The conversation with the Lebanese engineer Karl Gerges is not without depth. The young boy who travels a lot, is a fan of history, influenced by contextual architecture and loves nature. He takes from various references to produce unique creative works, starting from himself, the project environment and the nature of the latter. This triangular view of the fields of architecture and design, enriches the works and makes them think for a long time, despite the fact that the latter is “harsh”! Karl played the piano and drums at a young age and then he and his classmates at the American University of Beirut, where he studied engineering, founded the group “Leila Project” in 2008. In the following dialogue, he talks to “Madam” for his latest project in Dubai, and how music and design meet in her practice …
How does music relate to architecture and design?
Architecture and music have always been linked, through rhythm, coherence and harmony, these two worlds share a set of symbols, with which both architects and musicians operate. As for my work, the Villa Shams project in Baalbek (northeast of Beirut) provides an example of this, as it is inspired by the connection between music and architecture, especially in its main façade, with its walls and columns. consecutive and equal. in distance,
What makes the rhythm flow, and the spaces that the building unfolds open and close other times.
As for my musical role in Mashrou ‘Leila, in addition to acting, I have always been involved in designing the theaters where we perform. In this context, I recall my experience with British artist Oliver Beer, where we combined sound, light and architectural space, at the Grand Palais in Paris or the Met Brewer in New York. I make no distinction between musical and engineering spaces, and since the founding of the engineering studio, projects have had a theatrical approach, appearing more as a series of moments than a set of spaces.
Majlis between traditional and modern
I just got back from Dubai, where I completed a new project with Bottega Veneta. Tell us more about this collaboration?
Collaborating with Bottega Veneta is an ideal way to connect architecture, space, music and people together and advance the community of architecture artists and thinkers. The theme of the collaboration is the design of the Majlis (Square); The details of the space combine traditional elements with elements of modern and contemporary design. The majlis takes the form of a green square (the color of the Italian brand) and is set inside a cubic structure, with the arabesque background present. During the month of Ramadan, the council received for discussion poets, artists and intellectuals of “eclectic” origin, knowing that the guests were from the sect of classics or modernists of their fields. While working on the project, I took into account the world heritage and innovative character (Bottega Veneta), paying homage to Italian architecture, as well as reflecting the local hospitality, warmth and popular language of the Gulf Council. It is worth noting that the model “The Square” will circulate in branches around the world in different cities.
One of your first projects in the world of design, you took over the interior architecture of your apartment. How has this project affected your career?
When I set out to design my apartment, about eight years ago, I never thought it would be the cover of Architectural Digest and the location of the “Friends and Nerds” movie for Netflix! The apartment is my sanctuary; My hectic lifestyle with the group and the constant wandering and traveling are all reasons that made me think about the architectural void and the way to design it in a way that provides me with peace and security after returning to it. The apartment is a safe haven from the noise and pollution of the world, a place where I can take a step back, detach myself from the environment, cook, listen to music and relax. My apartment is on the top floor of an Art Deco palace, built in the 1930s, and it looks unique because it still stands despite the “occupation” of contemporary buildings. The apartment was completely dilapidated when I owned it, having been abandoned by a family of four who had fled the country during the Lebanese civil war; Windows and doors are broken, walls are smashed to pieces and rainwater is seeping into the place!
How would you describe your relationship with natural materials, especially the stone found in most of your designs?
Although my temperament is very accurate, spontaneity is essential in any creative venture; In architecture, nature brings an element of destiny, to which I often submit. In fact, I fed myself with the idea that nature does its job so perfectly that every engineer should limit his or her interventions to adapt it, simply to see where nature leads the site, up to project success. I see the real challenge of building a project that somehow unites the movement of nature, helping it succeed.
In the whims of history
In your design work, there is respect for the background and identity of the project. Does this trend indicate adherence to and adherence to design rules?
I am a supporter of contextual design (associating architecture with a context or situation) and a fan of nature and history; These are the elements that make up my architectural language. So, I work actively to link the project for which I am working with culture and geography, giving priority to the use of resources available in the country, as well as the employment of craftsmen who possess traditional and local knowledge. The travels allowed me to understand the role of artisans in enriching their cities. Unfortunately, the practices of this group of people are on the verge of extinction, which requires their salvation and help to live. Maybe that’s why I think the craft techniques are somewhat similar to the basics of my architectural language. Every time I immerse myself in learning new techniques, such as Japanese carpentry technology, I try to adapt and reinvent them in some way. This touch humanizes every architectural project.
In one of your interviews you say you dream of designing museums and thermal baths; What do the social and cultural spaces in the urban environment mean to you from an engineering point of view?
Unlike residential and commercial projects, there is something transcendent in health and cultural projects. The properties, dimensions, forms and function of these spaces allow people to reach existential state and experience feelings such as: peace, fear, admiration, enlightenment, well-being, wholeness, joy …
Respect the context
In your design work, I see that the dashed lines are imposed .. There is a certain prudence in style; do you agree with me?
I like to think my studio work focuses on humility and respect for our context, history and clients. So I usually avoid overwork and go to a modest and quiet space that will be timeless no matter how much time passes.
In short, how do you see the future of architecture and design in the Arab world?
The traits of the new generation of architects and designers who have grown up in the Arab world include: curiosity, courage, openness to the world and frequent travel… These traits foster inspiration and creativity. So I think the future is bright.