunity to realize our design for the Beirut Museum of Art, an institution dedicated to the Lebanese artistic culture. As an architect, and as a Lebanese person, Beirut is a city that has always inspired me, filled my imagination and remains close to my heart. Through it, I have reexamined the legacy of the ‘Arab City’ as an intellectual, artistic and progressive project.” She continued, “I hope that our design demonstrates an alternate possibility for the future of cities, as it reveals the cultural possibilities of integrating art, architecture and landscape within a dense urban setting and as a means to re-imagine how we can live, learn and share together.”

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