L.E.FT distills politics into design at different scales, using utopian experiments to inform real-world projects from beleaguered Beirut to the turf wars in our own homes.
With the name of their design firm — L.E.FT — Makram el Kadi and Ziad Jamaleddine tip us off to their ideology and offer a partial clue pointing to the location of their first New York City office, on the Lower East Side. L.E.FT’s work also strikes a balance between shouting an agenda and whispering it. “We try to question the role of architecture in contentious geographies,” says el Kadi. “Or at least to reflect on it,” adds Jamaleddine.
The Lebanese partners developed one of their most provocative schemes, Offshore Urbanism, in direct response to the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. The experimental project imagines evacuation barges that could detach from shore and float out into international waters in the event of another conflict. The barges resemble submarine cities, with dwelling units and parking spaces — like a megastructure turned upside down. On the barges, taboo issues that have been put on the back burner because of political conflict, such as marriage between Palestinians and Lebanese, would be addressed, says el Kadi. But L.E.FT distills politics in everyday designs, too. For example, the partners explored the relationship between husband and wife in the clever placement of the toilet paper holder in their Forsyth Residence in New York. The roll sits in a cutout in the bathroom door and can be refilled from either side.
El Kadi and Jamaleddine admired each other’s work when they met at the American University of Beirut in the 1990s. After graduate school in the U.S., they reunited at Steven Holl Architects, where they worked for five years. L.E.FT struck out on its own in 2005 (a third founding partner, Naji Moujaes, is no longer with the firm), gained traction with smaller interior renovations, and now spends a lot of time on elaborate experimental projects that inspire built work.
The firm’s design for the Beirut Exhibition Center — its largest building to date, and completed in 2010 — has served as a catalyst for three more commissions in that city. It has also helped inject renewed energy into the art scene in Beirut, a city where “reconstruction is a political act,” says Jamaleddine. Both partners are careful with the words they choose to describe their homeland, where war is a preexisting condition. They refuse to associate any romance with destruction, though. “We want to use it to help grow out of it,” says el Kadi.
LOCATION: New York City
DESIGN STAFF: 4
PRINCIPALS: Makram el Kadi (left), Ziad Jamaleddine
EDUCATION: El Kadi — Parsons School of Design, M.Arch., 1999; American University
of Beirut, B.Arch., 1997. Jamaleddine — Harvard, M.Arch., 1999; American University of Beirut, B.Arch., 1995
WORK HISTORY: El Kadi — Steven Holl Architects, 2000—05; Fumihiko Maki, 1996. Jamaleddine — Steven Holl Architects, 1999-2005
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Beirut Exhibition Center, Lebanon, 2010; Crosby Apartment, New York, 2009; 20 Peacocks, New York, 2005; Intermix, New York, 2005; Young Architects Forum (exhibition), New York, 2002
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Beirut Cultural Center, Lebanon, 2011; Baabdat Residence, Lebanon, 2011; Beirut Marina (with Steven Holl Architects, in association with NGAP), Lebanon, 2012; Y.Ghaith Residence, Lebanon, 2012; Loft Barn, New York, 2012
WEB SITE: www.leftish.net