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360° Perspective
Looking At Progress From A Wide-Angle
   
   

 
How can we overcome BEIRUT Downtown Parking Crisis ?
 

 
 

Beirut needs parking space


Beirut is in dire need of parking spaces, especially in the downtown area where everyone rushes to find one of the limited spots in Beirut Souks, BIEL, in front of the Municipality, and the other parking lots in the vicinity.
 


Disappearing options


Many of the surface parking lots are disappearing as buildings are being constructed in their place. Once these private plots are transformed into buildings (which in turn means more cars in the area), where will people park?
 


A vision that needs to change


The master plan of Beirut Central District (BCD) envisaged many underground parking lots below public squares. This strategy is unlikely, given the wealth of major archeological treasures buried beneath the ground which must be protected. For instance, the underground parking project below Riyadh Al Solh square can’t be built because of valuable archeological findings.
 


An underground possibility


The BCD master plan proposed the biggest underground parking in Martyrs’ square. It covers an approximate area of 220 x 65 m2 excluding the vehicles’ accesses. It is supposed to accommodate between 1,500 to 2,000 cars on different underground levels.

Moving forward


This ambitious parking project was launched and designed in the 1990s but sociopolitical and administrative issues brought it to a standstill. Mr. Bilal Hamad, president of the Municipality of Beirut (MOB), re-launched it in 2010 and the MOB is represented by the Council of Development and Reconstruction (CDR) which is managing the project. Khatib & Alami (K&A) is working on the design and is also providing a BOT (Build, Operate and Transmit) and all the construction tender documents.

 

 

The idea and the challenges


This large underground parking will be ideal for individuals visiting the area from time to time and for companies’ employees. There will be a green car wash, a commercial area at the access lobby complete with coffee shops, a newspaper area, service kiosks and small shops.

It will even feature a pedestrian connection with the future Beirut Site Museum planned in Al-Tall archeological area. Since the parking is in a busy area, it must be quick and easy to access for vehicles coming from different directions in addition to pedestrians walking over from all over the square. It also has to remain easy to access during exhibitions, festivals, protests and other events taking place in Martyr’s Square. Another challenge is that the design should complement the award-winning landscaping Renzo Piano designed for the Square. In addition to all this, K&A has to come up with innovative yet practical solutions for the obstacles presented by the infrastructure and utilities considerations, the archeological layers behind the surface and the technical constraints.
 


Location


The project is located in the heart of Beirut center, a bustling area that is central in the road network. This is why the design must consider traffic management during the construction period and not just later on.
 


More than just a plot


This complex project is not on one plot. It covers different properties in the area (several plots inside the square and the streets around them). The properties are owned by the MOB, the P.D (Public domain) and the DGA (Direction Générale des Antiquités), meaning there are many entities and individuals involved.
 


Infrastructure and utilities


The roads around the square, which are part of the project, have all types of public networks for dry and wet utilities, even the main storm water channels drained to the sea and a main sewer collector drained towards Burj Hammoud. A major part of these infrastructure networks is already installed in a way that allows maximum width and space for the underground parking. The remaining parts of the networks must also be carefully designed so the access and exit ramps will cross few wet utilities (which is very delicate to deal with since they run by gravity). To get around this challenge, it is critical that their invert levels are changed and the networks are rerouted according to the underground parking design.
 


Building the future while protecting the past


More than two-thirds of the underground area was archeologically excavated in the 1990s but the remaining non-excavated areas must be professionally done by an archeologist assigned by the directorate. Based on what is unearthed, the design might be updated to protect any major findings.



Landscaping meets new design


Renzo Piano’s office won the international competition for the landscapes of the Martyrs’ Square and K&A is closely collaborating with Piano’s team to ensure the design and program complement the landscapes while taking into consideration all technical requirements and constraints.

 

 
 
 
 

Le petit serail


There’s a hole in the ground in the northern part of the square. This is actually the foundation of an old ottoman construction. During the excavations in the 1990s, many remains from earlier eras where relocated from above this construction and were showcased in Al-Tall area. This area` will be preserved and will part of the future underground museum. Because of this, K&A must design a convenient pedestrian connection under the street from this “Petit Sérail” to Al-Tall’s future museum. This is trickier than it seems since the parking access ramps and all the dry and wet utilities must be avoided.
 


Dealing with technical constraints


A natural soft water stream was discovered in addition to a water table. These will be considered in the design and precisely for the uplift where the project might be floating if it is not anchored by tension piles in the ground. Other technical constraints include protruding elements from underground to the square, like the ventilation shafts for fresh air and exhaust, the power plant chimneys, the emergency escape staircases, the main pedestrian accesses and lobbies. The implementation and location of these must go hand in hand with the landscape above. Their shapes mustn’t obstruct any pedestrian path plus they should not look out of place. This is why K&A’s team decided to use integrated systems with these elements embedded in the ground (even the emergency staircases’ special mechanical openings).

Solutions that work

To ensure the design and solutions were exceptional, K&A collected and analyzed data and came up with different scenarios and practical ideas. These include many solutions that really rethink the previous designs and take things to the next level: access and exit ramps designed to lessen rather than aggravate traffic congestion; pedestrian accesses with different entrance options and elevators for the disabled and elderly in addition to separate emergency escape staircases; embedded technical elements to maximize the Square’s above the ground beauty; space for 1,600 cars spread over 4 underground levels; and an intermediate level on one side to deal with a slope and to enhance the design with a gallery and services area.
well as to the temporary exhibition preparations.