Kudos for the mixed-income approach go to Chafic Saab, son of company founder, Jamil, while its translation into reality is the work of New York–based WorkAc’s Amale Andraos, former dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, and her partner, Dan Wood, who became involved after being asked to design one of the villas and ended up taking on the entire project. The duo subsequently used this succinct project to explore ideas about urbanism and nature they have elaborated elsewhere, notably in their 2012 show for MoMa, Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.
Organized in four terraces cascading down to the beach, properties increase in size the lower you go, with villas facing the sea and studios in the uppermost level. Regardless of size, every unit comes with a double-height living space that opens variously onto a patio, or, in studios, onto a roof deck. Swimming pools are communal or private.
While Marea eschews the Levantine sandstone and red-tile roof aesthetic for a white, angular cubism studded with pastel-painted balcony recesses—a use of color reminiscent of WorkAc’s section of the Museum Garage in Miami’s Design District—it references Lebanese vernacular in layout, with narrow, vegetated “streets” that encourage the chance encounters that characterize life in the ancient cores of towns like Batroun and Jbeil.
“Every ground floor is exactly at the roof level of the house below. The streets are quite dense, you see neighbors all time, but the second you enter your house, that’s flipped. It’s just the horizon and the views, like it’s you and the ocean,” explains Andraos. “Our manifesto was to bring individual privacy together with an almost townlike density, to demonstrate that having a piece of the sea doesn’t mean only having to develop sprawling villas.”
Marea is also—praise be—car-free. There is underground parking, but the development is best navigated on foot, maximizing that opportunity for chance encounter. Its enthusiastic reception, especially after a slow start, seems to have surprised even its passionate developer.
“We already had this land, and Beirut had become saturated during the real estate boom, so I decided to start a new journey,” explains Chafic Saab, who now lives there full-time and says that, at first, Saab Sr. wasn’t convinced it would work. “You don’t feel the stress of the city, people are unpretentious and welcoming. It’s like being on holiday, 24/7.”
Marea seeks to reach beyond its borders, break its gates, and be a good neighbor. The beach remains open to the public, which, though law, is not a given in Lebanon, and its restaurant and gym will both be open to non-residents, a generosity of spirit echoed in the fact that its most expansive views are to be had from its least expensive properties.
“All the land next to it is spoken for, and how that will develop is anyone’s guess,” says Wood, who understands intimately the fiercely individualistic, chaotic nature of building in Lebanon. “So, for us to demonstrate you can have a commitment to openness without sacrificing privacy was really important.”