Beirut fire: the design story of the building Zaha Hadid conceptualised 12 years ago

The five-storey structure was near completion when a fire broke out on Tuesday

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An unfinished project by Zaha Hadid Architects caught fire in Beirut on Tuesday.

The building, named North Souks Department Store, is a five-storey structure located in the Beirut Souks development complex in the Lebanese capital, close to the port.

Designed by the late Zaha Hadid and her team, the building – which was nearing completion when the fire broke out – includes a cinema complex and entertainment annex designed by other architects.

The design concept for the building was created 12 years ago by Zaha Hadid and her team. Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects

The department store has a retail area of 22,497 square metres. The South Souks, designed by architects Rafael Moneo and Kevin Dash, comprises the development's jewellery markets.

The late Iraqi-British architect and her team began developing the concept for the building 12 years ago. Their finished design responds to the structure's site and surroundings, specifically the historic area of Khan Antoun Bey, a former caravanserai, or rest stop for traders, which was demolished in 1983.

The site of Khan Antoun Bey is now being converted into a public square by developer Solidere, which is also the company behind Beirut Souks. The wide, lush piazza will serve as the entrance to the department store.

The overall design of the building is modelled on Hadid's architectural style, with its twisted shape that mimics an infinity sign when seen from above. The Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, who died in 2016, was known for incorporating fluid curves and undulating forms in her projects.

Inside, an atrium brings in natural light and circulation to the space. The interiors are stark white, adding to the brightness and airiness of the hallways.

The building's atrium brings in natural light and circulation to the space. Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects

Meanwhile, the building’s exterior features an asymmetrical mesh-like pattern that accentuates the appearance of the structure’s fluidity. In the design concept for the Beirut Souks Department Store, Zaha Hadid Architects describe the intention of “blurring the envelope of the building with the piazza”, to ensure that it seamlessly blends in with its surroundings.

The building is Hadid’s second project in Beirut. In 2014, the Issam Fares Institute, part of the American University of Beirut, was completed. The angular structure appears to float above its courtyard entrance, a deliberate design feature to preserve the landscape underneath.

epa08669849 The aftermath of the fire that erupted in a landmark modern building, designed by the late world-renowned British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, at Beirut Souks in Beirut, Lebanon, 15 September 2020. The cause of the fire is still yet to be known.  EPA/WAEL HAMZEH

Pictures from Tuesday's fire show that the Beirut Souks Department Store's exterior was badly scorched, with parts of the exterior cladding falling away.

The cause of the fire is unknown. No injuries have been reported so far, and plans for repairing the building are yet to be announced.