Dr Jala Makhzoumi is an Iraqi architect and academic who specialises in landscape design, she taught architecture and landscape at the University of Technology in Baghdad for 15 years.Jala studied architecture in the University of Baghdad from 1971. She received her Master in Environmental Design from Yale University and a PhD in landscape architecture from Sheffield University. Her expertise is in ecological landscape design and planning where she applies a holistic, developmental approach to mediate community needs with ecosystem health, biodiversity protection and landscape heritage conservation. Her professional and academic expertise includes postwar recovery, energy efficient site planning and sustainable urban greening. She has served as landscape planning consultant to the Damascus master plan 2030, Saida Urban Sustainable Development Strategy 2015, Baghdad Comprehensive City Development Plan 2030 and the conservation and revitalization of the historic holy towns of Kadhimia and Najaf. In 2013 Jala co-established UNIT44, a Lebanon based design and planning practice offering a wide range of services in architecture, landscape architecture, ecological planning and urban design.
As a practice, our main concern is to develop an architecture that is environmentally responsible and culturally relevant. The context is always our inspiration. By context we mean not just the site, climate and building materials, but the users and their culture. This, we believe, will lead to sustainable developments which are at the heart of our concerns with energy efficiency, the corner stone of our approach.
The Dabbagh house was very much a response to its site. An old pine forest, the site is located on a hillside overlooking Beirut. The house was carefully sited with minimum disturbance to the trees while providing every room a stunning view of Beirut. Embedded in the land, the size of the house was absorbed thus preserving the scale of the forest. Furthermore the landscape architect's ecological approach left the half the site as simply forest while incorporating the family needs closer to the house.
Typical of Lebanese family houses today, the number of occupants varies greatly between seasons. In winter the house is used during weekends by the parents while in summer, the three children return with their families to visit together in the family house. Therefore the priority in the design was to have flexibility so that the house is cozy for one couple to use while still able to accommodate four families. The ground floor is designed to be a self contained flat while the lower ground floor accommodates the rest of the family. Also the lower ground floor can be used as an independent unit with its own entrance.
The orientation of the house allowed for maximum ventilation while the layout of the house interconnects the public spaces which extend to terraces which in turn give directly to the gardens. This layout provides the family a large space for entertaining.
The large arches at the entrances are used to create welcoming porches in the manner of traditional Lebanese architecture. Similarly the bay window and kiosk are features of the local architecture used to celebrate stunning views while the pool on the terrace, with its gurgling water, recalls the courtyards of traditional houses.
With the environment very much a priority, local stone was used for the cladding. Rain water is collected for irrigation and solar panels for heating the water. The house is an attempt at creating contemporary architecture that celebrates its rich context both physical and cultural.
The landscape design challenge in this mountain residence was manifold. Functionally, the landscape accommodates a range of outdoor uses, gardens for the children, family gatherings and formal receptions. Spatially, these uses had to be fitted to the steep terrain, a slope of 28 %, using stonewall terracing. The challenge was to maintain spatial flow and visual continuity to overcome compartmentalization caused by terracing. Protecting existing mature umbrella pines, 166 in total, was a priority. Existing pine tree trunks were encircles with a cylindrical stone wall the cavity filled with lightweight aggregates to avoid root compaction from earthworks. Awareness of growing water scarcity, was also a priority. Exotic ornament were limited to strategic locations and water-intensive landscapes, the lawn and orchard, constitute 17% of the site area.