Oasis of culture

Oasis of culture

Published: MEA

Downtown Beirut is the beating heart of the city. Amongst the crowded streets and blaring horns, the hustle and bustle of everyday life creates a manic energy that can be felt everywhere you go. Step off the street and head up to the second floor of the Akkar Building, however, and you enter a completely different world. A world of peace and tranquillity. A world where culture and the arts are paramount to everything. This world is Dawawine.

Spearheaded by co-founder Sara Sehnaoui, the unique space consists of a library, bistro and screening room catering to the various needs of the city’s cultural set. Every detail of Dawawine has been planned and executed to celebrate music, art and film. As such, it boasts an audio and acoustic design that is second to none.

Whenever Pro Audio Middle East enters a site such as this, the instant reaction is to look up to see which brand of well disguised ceiling speaker is providing the BGM. Dawawine is different. Rather than the traditional discreet audio solution that disappears into the background, Dawawine has a striking Architettura Sonora solution that cries out for attention.

‘The architect, Jihad Kiamé, wasn’t too happy about the speakers at first, but the centre said they didn’t want to open without the speakers because they were a core idea of what they are trying to do,’ explains Fouad Bechwati principal at 21dB, the acoustic consultancy responsible for the project. ‘Eventually, when he saw them installed, he really liked them.’

Inside the library and the bistro it is the Italian manufacturer’s Small Drop series speakers that have been called into action. A left-right pair with associated sub cover the library, while a 4.1 system provides music and supports DJs in the bistro. Outside, a Sphere full-range speaker extends the coverage onto the small terrace.

‘For the space outside the projection room, Architettura Sonora proved to be the perfect solution because they are very directional and they are able to minimise reflections from the hard surfaces,’ explains Dr Bechwati. ‘The architect was adamant that these were the materials he wanted to use so you cannot change that.’

While the Architettura Sonora system grabs the attention in the library and bistro, the screening room provides a very different experience. As soon as Pro Audio Middle East enters the small cinema the difference is immediate. With the door closed, the silence of the room is all encompassing, the cacophony of downtown Beirut replaced by a stillness only achieved through high quality acoustic design.
‘It’s a dead space, so it’s very absorbing. The idea is to give the film the highest sound quality that you can,’ explains Dr Bechwati. ‘The architect designed the structure which we used to create the room inside. It’s a very small space, it’s not a cinema, it’s like a small theatre – it’s very intimate.

‘We used soundproof walls,’ continues Dr Bechwati. ‘We did double wall construction for the soundproofing. The whole floor is floating, the raked floor is floating on metal studs, and all of the perforated wooden panels have acoustic backing. The acoustics part took around four months to be completed.’

Despite its acoustic qualities, this room was where the most compromises had to be made. ‘The biggest challenge was in the projection room. It was supposed to have a door at the back. There were meant to be two doors but we were restricted by the physical space of the building. Part of it had to stay as a fire escape. There was supposed to be a buffer room and a fire door at the top of the stairs but we ended up just having one door,’ explains Dr Bechwati. ‘It was a compromise because once you open it, sound goes in. If you are watching a film, you have to ensure the door is closed at all times. This is the main thing which was done wrong acoustically because of the limitations we had with the space.’

Inside the screening room, the cinema system is again causing a reaction. ‘When they opened the centre I got a call from them telling me they were getting one comment from everyone asking what they had done in the projection room to make it sound so good,’ says Dr Bechwati.

‘It’s the first installation for PMC in-wall. We were incredibly surprised with the result. I never expected anything like it,’ he explains. ‘You hear every single detail. There are three speakers behind the screen. It is a 9.2 surround system. They have used it already for films and for some specific music pieces which were composed for nine channels or 11 channels that they played here as well.’

It’s clear when talking to Dr Bechwati that this was a project that was close to his heart and one he was determined to be part of. ‘The biggest challenge was that somebody else was supposed to do it – it was a challenge for us to convince them we were the right people for the job,’ he reveals. ‘It’s really refreshing to work with a place like this. The owner Sara is an amazing person. She knew what she wanted from day one and she even let go a few partners who did not agree with her vision. She ended up putting in a lot of her own money on top of the government loan to get it done.
‘We became one of the collaborators,’ he continues. ‘Since it’s a non-profit organisation we thought it would be nice to give them things at minimum cost and put our name there and be able to use this space for things like our seminars. It’s a win-win situation really.’

Although it is still early days for the venue, there are promising signs for the future. ‘It’s picking up and becoming a really cool place to be. They are in the middle of Beirut in the perfect location downtown. It’s an oasis of culture,’ concludes Dr Bechwati. ‘It’s a unique space in Beirut and a non-profit organisation. We don’t have places like that which are dedicated to film and music.’


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