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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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