Hala Wardé to design Beirut modern art museum

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Beirut is to get a new modern art museum inspired by Italian bell towers and Arabic minarets designed by Paris-based Lebanese architect Hala Wardé.

A 124m tower will be the centrepiece of the complex on what the project backers describe as “a symbolically charged site that once marked the dividing lines in the Lebanese civil war”.

The art on display  will be drawn from 2,300 works from the early 1900s to 2015 including pieces by 470 Lebanese artists collected by the country’s  ministry of culture, and the first exhibition is scheduled to open in 2020.

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One thousand works have been chosen to form the basis of the museum’s permanent collection.

Many are currently hanging in Lebanon’s presidential palaces, parliament and on the walls of government buildings. They will undergo cleaning, with the help of the German embassy, before being rehung in the new galleries at the base of the tower.

The architectural competition jury was led by Lord Palumbo, the chairman of the Pritzker Prize.

In a statement, the jurors said Wardé’s design was a “totemic tower” that would “act as a beacon, evocative of the historical structures of treasury, lighthouse, outlook tower, belvedere and campanile”.

Palumbo said the design was chosen for “the way it creates a succession of varied landscapes and spaces where art and society can come together”.

He explained: “The connections between garden, amphitheater, exhibition spaces and roof garden have been well considered and offer a continuous visitor experience that lends itself to both exhibiting art and engaging with the community.”

The tower will be divided into a dozen 12m cubes. The lower three will act as circulation spaces for the main galleries while the rest will house a library, temporary exhibition spaces, artists in residence and classes.

It will be located on a site owned by the Université Saint-Joseph and includes a sunken garden at its base.

“It is on an exceptional site facing the national museum,” said Wardé who runs HW Architects. “It is on the Damascus Road which links this port city to the rest of the Arab world.”

Other jury members included architects George Arbid, Farès el-Dahdah, Rodolphe El-Khoury, Rem Koolhaas, and Richard Rogers; artist Lamia Joreige; Serpentine Gallery directors Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones; and Henrietta Nammour, president of APEAL (Association for the Promotion and Exhibition of the Arts in Lebanon), the non-profit organization behind the project. The late Zaha Hadid was also a member of the jury in the early stages of the competition.

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