Friday, April 16, 2021

Seeing double in architecture: Benin vs Lebanon

In the words of architecture critic Alice Rawsthorn:
"For centuries, local communities across West Africa have found calm, comfort, joy and justice by congregating under the leaves and branches of a palaver tree. Each community chooses a tree which is large and leafy enough to provide shade throughout the year to fulfil the role of its palaver tree, typically a baobab, shea, kapok, cailcedrat or mango tree. People gather beneath it to discuss shared concerns, to resolve disputes, to celebrate weddings and for performances and storytelling. So important and beloved is this tradition, that the palaver tree is a symbol of mutual respect, decency, consensus and reconciliation..
What finer inspiration could there be for the design of a parliamentary building? That’s why the Burkinabé architect Francis Kéré chose the palaver tree as the model for the new national assembly building at Porto-Novo in the Republic of Benin. The new parliamentary building is to replace one that dates back to the colonial era, and is intended to reflect the importance of democratic values to Benin and its national identity.
Kéré’s design positions the building as if it were a palaver tree at the heart of a community. The assembly hall is located on the ground floor and is connected by a spiral staircase to the office on the higher floors. A roof terrace offers views across Porto-Novo to the lagoon. Much of the site is devoted to a public park where the trees and plants will be native to Benin. The park will border on to the national assembly building with a shaded area where people can gather just as they would under the chosen palaver tree of their village or neighborhood."
In the words of Dr. George Arbid:
"This crafts showroom in Ain el Mreisseh was a T-shaped glass box that ensured maximum transparency on all sides. In order to give the building a “character of Lebanese inspiration”, arched columns supported the flat roof. Each supporting point was made of four square steel columns that spread diagonally to meet their counterparts, thus virtually forming the skeleton of a cross vault. As an answer to a delicate program with a need for attention to representation, the commissioner (the CEGP), saw in this project “a clever evocation of tradition”. With a subtle suggestion of the familiar arch, the design resolved the paradox of compliance with the wishes of the CEGP (Conseil Exécutif des Grands Projets) to have a “Lebanese” building, yet allow for maximum transparency, lightness and polyvalence of exhibition space, all modernist attributes."