Tyre, an ancient coastal city south of Beirut, has long struggled to maintain a viable infrastructure amid seemingly constant chaos and combat. The area’s fishermen—many of whom earn as little as fifteen dollars a day—have been particularly hard hit, as longstanding conflict with Israel has prevented them from deep-sea fishing. In 1984, during the Lebanese Civil War, the ancient city was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The designation brought with it strict regulations on new building along the coast, where the fishermen have traditionally lived, perpetuating overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. In response, the fishermen formed the Al Baqaa Housing Cooperative, convinced the Greek Orthodox Church to donate a parcel of land outside the historic city center, and partnered with architect Hashim Sarkis (with the help of the Association for Development of Rural Areas in South Lebanon), whose practice and teaching have long been focused on the Islamic world.
In a decade-long collaboration with the cooperative, Sarkis developed a vibrant, modern housing system that not only accommodates the fishermen’s ambitious program and small budget but fosters a rich sense of community with a balance between private and public space, in keeping with the fishermen’s traditional lifestyle. The building, a composite of nine residential blocks, turns inward on itself like a rectilinear nautilus, creating a protected interior courtyard. Fusing architecture, landscape design, and urban planning, Sarkis’s collaborative approach to design has resulted in a residential complex that exemplifies the power of architecture to offset chaotic conditions while respecting the specific social and cultural conditions of the community.