August 24, 2018
Built Into a Lebanese Mountain, This Summer Retreat Maximizes Its Underground Real Estate
Located 25 minutes outside Beirut, the chalet-like house by Raëd Abillama Architects features an underground pool and spa.
For Lebanese city-dwellers seeking a break from the urban bustle and summer humidity, the country’s mountain ranges have long been an escape. That’s exactly what a Beirut-based couple had in mind when they approached Lebanese firm Raëd Abillama Architects to create Villa N, their summer vacation house in the private community of Faqra, a 25-minute drive from Beirut.
The clients, a couple with three adult children living in different countries, envisioned the house as a meeting point for their family. The house, for the two summer months it’s used each year, would also be a prime location to entertain guests.
When it came to developing the narrow site, whose elevation is approximately 6,200 feet above sea level, the architects faced restrictions that functionally limited the residence to three above-ground floors. Additionally, while the clients wanted ample space and amenities, they didn’t want the house to look too big. “We had to be very smart about how to manage the square meters,” says firm principal architect Raëd Abillama.
The firm surmounted the height restrictions through clever engineering: they built the house from the top down, with the uppermost fifth floor serving as the entrance. The two underground levels were built to “give some freedom and provide things normally a piece of land this size couldn’t hold,” says Abillama.
Abillama explained that he treated the residence as an interior project rather than an architecture project, trying to step into his clients’ shoes and assess how they would live in the house. Extensive use of concrete throughout the residence was for style and functionality: Abillama wanted to create a diversity of textures, pairing the economical, low-maintenance, and durable concrete with warm, timber ceilings.
The house’s indoor pool is another standout feature, but the clients were not initially on board. They wanted an outdoor pool, but due to the site’s size, Abillama swayed them toward the idea of a pool they could use year-round.
Three years into using the vacation house, the clients are happy with the results, and have since worked with the firm on more projects, including flats in Beirut and London. “It’s a bit like an iceberg, it’s bigger underneath than what you see,” says Abillama about the Faqra project. “You can go in and disconnect completely from the Beirut lifestyle.”
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