This April 21, the UN invites us to celebrate the World Day of Creativity and Innovation. Pulse has chosen to contribute to this day by shedding the light on the Franco-Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh. In her early forties, this inspirational creative has an impressive collection of prestigious architectural awards from around the world, which shows that her practice responds to universal expectations and questions.

Archeology of the future

Born in 1980 in Beirut, in a city at war and in permanent state of destruction, Lina Ghotmeh grew up with the idea that building is a way to heal. Very quickly she became interested in the archeology of her city and discovered its many urban strata, the true roots of the contemporary city. When she began her studies in architecture at the American University of Beirut, she already knew that each project she carried out would have a multidisciplinary dimension, linked to history as much as to geography, sociology, biology and even genetics, in order, as she puts it: “to build an environment that encourages living together in the broad sense of the term”.

Barely had she her diploma in hand, before she was hired by the Ateliers Jean Nouvel to work, in Paris, on a project for the firm in Beirut. The following year, she was sent to London by Nouvel to lead a new project. At 25, she already felt ready to fly on her own. She discovered an open competition launched by Estonia to design its national museum. She participated and her application was accepted. She convinced two colleagues to join her, flew to Estonia where she discovered the site and was fascinated by a contiguous airstrip, built and abandoned by the Russian army, which she would integrate into the building, thus linking it to the country’s tumultuous history. This ten-year project, which she began at the age of 26, acquired international fame. She then established her own firm in Paris and taught at the same time in the most famous architecture universities around the world, out of a desire to transmit her knowledge. “Nothing is done ex-nihilism but everything is new and in search of a new already there. This is what I call the Archeology of the future,” she says about her philosophy.

Architecture adapted to instability

Another iconic project by Ghotmeh is the Stone Garden residential building in Beirut, famous for having survived, with only broken windows, the monstrous double explosion at the city’s port, opposite which it is located. This building, pierced with loopholes and landscaped openings, meets the criteria of war architecture, with its design adapted to the instability of the city. Presented at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, the form of the building offered an answer to the theme of the Biennale proposed by its curator Hashim Sarkis: “How will we live together?”

We replied to this question through one project that I realized in Beirut. How do you build in a place that has a lot of memory, that has constant instability? How do you bring nature as part of the construction? Can architecture create a sense of belonging? But it also brings the notion of craft back into architecture, the notion of making things by hand as an act of bringing back the community, you can see in the exhibition all the tools that we used to make the façade of the building, which is completely handcrafted,” explains the architect, who also confides to Pulse: “The Stone Garden tower was in the delivery phase of the project, I was barely able to complete the project with the team on site when the explosion occurred, blowing out all the interiors. Nevertheless, the building, its envelope, the nature anchored in it, survived unscathed. As if, when architecture tries to tell of its place, its history, its climate, it manages to hold on better.”

Hermès, as a matter of course

Ghotmeh is intimately connected to people, and concerned with creating links between the building and the nature that surrounds it, between the building and its historical context, between the people who will live and work there. While also being concerned with reducing its environmental impact to almost zero through “passive” designs that preserve heat and freshness without using polluting energies, Ghotmeh is a follower of artisanal practices that add a vibrant and almost carnal aura to her projects. It was perhaps inevitable that Ghotmeh was adopted by Hermès for a special project.

“I was invited to a competition to design their first low-carbon, passive factory in Normandy. I won the competition with my workshop. The project we had proposed is built with a local resource, with the land of the place transformed into bricks. We come back to the scale of the hand, to the construction from the micro scale, like Hermès, which values the work of the hand, that of the craftsman passionately involved in their work. This creation, which I have named “Actes Précis”, tries to tell the story of its environment, the beautiful values of the Hermès house through a calm, subtle architecture that is very sensitive to the environment,” she says.

Hermès has always held that, far from fashion and luxury, it is quality and know-how that make up the identity of the brand. For Lina Ghotmeh, a new playground opens up, where she will be able to implement what she does best: sustainable architecture that tells a story and reflects a philosophy. Hermès tasked her with developing its new leather goods factory in Louviers, Normandy. Here, she takes advantage of the shape of the land to lay a perfect square reminiscent of the famous silk “carrés” of the house. Six hundred thousand bricks are made by hand, one by one, to form the facade of the building, punctuated by a series of arches which “evoke the shape of horseshoes or the decomposition of the movement that the horse makes during show jumping”, according to the renowned architect and urban planner Philippe Trétiack in Le Monde d’Hermès publication. Compared to a village, this factory responds to the ideal of Ghtomeh’s “future architecture” in that it places tradition at the heart of the avant-garde.

And because she is now a part of a house which recognizes in her its own spirit of precision and durability, Lina Ghtomeh has been entrusted by the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès to inaugurate, as its educational director, its new training cycle devoted to stone, as part of its academy. “My work is passionate about the material, it is the origin of designs in the workshop. We deepen a subject with each project and this collaboration with Hermès will lead us to deepen “stone” as a subject. It is also an opportunity to share our way of working, which is a human adventure always at the crossroads of professions: architects, craftsmen, creators, artists…,” said the architect, adding that her vision of the city of the future would be, “Based on archaic techniques developed by our digital and robotic know-how – even 3D printing of the earth by robots. With diversity as a common base.”