Issam Fares Institute For Public Policy And International Affairs
Zaha Hadid Architects’ Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut melds local traditions with innovative geometries, creating an architectural manifestation of the Institute’s ideals of opportunity, pluralism, creativity and tolerance.
Af Jason Dibbs
The Issam Fares Institute occupies a special position in the oeuvre of the late Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, as it was at the American University of Beirut that Hadid first studied mathematics, prior to her enrolment at the Architectural Association in London. Perhaps even more pertinently, the modus operandi of the Issam Fares Institute — promoting free political discussion in the Arabic-speaking world — echoes many of the sentiments of Hadid’s own father, Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, who co-founded the National Democratic Party in Iraq in 1946.
The Issam Fares Institute was made possible by a generous donation from the former Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon, Issam Fares. The Institute occupies an integral role in the Arabic-speaking world, developing and initiating policy-related research. It is broad-reaching in its outlook, is committed to promoting knowledge-production in and about the Arab region, and provides a forum for independent, inter-disciplinary exchange. The Institute is currently engaged in programs addressing the refugee crisis, climate change, food and water security, youth issues, social justice, urbanism, and the role of the United Nations in the Arab world.
This building asserts confidently that we are not a university that stays rooted in time and place; rather we challenge conventional thinking and actively promote change and new ideas.
— Peter Dorman, President of the American University of Beirut
The design for the Issam Fares Institute was led by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher, deftly responding to the project brief by creating a building that is well-integrated with the age-old cypress and ficus trees that characterize the site, and that employs fair-faced concrete façades, emblematic of 20th-century Lebanese construction culture. The footprint of the building is significantly reduced by the allocation of reading, workshop and research spaces to a 21-meter-long cantilevered form, demarcating the grand dimensions of the courtyard entrance.
One of the most significant innovations of the 3,000 square-meter building, is the way that it interconnects the circulation pathways and views (especially the outlook towards the Mediterranean) within the American University of Beirut campus, physically embodying notions of place, pluralism, and constructive dialogue. Zaha Hadid explained that the design for the Issam Fares Institute “interweaves the pathways, links, and views of the campus to create a forum for the exchange of ideas-a center of interaction and dialogue-at the heart of the university.”
Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for the Issam Fares Institute houses an integrated program of research lounges, seminar rooms, workshops and offices, and a 100-seat auditorium. Interlocking circulation routes coincide in the building’s atrium hall, creating a central hub for students and researchers. Passive climate design and high-efficiency active climate controls are combined with water recycling systems to respond to climatic conditions and reduce the impact of the structure and its program on the local environment.
The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs has achieved international acclaim, including selection as one of six recipients of the prestigious 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Offering praise for Zaha Hadid Architects’ design, the Issam Fares Institute Director, Rami Khouri, has stated that the final built-form “is appropriately bold, because for 148 years the American University of Beirut has introduced to Arab society bold new ways of working that were innovative, even jarring and controversial in their day. These innovations were embraced and protected by Arab society, and often emulated — not because they were so different or alien to the surrounding Arab environment, but because they put into practice values and aspirations that have always been so deeply etched in our hearts and values, like opportunity, education, pluralism, creativity, and tolerance.”