Collège des Pères Antonins
Baabda, Lebanon

This project is located in the suburbs of Beirut. The city is fast expanding and Michel Écochard is in charge of several projects in Lebanon, involving city planning as well as architecture. The architect is starting to be known as an educational establishment specialist. He currently has two construction sites in the Lebanese capital: the Protestant college and the French school.

This project’s program is beyond that of a standard school, starting in kindergarten (70 students) and ending the last year of high school (1200 students), as it also includes a boarding section (60), accommodation for the sisters and teachers (20), a convent for scholastic postulants, teaching fathers (115), a chapel, a conference room and several other sections such as canteens, a sports field and a performance hall.

The approach stems from a double dialogue between the site and its imperatives, and the expectations of its occupants. The implantation is on a 14-hectare site with challenging topography and orientation as the slopes are oriented towards the west and the north. The project takes into account the various seasons and hours of operation. The aim is to favor the occultation of sunlight, as demonstrated by the model presenting the project. The implementation of the site’s buildings is determined by certain criteria. Écochard established a dialogue with the future occupants to think this project through.

The challenge is to ensure “perfect coordination” between the project’s various parties, as some of the latter have dissimilar operating logics, while preserving the total independence of each party, as it is necessary to “consider the teaching staff as well as the community of sisters taking care of the younger children”. The convent’s location is designed to be completely independent from the rest of the compound.

The positioning of the elements on the parcel takes the climate into account, thus implementation on the upper end would further occult the sun. The area with 50% sloping is used for “relaxing strolls”. The whole flat area is attributed to the creation of a sports complex. The convent is built on the lower part of the parcel, isolated on all sides. The academic section follows the contour of the terrain as it is laid out in tiers on the less sloped area.

This is a harmonious arrangement between the various elements of the program and the existing buildings. The church holds the place of honor atop the hill, and a narrow pathway links the church to a small existing chapel, which ensures the necessary peace and serenity of this area. It should be highlighted that the architect even takes the vegetation into account. The meeting room and performance hall, which can hold up to 578 people, leads directly to an open-air stage.

 One of the principles behind the conception of the classroom arrangement is to create differentiations according to their use by different age-groups. For primary classes, a zone classified “mixed” is attached to the classes of the children to “aid the harmonious development of the children’s personalities”. Corridors are removed to prevent crowding at the beginning and ending of class, and classes are served by two or three stairs. Each level feeds only two classes. The division into small buildings – each section includes a group of three classes of 30 students – allows for flexibility. The boarding school is considered not as a sleeping area, but a living area. The refectory is divided into dining rooms for 45 people in order to avoid the noise created by large rooms. The kitchen is a central hub for each room.

 The chapel is stylistically very refined and deserves to be highlighted. It is characterized by its triangular shape, the widest part of which is at the base of its slope, with a roof in a single hyperbolic paraboloid shape, and a method of lighting tangential to the walls. The area around the altar extends in a circle nine meters in diameter, allowing space for important ceremonies. Beyond this circle is a semicircle designed for deacons. A clear space is foreseen all around the altar area.

 The Collège des Pères Antonins is cited as an example of "the permanence of the convenience of using spaces” and remains so to the present.

Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Baabda, Lebanon
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Antonins Fathers' College
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