The illuminated light-wells in the cafeteria are set to 2700K in the morning to create a more relaxing environment and quality of light for students.
Robert James Bova The illuminated light-wells in the cafeteria are set to 2700K in the morning to create a more relaxing environment and quality of light for students.


Several years ago, the Lebanese American University (LAU) in Beirut realized that of the more than 8,000 students enrolled at the school few spent time at its Wadad Said Khoury Student Center. And no wonder: Built in 1996, the five-story, 57,000-square-foot (5,300-square-meter) building was less than inviting. Student areas were often cramped in awkward spaces that felt more like afterthoughts than comfortable meeting venues. The worst offender was the cafeteria. Located in an older building connected to the student center, the dining hall suffered from no windows, terrible acoustics, and high ceilings. It made for an unpleasant dining experience. “The cafeteria was very old and did not have any external lighting,” says Georges Hamouche, assistant vice president for facilities management at LAU. To remedy this and create a facility that students would enjoy using, the university sought to overhaul and modernize the center while also increasing business in its cafeteria by making “the dining area more appealing,” Hamouche says.

Chérine Saroufim Sacy, assistant managing director and partner at Beirut’s Idepconsult, remembers walking into the student center and cafeteria for the first time in 2012. “Architecturally speaking, it was a very awkward and dark space,” says Sacy, who is both an interior architect and a lighting designer. Beirut is a bright, sunlit city, so the dark cafeteria presented a particularly jarring juxtaposition. “Coming from outside with its huge amount of daylight, it was sad to walk into this box,” she says.

A series of wooden fins in the cafeteria create an interesting architectural detail while also helping to control noise levels in the space.
Ralph Mrad A series of wooden fins in the cafeteria create an interesting architectural detail while also helping to control noise levels in the space.


To make the student center a vibrant hub for the LAU campus, Idepconsult had the challenge of working within the existing structural envelope and with a limited budget. The firm was more than up to the task, having been founded in Beirut in 1979 by Sacy’s father, architect Mounir A. Saroufim. Sacy and her brother, architect Chadi Saroufim, joined the family business and now work closely with their parents. “We like to be hands-on for every part of a project,” Sacy says of the family’s approach to project management. “We take a lot of time coordinating drawings in the office,” says Chadi Saroufim. “We have mechanical and electrical engineers [in-house], so all of the coordination is done in our office. We do a lot of mock-ups. We know exactly what we want and we specify clearly.”

Lighting, Sacy says, is part of that control; it is always a primary component of an Idepconsult plan. “Lighting makes a huge difference because even if the design is high-end and you use the finest materials, if it’s not well lit, the project fails,” she says.

In certain areas of the building with high ceilings, such as the study rooms, a suspended ceiling of floating tiles made from acoustical material helps to give the space a more intimate sense of scale while also incorporating linear lighting components and sprinklers.
Robert James Bova In certain areas of the building with high ceilings, such as the study rooms, a suspended ceiling of floating tiles made from acoustical material helps to give the space a more intimate sense of scale while also incorporating linear lighting components and sprinklers.


Budget constraints forced the designers to be creative with material selections. Every design and lighting move needed to have multiple functions. This is best illustrated in the cafeteria, where three “skylights,” which are actually electrically lit, sprout from the ceiling plane, creating a dynamic visual in an otherwise monotonous interior. These structures not only bring in much-needed light and provide architectural detail, they also serve as acoustic sound breakers that dampen the noise. The light-wells use 28W T5 fluorescent lamps set on a control system to mimic the effect of sunlight throughout the day and the seasons. This evolving light also helps to subtly control the way people use the space. “The café is smaller than what is needed for the students. It’s always full,” Sacy says. “In the morning we want [the students] to relax, so we have lower light levels and warmer core temperatures around 2700K. At noon, we use a higher color temperature, around 6500K, so that people will be more alert, eat faster, and empty the space so that others may come in.”

Another dynamic element in the cafeteria is a set of wooden fins designed to control acoustics and affixed to the wall. Surface-mounted fluorescent battens offer an additional light source and give the fins a sculptural quality.

In the cafe, signature lighting elements, what lighting designer Cherine Saroufim Sacy calls "the eggs," house 40W 4000K T5 Circuline lamps.
Ralph Mrad In the cafe, signature lighting elements, what lighting designer Cherine Saroufim Sacy calls "the eggs," house 40W 4000K T5 Circuline lamps.
The renovated student center, which opened in September 2013, includes the cafeteria and an adjacent coffee shop, as well as classrooms; study lounges; a gym; dance, music, and game rooms; and academic offices. The new interior is decidedly contemporary, with a bold system of bright primary colors to help with wayfinding. All circulation within the building is monochromatic—white, gray, and black—but assertive punches of red, green, and blue demarcate different rooms. “Each space has its own specific color and the lighting was designed to enhance it,” Sacy says.

Sometimes these colorful elements double as the building’s mechanical infrastructure. In a student study room, high ceilings are made to feel less imposing with waves of colorful, floating ceiling tile fabricated from acoustical material and designed to integrate everything from lighting to motion detectors to sprinklers.

The circular motif is continued as a frit pattern in the hallway leading to the game room.
Ralph Mrad The circular motif is continued as a frit pattern in the hallway leading to the game room.


