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The French Cultural Center in Damascus



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North of the fortified medieval town, the 2200 mcenter is located on a plot surrounded by 5-storey buildings. Designed as a result of context and urban constraints, the building consists of introverted seven floors articulated around a three-storey atrium. This atrium comprises a square fountain in the middle, reminiscent of traditional Damascene architecture.
The ground floor includes the entrance, reception and exhibition space. A 200-seat cinema is located between the court and western wall on the first floor, and can be isolated and used autonomously from the rest of the center. The library spans two floors and the top floors are reserved for activity & meeting rooms, offices, classrooms. Bridges run along the facades linking the library and cinema to a staircase overlooking the central court.
The construction consists of in-situ reinforced concrete load-bearing walls and slabs with concrete block infill. However, materials in the facades are used to express the inherent contradiction of a French Cultural Center in a Syrian context. The south elevation is clad with local stone, opening onto a narrow street, while the north elevation overlooking the square is treated in white cement. Other secondary materials include ceramic tiles, local black stone and carpeting. The massing and treatment reflect internal volumes and organization. 
The architects were influenced by Le Corbusier's fundamental ideas of modern architecture. On one hand, Kenneth Frampton notes the application of cubic and prismatic form, the attention to order and the hierarchies installed between elements, the use of Modulor, and the typological and cultural propriety. On the other hand the spatial experience of the center recalls the Corbusean promenade architecturale, beginning with the entrance on the ground floor and culminating in a roof terrace, stepped to form an amphitheater overlooking Damascus.

Building Culture in Syria, ch. 4 p. 05

World Architecture a Critical Mosaic, Vol.5, Middle-East, pp. 210-213

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North Façade
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture
© Courtesy of the architect/ Aga Khan Award for Architecture