Bernard started by telling us a little about himself. Born in Beirut, he moved to America to study Architecture. After graduating he was tempted back to his homeland by the potential he could see in post-war Lebanon. He spent the first few years producing ‘paper architecture’, projects that never left the studio.
He soon realised that the city was built by the private sector, with the total absence of any institutional involvement. He started his career with ‘entertainment buildings’, the first of which being BO18 (the nightclub we had visited the previous evening). These early projects were designed to be temporary buildings, which gave him a huge amount of freedom that was only possible in Beirut, ‘Think of what you would say if your words were not permanent,’ he told us.
He explained that the city comes with its own set of problems, one of the biggest being the architectural cocoon it is locked in that does not reflect the true needs of the city. Because of his anti-institutional views Bernard was quickly labelled a neo-liberal, especially by the Western media who, in his view, ‘like to romanticise the war and lack the comprehension of the context and the complexity of the region.’ Bernard moved on to designing banks, projects that brought more subtle and complex challenges through intelligent mechanisms.
Today he is working on nine projects including residential buildings. He coins his success and versatility down to the fact that he always considers the political situation and the cultural context of every project he works on.
He talked about the ‘cultural bankruptcy’ of the Arab world but insisted he was not interested in defining what Arab architecture is, instead he is just happy to be part of the beginning. Check out his work here.