Ceiling tile supplied inspiration in other social spaces, as well. For a game room and office area, the designers selected a gypsum board ceiling tile, pre-punched with small circles for acoustic dampening. They painted the board a matte-colored green and then picked up on those perforated holes by continuing a visible pattern of circles: Lighting fixtures are round, painted to coordinate with the ceiling color, and some have been custom-made to be oversized and dramatic. Circles again find their way onto a custom privacy film placed on the glass walls of the staff offices to delineate them from the public game room.

Another clever solution happens in the café. This small space next to the cafeteria had been underutilized, due in large part to the awkward shape of the room. “The internal space has no 90 degree angles,” Sacy says. To give the space a sense of form, Idepconsult created what Sacy calls “the eggs.” Made from wood covered with gypsum, these versatile oval-shaped canopies house 40W 4000K T5 Circuline lamps.

In the lounge, a bold use of color and a playful arrangement of circular-shaped fixtures create a lively setting for students.
Robert James Bova In the lounge, a bold use of color and a playful arrangement of circular-shaped fixtures create a lively setting for students.
The circular fixtures and design accents throughout the building are offset by linear fluorescent battens, which are often used in the hallways to suggest circulation. In the auditorium, which has very low ceilings, linear 4-foot fixtures on a DALI control have been set within a black backdrop to support the AV needs of that space. Linear fixtures are again used in the low-ceilinged gym and dance room, in this case fluorescents with an opal diffuser. The luminaires, a composition of 8-foot lamp segments ganged together, run as long as 75 feet in places to help the cloistered basement feel roomier. “These were the most challenging areas because we had so many technical issues with the structural columns, and the mechanical, and electrical systems that needed to go here,” Sacy says.

The firm’s attention to detail and creative problem solving have paid off. A year after opening, the cafeteria has exceeded expectations for students as well as the administration (food sales have more than quadrupled, according to the LAU’s Hamouche.) “The designers left a personal and very impressive impact on this project, especially in terms of lighting design, lighting fixture selection, and color palette,” he says. “The new student center has become one of the most-visited premises on our Beirut campus.”


In the gym, low ceiling heights dictated a linear fluorescent fixture with an opal diffuser.
Robert James Bova In the gym, low ceiling heights dictated a linear fluorescent fixture with an opal diffuser.
The danec studio.
Ralph Mrad The danec studio.


28W T5 linear fluorescent fixtures provide illumination for the music room.
Robert James Bova 28W T5 linear fluorescent fixtures provide illumination for the music room.
The game room.
Ralph Mrad The game room.


The auditorium uses 4-foot-long 28W T5 linear fluorescent fixtures set on a DALI control system to meet the AV needs of the space.
Robert James Bova The auditorium uses 4-foot-long 28W T5 linear fluorescent fixtures set on a DALI control system to meet the AV needs of the space.


The Next Lighting Generation: Chérine Saroufim Sacy
Chérine Saroufim Sacy always knew that she wanted to be an interior architect. The 34-year-old caught the design bug at age five (she was constantly rearranging the furniture in her family’s living room) and is now assistant managing director and partner at Idepconsult, an architecture and engineering firm headquartered in Beirut.

It was inevitable, really, that Sacy would go into design. Her father, architect Mounir A. Saroufim, started Idepconsult in Lebanon in 1979. (It’s since grown to 40 employees with offices in Beirut; Cairo; Doha, Qatar; Geneva; and Pasadena, Calif.) It’s a true family affair: Her mother is the firm’s accountant and her older brother, Chadi, is an architect and urban designer, as well as a partner at the firm.

Born in Beirut, Sacy and her family traveled extensively in the 1980s, in part because of the tumultuous politics plaguing their home country. “My mom was always taking us to see architecture in every new place that we went. It’s one of the things that brought us together as a family,” she says.

Sacy went on to earn a Masters in Interior Architecture in 2004 from the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA) in Beirut. But she felt there was something missing from her design training. “I knew the only thing that could enhance my interior architecture was lighting,” she says. “You can adjust one small thing in a space with the interaction of the light and it will change the environment completely.”

To further her education and fuel this interest in lighting, in 2005, Sacy moved to New York to attend the lighting design program at Parsons The New School for Design. (She graduated in 2007 with her Master of Fine Arts in Lighting Design.) This, she says, is where she became obsessed with light. “At Parsons we learned about the psychological impact of light. This is what intrigued me,” she says. “I integrate light in every project because it makes such a big difference.”

This passion comes through in her work. Her thesis at Parsons earned the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) New York City Section annual thesis prize, and in 2014, she received the IES’s Award of Merit for the Wadad Said Khoury Student Center at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

Sacy, who has both Lebanese and American citizenship, contemplated staying in New York after she graduated but, ultimately, family called her home. “It’s a true family business,” she says, “where everything is discussed all the time.”


Details Project  Wadad Said Khoury Student Center, Lebanese American University, Beirut
Client  Lebanese American University, Beirut
Architect and Lighting Designer  Idepconsult—Mounir Saroufim and Partners, Beirut
Project Size  57,049 square feet (5,300 square meters)
Project Cost  $7 million
Lighting Cost  $200,000
Code Compliance and Watts per Square Foot  Not applicable

Manufacturers

Debbas  linear luminaire at entrance
Regianni  downlights in the corridor with custom painted trim
Osram  back-of-house luminaires
Trilux  40W 4000K downlights with T5 Circuline lamps in the café’s suspended ceiling elements
Zumtobel  28W T5 linear fluorescent fixtures in the offices and auditorium; opal diffuser added for the fixtures in the cafeteria, gym, music and dance rooms; circular fixtures in the lounges