BEIRUT: Nabil Gholam had been waiting for the right time to publish a book about his architecture firm’s work. With this year marking its 20th anniversary, he decided to pull out all the stops – resulting in “Eastwest,” a massive 450-page book full of colorful pictures of his work and text by prominent authors.
“This is a book launch that has been long in the making. It covers the last 20 years. Lebanon has changed quite a bit,” Gholam said shortly before guests began arriving at the launch event Wednesday evening.
“We arrived in 1994. People were so reluctant about modern architecture. After the war, they were doing replicas of what was there. You’d propose things, and people were cautious. Like when you hit someone over the head, there was a bit of amnesia,” said Gholam, who is based in Beirut but travels frequently to Seville where he has another office.
Gradually, Lebanese opened up to the idea of newer architectural styles, as the city’s skyline morphed into a hodgepodge of different shapes and colors in the midst of controversial urban planning in the country’s postwar reconstruction, which still allowed for some talented architects to flourish.
Some of Gholam’s best-known work in Lebanon includes the Platinum Tower by Beirut’s waterfront in Ain al-Mreisseh and the Downtown buildings of Foch 94, Waqf Foch, Saifi 146 and Saifi 178. His other work can be found throughout the Middle East and Europe.
To document the growth of the architecture firm in the context of this modern span of Lebanese history, he enlisted British author and editor at large of Wallpaper magazine Warren Singh-Bartlett to write the main text. He also got help from British architect Kenneth Frampton and Turkish architectural critic Gokhan Karakus, who wrote the introductions.
The firm’s first-floor office played host to the event that celebrated two decades of work at Nabil Gholam Architects. The party saw friends and colleagues from around the world reminiscing, lining up for signed copies of the big blue book and speaking a few words for a web video of the event made by Karakus.
Located in Beirut’s eastern industrial district of Jisr al-Wati, the office is an interior design and decoration marvel in its own right, with greenery, soft lighting and art by Gholam’s wife Ana Corbero filling the walls and rooms. A small private viewing of her work also featured along with the book launch. The area is now home to a growing number of artist studios, with the Beirut Art Center right next door.
“We started with an office with a single architect,” recalled Gholam, who now has 60 employees working at his two offices – 50 in Beirut and 10 in Seville.
The book has already sold 700 copies in Europe, a pleasant surprise for him.
“It’s unusual for a monograph of a relatively unknown architect.”