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French Version

Zaha Hadid to build Issam Fares Institute at AUB

IFI will be Iraqi-born prize-winning architect's first building in Lebanon

She studied at the American University of Beirut and now Pritzker Prize-winning Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid is to build an institute on her old alma mater's campus.

As significant and prestigious as that is for the AUB it is equally significant for Lebanon - this will be the first Hadid building to be constructed in the country.

And the building itself is equally prestigious - the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs.

On Monday during a ceremony at the University's West Hall AUB President John Waterbury announced that Hadid's design had won the contest to construct the new IFI building which will replace the Gulbenkian University Health Services structure on the north side of the college's Green Oval.

Waterbury, who headed the nine-member jury of academics and prominent architects that chose the project, said that Hadid's firm had come up with "a very challenging, very futuristic design that conforms and fits with the surrounding buildings."

He explained that Hadid's plan (one of five final designs submitted from both local and international firms) had received the unanimous vote of the jury because it had met all the requirements for the project in style.

Waterbury did add however that, "We would have really done well to have had any of these projects."

There seems no doubt that Hadid's project is one fitting with the AUB's modernization plans for the 21st century and one fitting with the prestige and position of the IFI, which though founded in 2004, is fast becoming one of the Middle East's most credible think tanks on public policy and international relations.

The institute aims to be a locus of reflection and interaction among academics and policy experts, a location for seminars and conferences and a repository for basic data on contemporary policy issues according to an AUB press release. It will also develop an outreach cooperation program with other institutions as well as host a resource database library for faculty, international fellows, students and visitors.

For jury member and associate professor and coordinator of the Landscape Design and Eco-Management Program at AUB, Jala Makhzoumi, Hadid's design was ultimately chosen for its attention to detail on all fronts - not just because of the prestige attached to having a Hadid building on the campus.

"All five projects were brilliant and challenging in their own concepts and indeed some of them addressed some concerns better than Zaha," Makhzoumi told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

"Everything just came together in Zaha's design and she especially answered our concerns about image - in terms of the AUB and the Issam Fares Institute.

"Other designs were more innovative in some elements but the way Hadid's [design] dialogues with the surroundings, how it relates to movement along the campus, its expression and especially the quality of space with which she incorporated all aspects of the institute, won it."

Hadid, who was the first woman to receive architecture's top international award the Pritzker Prize in 2004, was not present for the announcement but is scheduled to visit Beirut from her London base in the near future. Salim Abdul-Jaleel, a member of Hadid's team, accepted the prize on her behalf and thanked the Facilities, Planning and Design Unit of AUB, which managed the competition.

Hadid, 55, has a relatively small body of finally constructed work but that work is always inventive and clearly committed to modernism. There is a strong personal vision in her architecture in particular with her concentration on the production of space in buildings like the Richard and Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio, her famous fire station for the Vitra Furniture Company in Weil am Rhein, Germany and the innovative ski jump situated on the Bergisel Mountain overlooking Innsbruck, Austria.

It was announced in December last year that Hadid will build the brand new Opera House in Dubai and alongside that, the IFI in Beirut will be a fitting addition to her buildings - future and present - in the Middle East.

Her design for the IFI contains many Hadid trademarks including her inimitable manipulation of walls and roofs and her use of transparent, fluid spaces.

According to the university, the plan specifically gives a distinct identity to the institute as a think tank while integrating the building functionally into the larger instructional needs of the university. It is clear from the projected designs on show at AUB that the building, which will go ahead once final contracts are signed, will form a striking and dramatic statement onthe campus.

The IFI will be funded by the man for whom it is named, former deputy prime minister Issam Fares, who has spent much time and money committed to helping the AUB.

Paul Salem, director-general of the Issam Fares Foundation, said Monday that of all the designs Hadid's was "a very powerful and inspiring project."

Perhaps most importantly the Institute will help extend the AUB's mission to engage in high quality and world-renowned research. In that sense who better to have build it than a former student who has gone to on to world-renowned success.

Zaha Hadid's design for the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs along with the four other finalist's designs will be on display at the American University of Beirut's West Hall in the Common Room until March 7.

Beirut,02 28 2006
Ramsay Short
The Daily Star
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