The fishermen’s community of Tyre, a city of 25,000 residents on the southern coast of Lebanon, has been suffering from a housing shortage and overcrowding.
Fishermen of Tyre belong to one of the most marginalized socio-economic groups in the country. Their families have no access to health and social insurance programs or retirement support schemes. An obsolete technology coupled with military and security considerations limit the possibility of fishing far beyond the seashore and thus result in serious overfishing. A continuous drop in the catch has yielded a systematic decline in the average income of many fishermen (15 USD per day decreasing to less than 7 USD during the winter season and bad weather). The fishermen’s families in Tyre were did not to benefit from the construction boom that the region witnessed during the last three decades, due to their lack of financial resources or urban regulation and constraints in the old city quarters. Their small, old and damp houses have become overcrowded. Public health experts testify to the high levels of asthmatic and rheumatic problems amongst the members of this community.
In 1998, fishermen families from the city of Tyre organized themselves into the cooperative Al Baqaa. Through their partnership with the Association for Rural Development in south Lebanon (ADR) they were able to join efforts with the Greek Catholic Archdiocese of Tyre, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation, as well as generous Lebanese locals and expatriates to support a social housing project. The project aims to provide housing to 80 families of young fishermen and at the same time to provide public spaces that serve as a platform for developing other productive, social as well as educational activities.
Construction funding came from various local and international organizations. The new site measured 0.7 hectare agricultural field outside Tyre, surrounded by tobacco fields, citrus orchards, a hospital, and chaotic development that mushroomed illegally during the war. A new master plan for Tyre allowed development in this area and replaced the agricultural road with a main road between Tyre and its hinterland. Most of the surrounding agricultural property was already being subdivided for speculative construction. The site will therefore be one of the few large-scale parcels in the area. Given the unpredictable conditions of the site and its distance from the city, the design introduces an organizational frame for the surrounding streets, new parcels and a variety of scales of public space. The form is made of an extended building (7.6 meters deep) that wraps on itself creating an internal road and a courtyard.
The internal road prolongs the side street, provides access to the units and connects the two main access points. The complex preserves the scale of the agricultural field as a collective open space. The open space provides a common public garden and a playground. The courtyard is made up of two parts: a paved area with a collective water tank underneath and a planted area. This difference in treatment creates a difference in temperature, thereby increasing air movement during the hot summer days and enhancing cross-ventilation in the units. Instead of framing the parts with trees, trees are used to mark the entrances to the paths between buildings.
The landscape filters through these gaps between the buildings to the exterior, and thereby the connection between the interior open space and the street is emphasized. The trees are linked to the agricultural landscape: olives, a local variety of the ficus, poplars, palms and oranges are used. The oranges are reminiscent of the orange groves in the area and the poplars of the tree edges that defined waterways and created windbreaks. Each main floor unit has as mall garden that can be used for planting. The roof can also be used for planting, in particular the trellises, which can be used for grapevines – a very typical feature of the region’s houses. Car ownership is low among the co-op members. One parking space for every two units is sufficient. A common van is used to commute to the port. Most cars park on a piece of land separated from the main parcel by the new master plan. The parking will eventually be moved underground with a community auditorium built on the corner to complement the open space and street intersection.
In order to avoid a closed, urban-block effect, the linear mass is broken down into a series of buildings separated by gaps that are used for public circulation. These spaces provide variety within the building volume. The corners are treated differently in response to various external conditions. For example, a small public space is created at the intersection of the main road and the secondary road, where a waiting area and a bus stop is located and a small thicket of ficus trees to shade the waiting area. Another small area along the main road between the building blocks provides space for an outdoor café and a passage to the interior. A series of small passages lead from the outside perimeter to the interior courtyard at the main corners, heightening the porosity of the project.
The fishermen insisted on maintaining equality among the units. To meet this requirement, particularly in terms of outdoor space and views, the units had to be different, depending on their location in plan. The project consists of 80 two-bedroom units, each about 86 square meters inside and about half the area in private outdoor space. The units are arranged in three types of blocks or groupings. The first type consists of simple one-story flats (simplexes) arranged around a common scissor stair. The second type of block consists of four duplexes, each duplex consisting of an open floor plan for living spaces and a second floor for bedrooms. This type is located around the main open space. All living floors have cross views and cross ventilation and are extended to the outside by private outdoors spaces (gardens and porches for the lower units and balconies and roof gardens for the upper units). The third type is a combination of duplexes and simplexes and is located at the corners of the main open space. There are nine total blocks (A to I); each has a separate entrance with a letter from the Arabic alphabet marking its doorway.
The exterior façade colors are grey-blues, while the interior courtyard façades are yellow-oranges. At the corners, these colors blend. Similarly colored surfaces form blocks that mediate between the overall building scale and smaller elements like windows, doorways and balconies. The public stairs are left open on the sides in order to help ventilate them and decrease the need for maintenance and electric lighting. In the simplex blocks, the balconies of the units extend in front of the landings in order to shade them. The public stairs in the duplex buildings are reduced to one long flight that runs through the building and is open on both sides.
Location: Abbasiyeh, South Lebanon
Type: Housing – Residential
Client: Al Baqaa Housing Cooperative and the Association for the Development of Rural Areas in Southern Lebanon; Yousif Khalil, Director
Donors: Greek Catholic Church of Tyre, Spanish Agency for International Cooperation, and several private donors
Architects: Hashim Sarkis Studios – www.hashimsarkis.com
Design Team: Hashim Sarkis, Anuraj Shah, Erkin Ozay, Ziad Jamaleddine, Paul Kaloustian, Brian Mulder, David Hill, Cem Celik, Roberto Pasini, Tarek Salloum, Mete Sonmez
Structural Design: Mohamed Chahine and Mounir Mabsout
Project Manager: Mohamed Chahine
Date of Completion: May 2008
Budget: USD 1,800,000
Built-Up Area: 8,400 m2 (80 apartments at 75m2 +4 shops)
Recognition: MUSEUM of MODERN ART, Small Scale, Big Change; BOSTON SOCIETY of ARCHITECTS DESIGN AWARD 2008; PHAIDON ATLAS of CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE; CITYSCAPE CITATION for HOUSING
Photos: Joumana Jamhouri
Illustration: Hashim Sarkis Studios