GM Architects is honored at the International Architecture Awards in Athens for “The Museum of Civilizations”

GM Architects firm’s design for “The Museum of Civilizations” in Beirut, Lebanon won the 2015 International Architecture Awards presented by the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

‘Museum of Civilizations’, 3D architectural rendering, 2014. Courtesy GM Architecture

‘Museum of Civilizations’, 3D architectural rendering, 2014. Courtesy GM Architecture

The prestigious award commemorates 65 of the year’s best architecture and design projects from a collective group originating from 26 countries and narrowed down from the nearly 400 entries. It is one of the most exhaustive reviews in the industry that honors the latest in skyscraper, private, commercial and urban design.

A jury of architects met in Milan earlier this year to determine the winners who were chosen based on their attention to environmental detail in building for international communities with multicultural roots. Each of the winning designs are innovative in style and adaptability on a global scale that emphasize today’s avant-garde architectural development.

GM Architects was one of only three projects chosen from the Middle East region for the International Architecture Awards. The firm is honored to be part of the urban development of Lebanon where it is headquartered. The Museum of Civilizations explores Beirut’s history through its unique design which is envisioned as both a museum and an archeological dig. The building would cut directly into layers of rock exposing the different civilizations that make up the city’s impressive 5000 years heritage.

‘Museum of Civilizations’

The project is the brainchild of Galal Mahmoud, founder of GM Architects. It fits in perfectly with the theme of ‘Fundamentals’ chosen by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, curator of this year’s Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition.

“The ‘Museum of Civilizations’ project is sited on Martyrs’ Square in the heart of Beirut, and built upon a site sunk deep into the successive strata of the civilizations that underlie Beirut, a city which has been, in turn, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and French. This astonishing museum will be an archaeological dig, exhibition space and a place for quiet reflection all in one – an expression of Lebanon’s rich history, showcasing the genetic make-up of a profoundly multicultural country. Our emphatically contemporary design is informed by an approach that is best defined as ‘contextual immersion’ -possessing an awareness of the past and rooted in the culture of the location in question.”

Galal Mahmoud, founder of the GM Architects architecture and design firm

‘Museum of Civilizations’, 3D architectural rendering, 2014. Courtesy GM Architecture

‘Museum of Civilizations’, 3D architectural rendering, 2014. Courtesy GM Architecture

The project is to consist of an outer metal framework, 20 metres deep and 60 metres long, featuring a series of platforms at different levels. Each of these platforms will examine one of the civilizations that once made Lebanon their home, offering the opportunity for the visitor to engage in a dialogue with a society, a culture that is no more, but which remains suspended in time and in the ground beneath our feet.

An expanse of water, representing the Mediterranean, the cradle of all of Lebanon’s civilizations, stretches out at the lowest level; beneath a suspended model of Kubrick’s 2001 monolith. The face of the monolith is smooth and unmarked, whilst its back is in a process of gradual disintegration, evoking the inherent uncertainty of the future.

This project offers a chance to consider what lies at the very heart of the architect’s work, in other words, the ability to grasp the historical foundations and fundamentals of a people with a view to facilitating the creation of a harmonious, ordered and peaceful society through architectural discourse.

‘Museum of Civilizations’, 3D architectural rendering, 2014. Courtesy GM Architecture

‘Museum of Civilizations’, 3D architectural rendering, 2014. Courtesy GM Architecture


‘‘The Paradox of Contextuality in a Levantine World’’ 

by Galal Mahmoud, founder of GM Architects

As a territory that has historically been influenced by many civilizations, Beirut has evolved as a crucible of difference, continuously assimilating foreign influences into its vernacular. Its fabric an amalgamation of arrangements and styles; evolved by a Levantine history dating back nearly four thousand years. Beyond the devastation that came with war, the language of the city, its organized chaos, has resiliently evolved to symbolize this layered repository of its history.

The very act of breaking ground in the city has become a chronicled journey through these layers, unearthing the ruins of civilizations past; of ancient Phoenician footprints, appropriated in the course of Hellenistic and Roman occupation; with an evolved vernacular aesthetic adopted from its Ottoman occupiers and the Cadastral rule by the French. The complexity of this layered influence forces us architects to dwell back on the complexity which we inadvertently absorb, ramify, complexify, or purge.

We set out to explore the inherent influence of these civilizations across our history in juxtaposition to the globalized dynamic of influx and influence in the twenty-first century. We retreat to an architectonic measured against the scale of our social geology, against the tectonics of the migration of people throughout our past, and the migration of information and technology in our future; An articulation with history and a dialectical journey through an evolution of a stratified national vernacular identity, set within a context of excavation, and a choreography of construction.

