Democracy and design

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Architect and dean Hashim Sarkis believes good design builds a better society.

Architect and dean Hashim Sarkis believes good design builds a better society.

Architect and dean Hashim Sarkis believes good design builds a better society.

he town of Byblos, in Lebanon, is several thousand years old. Indeed, it may be the oldest continuously inhabited place in the world. But now this ancient settlement is the site of a sleek new modernist town hall: three angular cubes linked by a glass-encased ground floor, set in a park. In a fitting match of architect and project, the building’s designer is Hashim Sarkis, dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P).

After all, Sarkis is a historically minded modernist who has spent years examining the architecture of civic institutions — town halls, schools, and other public buildings. He studied political philosophy while getting his PhD in architecture at Harvard University. A native of Lebanon and a long-time U.S. resident, Sarkis has global interests as a scholar and practitioner.

And as Sarkis is happy to explain, there are civic principles at work in the Byblos building.
“What I felt in that project that we did was open the ground floor to the public completely, bringing the public through the building at the ground level so the government institutions, the local institutions are transparent,” Sarkis says. “Visual transparency does not mean political transparency, but it does aspire toward that.”

That description also illuminates a key belief Sarkis holds: Architecture and urban design do not just reflect social values but help form them. […]

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