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Ali Basbous named as one of the top 50 architects in the Middle East

Success Story

Architizer showered him with awards, China entrusted him with the development of a district in Shenzhen, and the implementation of the master plan for the city of Xingyi. This native of Iqlim el-Kharroub in the Chouf is forging for himself a real success story...

The Middle East Architect Magazine named him one of the top 50 architects of 2019. Founder of the agency Build Associative Data (BAD), Ali Basbous won an international competition launched by the Chinese city of Shenzhen for the development of the city’s Xiangmihu district. This is quite an achievement, even more so when we consider that this mega city that links Hong Kong to mainland China is considered as the “factory of the world in terms of technologies, as well as a model in terms of smart cities”. Huawei, one of the largest telecom giants, is headquartered there. Airbus has established a center for innovation. And, in the midst of all these oversized and uncontrolled vertical constructions, Microsoft and Apple have also opened offices.

To the south-west of Guizhou, where spiky mountains form a forest of rock, where one can visit the spectacular Maling canyon, the city of Xingyi has entrusted him with a vast building project, the master plan for which covers 4,000 km2, almost one third of the size of Lebanon. The architect is leading both projects in collaboration with his business partner Vicente Guallart, the former chief architect of the city of Barcelona.

Ali Basbous is only 46 years old. Dressed in overalls with a black jacket, shirt and pants, a tuft of hair pointing to the back of his head, and a resemblance to Ai Weiwei, he is deeply passionate about architecture and technology. While he is not well known in Lebanon, his work is often mentioned in architecture magazines abroad.

Ali Basbous leads the BAD agency taht he created in 2010.

Basbous, a native of the Chouf, graduated in Architecture from the National Institute of Fine Arts at the Lebanese University, and holds a Master’s degree from the IAAC (Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia), in Barcelona, where he also teaches.

Before establishing his own agency, BAD, in Barcelona, Beirut and Dublin, Basbous had worked for quite some time at a number of internationally-renowned firms. First in New York, with the Uruguayan architect Raphael Vinoly, who designed 20 Fenchurch Street in London, 432 Park Avenue, the Tokyo International Forum, and who was amongst the finalists in the competition for the concept design of the World Trade Center. Next, in Brussels, at JDS Architects who executed the Holmenkollbakken ski jump for the world ski jumping championships in 2011, and which has subsequently become one of Oslo’s main landmarks. He also worked in Seattle, as well as three years in Shanghai, at NBBJ, whose offices designed the residential skyscraper The Sail & Marina Bay in Singapore, the City of Capitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the United States Federal Courthouse in Seattle, as well as planning the public area of the famous Shanghai Bund. In addition, the Lebanese architect pursued a specialization in the utilization of powerful modeling and design software such as Rhino 3D, Grasshopper and VB scripting, “in order to discover new forms of architectures able to respond to the culture, the economy, and the industry” in Canada.

BAD software

As a matter of fact, “at Build Associative Data, we do not work in a linear fashion like everyone else”, says Basbous. “Our approach is rather based on scientific interfaces that allow us to have a global understanding of the venue and of its environment. The software that we have created facilitates and optimizes our information. The latter provide us with the data and requirements specific to the site in which we are building. The mass information collected will not only help to put in place one model of the project, but to also generate a choice of both architectural models and solutions”. He points out that BAD is, “one of the first architectural firms in the world to have created its own software, and which relies on scientific expertise centered on architectural and design projects. We even implement these types of studies for other architectural firms. That’s why we are better known in the United States and Europe than in Lebanon”. For the record, he points out that Zaha Hadid’s firm, which was responsible for the execution of the facades of Beirut Souks, relied on McNeel in Seattle (the company that administers the Rhinoceros software that many architects use in their work) to finalize the project. “McNeel referred them to us in Barcelona, and this is how they knew that we had an office in Beirut”.

Jackson Pollock’s No. 5

Ali Basbous has worked on projects in Africa (Ivory Coast and Gabon), in Asia and in England. He works on all types of buildings and sites including offices, businesses and residences; whatever he does is always in the spirit of contemporary architecture. In Lebanon, he is the man behind the overall plan of the Beirut Digital District, which covers approximatively 130,000 square meters, and the K1299 which was presented with an A+A Architizer Award in 2017, in the category of best office building. Located on Pierre Gemayel Avenue, the building is carved like a sculpture, the cavities of which diffuse the noise pollution generated by passing traffic, reducing it to less than 80 decibels. There is also the UpTown building on Abdel-Kader Street, next to Spears. Within two months, a new project will start to rise: One Independence Square (by Hojeij Group). The latter is a collaboration between BAD and OAB (Office of Architecture in Barcelona), which will result in an office complex of 8,000 square meters, south of Martyrs Square.

FriXel is another project located on a new piece of land retrieved from the sea by Solidere, with eight floors of modular offices resting on a commercial base and common halls. “A system of pixelization with parametrical control is used to carve the facades on the basis of a specific lighting-glare study,” says Basbous.

In addition, Barcelona is a project of 18,000 square meters situated next to the Summerland Hotel, in Jnah, that will house restaurants, lounges and public spaces. This new development seems set to give Jnah an entirely new look. Wood will make up a lot of the project and its use will be clear to see in the final result.

The K1299 received, in 2017, an A+Awards Architizer, in the best office building category.

Last but not least, Jnah will also soon witness the emergence of project Number 5. Named after the painting by American artist Jackson Pollock, this project was on the list of finalists at the World Architecture Festival, before winning the2018 Architizer A+Award , in the mixed-use category (offices, restaurants and residences). Number 5 will occupy a 10,000-square-meter piece of land adjacent to Khoury Home. “Usually, on such a vast surface, the client will ask us to build a tower. Instead, we suggested a profitable concept, in harmony with the urban fabric,” says Basbous. He points out that the construction will have a built-up area of 31,600 square meters horizontally spread. The height will not exceed 30 meters. “The concentration of many different functions in one common area will also aim to reduce traffic, in the sense that the residents of the city will be able to meet their daily needs within the same space”, adds the architect.

Barcelona and Number 5 were sponsored by Nazem Ahmad, president of the real estate company Unites Investment Group. Basbous’ list of works is endless. Yet, with each project, Build Associative Data keeps on reinventing itself. Its houses and buildings are bright, open to the outside, and exposed to light and nature. Notwithstanding the offices, none of the company’s constructions conveys a sense of confinement or appear restrictive. A dream for all claustrophobic people!

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 21rst of May)

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