New York’s L.E.FT Architects have turned a subterranean theatre in Beirut into a gallery for contemporary Arab art.
Collector Saleh Barakat enlisted the practice to transform the basement space into his eponymous new gallery. It’s opening marks the 25th anniversary of Barakat’s other exhibition space, Agial Art Gallery, also in Beirut.
The underground concrete building, whose form resembles an ‘S’ shaped Tetris piece, was a one of the earliest cinemas to show experimental arthouse films in 1969, before it was converted into a theatre in the 1990s.
L.E.FT have retained much of the building’s original character, while paying homage to its past. A new sculptural staircase echoes the promenade designs often used in theatres. Descending through the main gallery into a lower floor, it draws light into the interior spaces beneath.
Elsewhere, structural beams have been left exposed, while the theatre’s ceiling has been renovated, and the lower floor turned into an expansive archive.
‘Back of house’ elements have also been brought to the fore: an electric chain hoist (used to move large artworks down through the building) is visible to gallery visitors, while storage aisles flanking the main gallery have been reimagined as intimate exhibition spaces.