“It may be space more than time that hides consequences from us, the ‘making of geography’ more than the ‘making of history’ that provides the most revealing tactical and theoretical world”
Soja, Edward W. 1989. Postmodern Geographies

We break ground in Martyrs Square, Downtown Beirut; a site that has long posed a tear in the urban fabric of the city, oriented along a line that once divided it. We obtrude down the excavation with a structure, a grid scaffold. It becomes a compulsory loan to the dig, organizing the concord of languages across the journey through these layers of our past. It is a narrative of space responding to the context of the excavation and the geological relief of the excavation walls. It transitions us across a succession of platforms nestled within this trestle. A succession affected by a constant proliferation of grid space and voids by the consciousness of time and distance.

As we leave the grid and are in the ubiquitous excavation, speed replaces the distances of time and space, and we submit to the ultimate precondition hovering just above the water. A slow invisible montage replaces our construction and the frames disappear, only to give birth to a new form of concentration, that of the Dais and the Totem. The totem is a manifestation of necessary failure, of closure or ultimate unresolvable contradictions and the impossibility of the future. We ascend through it, up through its dematerialized soffit, back up to the city that drove us down there in the first place.

Our proposition is that of a phenomenological experience, an architecture simultaneously written in the multiple languages of our past and present, intelligible only within its stratified context; a future relic of an identity that continues to evolve, just as it always had, as it is impacted by greater international exchange.

Galal Mahmoud, GM Architects


Image gallery below:
The ‘Museum of Civilizations’ – 3D architectural renderings, 2014 and technical illustrations, 2014. Courtesy GM Architecture


Architecture that is infused with a sense of well-being, emotion and mystery 

GM Architects, the Lebanese architecture firm founded by Galal Mahmoud
GM Architects specializes in the field of high-end tourism, notably in the creation of luxury hotels and resorts. It is one of the largest such firms in Lebanon.

The practice employs 35 professionals including architects and interior designers and is managed by architect Galal Mahmoud and partners Randa Chanine, Anwar Hajj and Elie Waked. The practice has offices in Beirut and Abu Dhabi and is active worldwide. GM Architects is currently working on a Sofitel resort in Morocco, a Sheraton resort in Senegal, private residences in Mykonos, Greece and Cape Town, South Africa, and is also responsible for the master planning of the Moulay Yacoub thermal station project in Morocco. Its completed projects can be seen in France, Northern Africa, the Middle East and throughout the Mediterranean region.

GM Architects specializes in high-end hospitality and residential architecture and interiors, though its expertise has grown over the years to encompass urban analysis and landscape design. The practice is becoming increasingly more in demand for large-scale projects offering, as it were, a holistic and comprehensive design management service. It continues to build its focus on developing its expertise within the overseas market.

Galal Mahmoud, founder of GM Architects

Galal Mahmoud, founder of GM Architects

GM Architects is among the few architecture and design companies in the Middle East to be listed with Accor, Rotana, Starwood and Rezidor. This is due to the high standard of service it delivers and the painstaking care it takes in both the development of a wider vision for each project and its ability to deliver projects that meet the finer standards of the international. The firm’s creative approach to projects embodies the distinctive philosophy of French-Lebanese architect Galal Mahmoud.

An approach centered on ‘contextual immersion’
Galal Mahmoud currently lives in Beirut, though his childhood was spent in the ancient Phoenician port of Byblos, on Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast. His culturally diverse background led him to adopt a similar sensibility within his work; understanding the essence of a place, being open to the diverse influences that shape it, conceiving his projects with a unity of vision, one that is genuinely informed by its immediate context.

Contextual immersion therefore lies at the heart of GM Architects’ way of thinking. Galal Mahmoud steeps himself in the geographical, historical and cultural environment of each project. He makes these contextual components his own, reworking them in a way that is relevant to and easily comprehensible by contemporary society, but also respectful of the identity and culture of the location in question.

Galal Mahmoud specializes in the luxury hotel and upscale seaside resort sectors
Born to Egyptian parents with an English grandmother and Lebanese citizenship, architect Galal Mahmoud lived in France for several years, after fleeing the civil war in Lebanon with his family in 1976.

He graduated from the Ecole d’Architecture de Versailles in 1986, in Paris the following year. In 1996 he founded GM Architects in Beirut, specializing in the luxury hotel and upscale seaside resort markets, and branched to Abu Dhabi, UAE in 2006.