Studio Class at Umeå University
Studio Class at Umeå University

Saga: the wall that dissolves into the river

This project was developed by Mohamad Nahleh as a student from American University of Beirut and was submited to the WAS awards 2017 under the Housing category.

This house tells the story of an immigrant family who came to settle in Lebanon after war has erupted in their native land. Uneasy and shaken by the situation, they aimed to find a land to build their new family home, a space of protection that caters for their growing micro-community. Consequently, a plot of land in the Bekaa Valleys of Lebanon was chosen, outside the commotion of the capital. The land is surrounded by a river from all its sides, and therefore the only way to access it is through the water, where three islands adjacent to the main land float.

This family house is a metaphor of hope and new beginnings, as it introvertly isolates itself from its neighbors through the creation of a wall that protects it but that disintegrates completely into the river, embracing it, calling it, and interacting with it as the water levels vary from summer to winter and cover the lower portion of the house designed for this encounter.

The river then becomes the new home and most importantly, the subjective mirror image of the house: from the point of view of a person perceiving the house across the river, it is just an inclined wall (north elevation) whose secrets are uncovered through the reflection of what is beyond the wall in the river itself. Therefore, you simultaneously see a wall and the blurred reflection of a village in the water. The house is accessed from the main land by a boat that parks next to the middle island, where the wall begins. The house is entered by entering the wall, where a ramp takes you up and divides the different functions scattered from the most public at the lower levels to the most private (a praying room) at the peak. The house is conceived as a cluster of different spaces, a micro village that caters for privacy in some locations but which mainly focuses on the interaction between the different members of the family.

It was of crucial importance at the inception of this family home to understand that it is a temporary space, a substitute home that awaits the war to end. The last image represents a 30-year jump in time and aims to imagine the house, as it would be: the war would have ended and the family reunited with their origin. The house, created out of mud bricks each initially containing different seeds, slowly decays as the river infiltrates as a sort of redemption: a house conceived by the land and which eventually becomes the land again leaving little traces of the family; a house that  becomes inhabited by animals of different kinds, a testimony of nature.