Play Architecture


It all started with a question, a will, an intuition, and one word. In an academic and profes­sional context, architects use play constantly to associate it with architectural elements. The perplexity and complexity of play triggered many questions not only concerning the rela­tionship between play and architecture but also by understanding how does play intervene with architectural elements. I am often told to play more with the plans, openings, ceiling heights, light, shadow, circulation, landscape etc… But what do they really mean by play?

Architects and artists talk and write about the play with architectural forms, that we usually confuse with numerical proportions (the golden number) or simple and pure symmetry. Play with forms is a concept that should be explicitly studied and revealed through drawings. How do theses “things” that are separated by a space play together? How can we create order between shapes?

The concept of play questions the conception of the architectural project and the process of the project; how can we draw this mysterious communication between several elements that can make us exclaim what LeCorbusier wrote: “this is a correct, ingenious and magnif­icent play of forms!” Play is directly linked to creativity and psychoanalysis and is related to playfulness, entertainment and games. Thus, play is applied at the beginning and at the end of the project.

I wanted to study the notion of play seriously and thoroughly, to take the time to reveal it in hand drawings and to construct a concept and an idea through drawings. It is an idea that is revealed through the process of drawing.

The question of public space added another layer to our understanding of social play. I chose Beirut who lacks well-thought and socially inclusive public spaces as a territory to study. Public spaces, more specifically squares, are the space where differences play and evolve into a co-presence and co-existence to a territory. Nevertheless, public space lacks certain attractiveness. It is not enough to create a void where the public can interact, ar­chitects need to provide hospitality to the space. That is why a proper play with forms that generates rhythm and ”fun” programs, can help with appropriation.

The territorial intervention where I chose to implement this method contributed with its own set of rules and problematic. These rules are essential to comprehend the social play in the Lebanese society. It is crucial to be attentive to the specificity of the Lebanese society by conducing research on social spaces like public squares and the entertainment aspect of social and anthropological play. Where do Lebanese play and interact?

The hill of Deir el Qalaa, in Beit Mery, Mount Lebanon is the perfect territory that retraces the ancient history, communal divisions, religious and contemporary aspects of Beirut as a city. Deir el Qalaa is an example of the territorial influence that Beirut imposed on the mountains and coast that surrounds it. While keeping the universal approach of play, I start­ed questioning the construct of the Lebanese identity from an anthropological approach. The project in Deir el Qalaa is meant to play with the notion of society in a unique setting. The players can appropriate the space and social play is revealed!

*The project is part of the open call for ARCHITECTURE OF THE TERRITORY’ by the Collective for Architecture Lebanon in occasion of Omran’19. 


What prompted the project?

When I am asked to work on a project, the process has always intrigued me. How did the project evolve and why ? The notion of an architectural project is used constantly in an academic and professional context.
The starting point of a project ressembles a quest, some sort of adventure. Visiting the site, establishing a program, attributing a form is a long and hard process but I do find it fascinating. By accomplishing an architectural project, what are architects looking for ?
The difficult part of understanding the process is “to actually do” the project while taking some distance. Attempting to be objective towards your own subjectivity through out the process of doing an architectural project.

What questions does the project raise?

To fully comprehend the complexity and ambiguity that lies behind the notion of Play, I started questioning the relationship of play with/of Architecture. I divided my research on both the theoretical and anthropological aspect of play.
The play of forms that creates rhythm, the free play of light, the wall and “in-betweenness” (of architect Aldo Van Eyck), the play with circulation ( La promenade of LeCorbusier and la derive of the Situationists), the play with the landscape ( the notion of the Genius Loci portrayed by Tadao Ando), are all part of the theory that reveal a certain aspect of the word play. The anthropological aspect of play investigates playful schemes and fun programs, by incorporating the notion of theatrum Mundi by Richard Sennett, games and sports, and religious rituals, as important facets of social play.
To what extent does the play of/with architectural elements, combined with a “fun” program, is susceptible to benefit social play in a public space ? I propose to examine the outcomes of this problematic by choosing Beirut as a playground; a territory and a society that is a priori hostile and where social play is comprised by confessionalism and clientelism.

What informed Beirut as site for the speculation?

Beirut is always unstable, “fragile” and inclined to succumb to temptations, to play. The anxiety of war, clientelism, massive urbanization, architectural manierism, social inequality, massive privatization and the lack of State destroyed the social dialogue. The universal and the anthropological functions of play and its proximity to esthetic theories, act like intermediates between the diverse communities to play down conflicts but also to redefine religious, political and sectarian affinities.

How do you define a “square” / Piazza? How and to what extent is this notion reinterpreted within the context of Lebanon?

To understand the notion of public space, it is in fact crucial to understand the society who’s going to inhabit the space. In the context of Lebanon squares are scarce and family has a more important part in society.But the very notion of a piazza is to be defined in a context. It is very difficult to just implement in Beirut a square that can exist in Europe.The social play is different, thus the way to design a public space must take into consideration the diversity and complexity of lebanese society. It is not enough to design a void as a public space, it needs to have a certain attractiveness and sociability for the inhabitants to appropriate the space.
That is why I defined a square or any public space by a void that is accessible, free and attractive.

“Play” is a key word of your project, could you explain this further?

The question of play in architecture is fundamental because it offers a new vision of our relationship with the world through some notions neglected by modernity in service of technicity, physical sciences or mathematics. With the help of play, I introduce a universel that is non representative of a historical association but enables us to rethink and communicate.The functions of play and games in society have let the development of culture and the organization of relations between humans (Roger Caillois with his research on games and men). In addition, play also contributes of the psychism in children (Donald Winnicott theories) and reveals a new rapport to the world, an “intermediate area” that is at the heart of my research. As a matter of fact, it is with the great diversity of games that children develop and evolve physically, psychologically, emotionally. There are consequent studies on play, its functions and its theorisation. But we notice that play has been attributed a definition depending on the field of study. But the extensive literature on play can be divided into two groups. On one hand, play is attributed to behavior; the child plays with others to learn cooperation, express aggression and tolerate frustration. On the other hand, play is a form of cognitive activity, we examine how the child forms and apprehends symbols that evolved and more get complex in adult life.

What informed the use of the hand drawing as means through which to articulate the project?

The relationship between the mind and the hand but more importantly the body to our surrounding.I always have in mind this beautiful book by Henri Focillon (The life of forms,1934) who talks about the glory of the hand.I do feel like I am more in control when I’m hand drawing and the idea of not erasing, keeping a trace of the process is extremely helpful in research.

What are for you the advantages and disadvantages of the hand drawing compared to one realised digitally?

I would say that one advantage of hand drawing is to better understand scales but most importantly to try and not portray a fixed image. I did use digital tools for the project but more in parallel to hand drawing. Ultimately, they are both tools that architects use to portray his project, they are available to helps us achieve something. One obvious disadvantage is

erasing but since I am interested in the process, I embrace my mistakes and use accidents to my advantage.

What is for you the architects' most important tool?

The ability to work on practical and theoretical issues. To be this bridge between the formal and informal. The act of building is assisted by a thought, by ideas and by a theoretical approach. I am always searching for an architecture that involves and overcomes contradictions. A certain satisfaction to not separate ideas from the form that they could be shaped into.