Dubai-based architecture and design practice Anarchitect have recently completed a new boutique gym space in the heart of Beirut, Lebanon that boasts an industrial design.
The second of its kind, U Energy Beirut first originated in Dubai, when Jonathan Ashmore, director of the locally-based architecture and design firm Anarchitect was previously working at Godwin Austen Johnson.
Having set up his new firm, the U Energy brand wanted to expand to the Mediterranean city of Beirut and set up a second location. In doing so, the client called in Ashmore to develop and further the U Energy concept for the second location.
“U Energy Beirut is the second health club for the brand and is located in the heart of Beirut’s downtown area. [It’s] amidst the high-end retail stores, fine restaurants and boutique hotels,” explains Ashmore.
He adds: “It truly is at the centre of the city and is frequented by energetic members of Beirut’s social crowd. Constructed within a stand-alone, classical, sand-stone building and [accessible via] a secluded courtyard, the health club’s 1,000m2 facilities are split over three levels and topped off with an open-air roof terrace that runs the full length and width of the property.”
According to Ashmore, the project brief for the Beirut workout space naturally evolved from the first health club in Dubai.
He adds: “The brief was to capture the same soul and energy created in Dubai’s DIFC and to respond to the local geographical, physical and environmental context.” In addition, some aspects of the Dubai branch which served to be successful elements of the space, such as the multi-function training zone, were further developed for the Beirut space.
U Energy Beirut further includes a studio space and a private roof terrace, which takes full advantage of the Mediterranean soul of the city. Additionally, Lebanese gym-goers can enjoy a reception area, juice bar and lounge area, while a large multi-function studio and terraced cardio area provide fresh break-out spaces.
The mezzanine floor houses changing facilities, a consultation room and a spin and yoga studio. A sheltered roof terrace measuring at 200m2 can be accessed from the staircase, and offers sports-grass flooring and outdoor training equipment for group sessions.
Ashmore explains: “The original concept was conceived around principles of regenerating an existing space or structure, each future U Energy is therefore highly contextual and inherently responds to place.
“When the first Dubai project came to us at Godwin Austen Johnson where I was working at the time, the client gave us the freedom to explore a bold design direction because they understood that the architecture would play a major role defining the brand. The health club has become known and admired for its design direction along with the positive effect the spaces have on the fitness and training experience for their clients.”
While the Dubai project sits at 650m2, the Beirut space measures at 1000m2 and differs from Dubai’s in that the three levels were already existing, causing more challenges that Anarchitect had dealt with during the first project. Ashmore’s team also had to address the limited ceiling heights and awkwardly shaped floor plan.
Originally inspired by old black and white photographs taken in a basic warehouse gym, the U Energy brand strived to create a space that would motivate those using the space.
According to Ashmore, the design team believes that space and aesthetics can bare heavy effects on the space’s users, inspiring them to train harder and push beyond their limits. Due to this design philosophy, Anarchitect went with robust materials that can withstand long-term impact.
Ashmore says: “The structures are honest so that you can understand the mechanics, and the material palette is a combination of oak, mild steel and concrete to create a natural, precise and solid balance. The industrial aspect of the design comes from the fact that we are occupying an existing space. We wanted to express the existing structure and reveal the historic layers of the building to add character and honesty to the space.
“Even if we are regenerating a relatively new space like DIFC in Dubai, we thought that it was important to reveal existing elements of the space to build up a narrative that can continue to develop as the space and function change over time. More often than not, we are working with concrete structures in the Middle East, so this really underpins the industrial aesthetic.”
Anarchitect worked with a number of Lebanese firms and contractors to deliver the gym’s second edition, allowing it to belong fully to the city rather than operate purely as an establishing franchise. In doing so, the project relied heavily on locally sourced materials.
According to Ashmore, Beirut boasts high quality metalwork and artisan craftsmanship regarding joinery and masonry and working with Beiruti contractor Sarkis Keuchguerian Engineering & Contracting proved to be a positive part of the project. As the contractor took pride in the development in the project, Anarchitect was able to deliver quality work despite the geographical distance between Dubai and Lebanon.
Ashmore explains: “The main materials in the project comprised of powder-coated aluminium mesh and box-section framing for the vertical partition that runs from the ground floor reception area to the gym on the first floor.
The staircase was constructed [from] polish-finished concrete and the timber joinery throughout the project is oak with a matt lacquered applied finish.
“In the changing rooms, the shower partitions are laminated black-painted glass with brushed stainless steel ironmongery. The sanitary items were sourced from Laufen, the faucets and showers are from Bongio and the lockers are from Celare. Together with the client, we worked closely with Life Fitness and Rogue Fitness to design the equipment layouts and selection, [while] the sports flooring is from Everlast.”
Furthermore to the flooring and bathroom equipment, the lighting was delivered by Beirut’s .PSLAB, which provided the design team a “great opportunity to work closely with a creative locally-based company to realise a dynamic and dramatic lighting design for the health club.”
Anarchitect faced two major challenges during the construction of the project: lack of constant electricity within the country and the awkwardly shaped existing floor plan.
Those living in Lebanon are well aware of the constant power- shortages and electricity cuts. Because of a lack of continuous electricity streams, commercial and residential buildings alike are forced to rely on power generators. According to Ashmore, finding a reasonable and aesthetically pleasing location to store the battery backup was crucial to the outcome of the project. However, thankfully, the team managed to find a legitimate solution hidden from the main studio area.
Ashmore adds: “Although we do enjoy working with difficult spaces, the floor plan was tricky to plan on the mezzanine level as we had to accommodate both the male and female changing rooms and shower areas back-to-back without compromising the minimum acceptable dimensions and number of members at any one time. It took many sheets of tracing paper but we finally managed to get the layout to work effectively and without detriment to the design and functionality.”
According to the design team, the material palette and design really reflect and respond well to Beirut’s gritty nature. As a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it still maintains a pride and appreciation for quality use of material and approaches to design and architecture.
Ashmore concludes: “Beirut is creatively inspiring for architects like us—so we feel U Energy really captures the energy and soul of Beirut and the people seem to really enjoy it.”