Image of serpentine pavilion in a garden by Lina Ghotmeh
Serpentine Pavilion 2023 designed by Lina Ghotmeh. © Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture. Photo: Iwan Baan, Courtesy: Serpentine.

Lina Ghotmeh Connects Space and Time Through Porosity

The Lebanese-born architect’s cultural projects play on spatial porosity to weave a thread between the past and the future.

In May 2023, The Royal Commission for AlUla announced that French Lebanese Lina Ghotmeh had been selected to realize the design of a contemporary art museum, one of the first of 15 cultural assets being developed for this region, a Saudi Arabian site with 7,000 years of continuous human history. While the actual planning for the museum is ongoing, Ghotmeh, who runs her eponymous Paris-based firm Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture has a clear vision which she has developed through her materially sensitive approach to design rooted in historic research and community engagement.  

The architect imagines the museum as a series of pavilions that emerge in a cultural oasis. “The museum plays a role in regenerating that oasis and making it alive through art practice,” Ghotmeh explains. The space aims to offer a core collection of works by artists from regions adjoining the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean in dialogue with their contemporaries from across the world.

photograph of a woman against a white background
Courtesy Lina Ghotmeh
Image of the estonian museum
Estonian National Museum Tartu, Estonia Ethnographic Museum Photo © Takuji Shimmura courtesy to DGT

Toward a New Museum

After graduating from the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese architect worked with Jean Nouvel. Early on in her career, she developed a special relationship with museums. Her first major project was the 430,556-square-foot Estonian National Museum, which opened in 2016 and traces the Estonian people’s history, life and traditions. “Winning this large-scale museum project, having just started my practice at the age of 26, was a great experience and a significant career milestone,” says Ghotmeh.

Earlier this year Ghotmeh shared her experiences and vision in a chapter of New York–based author and cultural strategy advisor András Szántó’s book Imagining the Future Museum: 21 Dialogues with Architects (Hatje Cantz, 2023). “I developed the idea of porous museums and spaces to move away from passive art consumption in a white cube setting,” she says, highlighting the importance of art as a tool for social change. “Instead, the community needs engaging spaces that allow for interaction, also with the artwork, and connection with the environment.”

For Ghotmeh, porosity means freedom in space and more importantly, freedom from imposed spatial narratives. A prominent example of the concept in use is this year’s Serpentine Pavilion in London (on view through October 2023), titled À table, a call to gather at a table for meal and dialogue.

image of the interior of a pavilion
Serpentine Pavilion 2023 designed by Lina Ghotmeh. © Lina Ghotmeh — Architecture. Photo: Iwan Baan, Courtesy: Serpentine.

Embracing Biophilia

Built from bio-sourced and low-carbon materials, the form of the pavilion responds to the shape of the park’s tree canopies. Inside, a circular table along the perimeter invites visitors to convene together. Internal wooden beams mimic thin tree trunks and the pavilion’s roof is inspired by the palm leaf. The fretwork panels between the beams feature biophilic cutout patterns, providing daylight and aiding in natural ventilation.

“The pavilion has multiple entry points, and there is a gradation in its relationship to the outside,” Ghotmeh explains. The gallery space, a walkway around the heart of the pavilion, is open to the garden. Stepping in, visitors experience a more protected area that is shielded from the climate. “It’s porous because through the panels you can see the outside,” she says, emphasizing that the space’s lack of hierarchy.

Despite the world’s overall low museum attendance rates, Ghotmeh is hopeful for the future. According to the latest survey conducted by The Art Newspaper, 141 million people visited the top 100 art museums in 2022. This rate is double the number recorded last year, but only 61 percent of the 230 million visits in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.

“Museums are places of the extraordinary that can always affect the ordinary,” says concludes. “In that sense, I love this typology.”

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