In a congested and busy urban district, a garden is what Beirut dwellers don’t expect: an instance of halt while the rest of the city is running. In this common garden, Francis Landscapes has created a new component to the historical Gemmayzeh district. While founding the garden’s layout on linearity and symmetry, the final layout is a clear amalgam of simple forms, a soothing color scheme, native plant material and a concern for ecological alternatives.
Urban Zen Garden
In such a small (1000m2) space threatened by sound and air pollution, as well as the harsh conditions of a hot and moist summer season, the challenge was to create a breathing space in
a front garden, for plants as well as human beings.
This entailed a design, an employment of material and forms with an extreme sensitivity to the micro-environment and the expected function of the garden. The outcome could only then be a minimal design intervention, binding the building to the city and allowing for a soft and relaxing transition between the controlled environment of the house and the hectic urban life. A harmonious connection between softscape and hardscape, a sensitive choice of form, repetition of design elements, a comforting linearity and symmetry, as well as a soothing running-water element, were combined to create a minimal urban garden.
The softscape is clearly chosen to contrast with the hardscape in form and in color. The small shrubbery is cut into spheres, highlighting the cutting linearity of the basalt slabs. The plant material is native, implying its adaptability to the harsh and changing climate conditions and its requiring less maintenance and irrigation compared to other species.
The hardscape is reduced to a minimal functional and practical level, to allow for a larger capturing of rainwater for irrigation. The storm water management plan favors a larger ‘open earth’ space, covered with mulch, in order for a better water infiltration into the soil. Within the paved surfaces, a drainage network was also imbedded, to retain water and channel it into the irrigation water tanks. Forming a barrier to the sound pollution coming in from the adjacent street, the water element doesn’t only function as ‘décor’. The softscape and the hardscape elements are not mere visual components of an untouched garden. They rather merge to guide the visitor inside a garden which impresses her/him and leaves a mark: a different and largely needed experience in the city.
All combines to help create an environmental as well as a relaxing niche in a busy, hectic, air and sound-polluted milieu.
Moreover, several technical issues arose. The problem-solving approach had to deal with a shallow soil layer, due to the fact that the garden had to be built above the building’s parking. Additionally, one side of the garden had to accommodate for car access as well as pedestrian access, to allow for handicap and senior visitors’ easy and safe access to the building’s entrance as well as the garden itself.
Briefly, spatial, technical and budget constraints were limitations the designers worked with and
not against: “Between design intentions, concepts and the realities of the challenging space, we offered no compromise”.
Other than what the garden offers currently, this little urban space, squeezed on all sides by the typical yet harsh conditions of the city, showcases a possibility. It is the opportunity of any other building, new or old, of any other small uncultivated urban land, to be turned into a fully-functioning garden. It is also an opportunity for meeting and socializing. Creating a micro-communal space where people from the same building/street can meet, and where the physically challenged can easily access a green space without having to venture through Beirut’s unequipped and unsafe streets. In a city with such limited public open and green spaces, with such levels of pollution and the arising stressful atmosphere, this garden is expressing “let’s create a garden for every building”.
Using lines and a succession of colors, the garden also presents an extension of the architectural element. Like a carpet, it is a horizontal unfolding of the façade’s linearity. This is where the concept of Zen comes to play: “zen” is not taken as the formal replica of the Eastern philosophy;
it is rather regenerated through its underlying laws. Simplicity and symmetry broken at some instances by asymmetry, lay the ground for a shedding of ornamentations and the omission of unneeded elements.
“Zen”, repose and regeneration in the city are created in this mini-garden by the use of both softscape and hardscape material: the color tempo and the lines adjoining the rich native greenery will help the visitor find her/his own safe and calm space in the city.
The garden says “Pause, take a breath”: this residential garden of limited potential turns out to be a cocooning haven in the city.