Renovation of Niemeyer Guest House
Tripoli, Lebanon

The Guest House stands just inside an entrance to the Rachid Karami International Fair, designed by Oscar Niemeyer between 1964 and 1975. Although incomplete and derelict since construction was halted by civil war, the 10-hectare fair site is one of the Middle East’s finest examples of Modernist architecture. After previous grandiose schemes envisioning its wholesale revival fell flat, this rehabilitation of just one of its structures offers a model of how a building-by-building approach might bring it back to life.

The project came about when a branch of the French Development Agency was seeking a home for Minjara, an initiative that aims to reinvigorate Tripoli’s famed but latterly declining wood industry by providing a platform where its carpenters can meet up, share and learn skills, access state-of-the-art tools and a materials library, and meet designers from Beirut. 

An introverted, windowless structure from the outside, the single-storey Guest House is flooded with light within via a central atrium and two courtyards. Its structural system comprises load-bearing walls and a concrete diagrid of deep beams that also covers the atrium, creating changing shade throughout the day. 

The lack of archival material was a challenge. East Architecture Studio, whose proposal was chosen from a dozen submitted following an open request, extensively studied Niemeyer’s completed work elsewhere, to build up a sense of what he intended. Their interventions tread lightly and are almost entirely reversible, notably including operable glazed partitions, a durable grey paint finish on all but the floor surfaces, and a waterproofed lightweight concrete slab roof, the original roof being no longer watertight. An electrical system was integrated into a new concrete floor and passed, concealed, along the main columns into ceiling tracks. 

The main ground-floor area now hosts a reception, materials library, exhibition and meeting spaces, administrative zone, toilets, carpentry workshop, assembly/think-tank space, machinery storage area and service room for dust-extracting machinery that transforms wood dust into compact bricks. No new walls were added aside from the glass partitions, and all furniture is free-standing. The architects have thus preserved the building’s structural, material and spatial qualities while successfully meeting users’ needs.

Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Tripoli, Lebanon
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Associated Names
Associated Collections
Occupancy 2018
Rehabilitation area: 1,917 m²; Site area: 3,200 m²
Building Usages
Adaptive Re-use