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Dar al Mamluka Hotel, Damascus

Published in 2A Magazine Issue #15&16 Autumn 2010 Winter  2011

Simone Kosremelli

Simone Kosremelli has a bachelor in architecture degree from the American University in Beirut (1974) and a masters in urban planning from Columbia University (1977). She has her own practice in Lebanon since 1981 and has operated a branch in the United Arab Emirates during the 1990s. Along with her practice, she has been a part-time design instructor at the American University of Beirut. In 2007, she was awarded the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture Distinguished Alumna Award (FEADAA) at the American University of Beirut

Architectural Practice

Having lived a couple of years abroad, I realized upon my return to Lebanon that my own architectural style had to be deeply influenced by the vernacular Lebanese Architecture in order to preserve a traditional architecture that has been supplanted by “modern buildings”. The artisans were starting to disappear. So I created a team of young artisans and gave them work to survive and thus save their old “savoir-faire”. The architecture was less a copy of the old traditional house and more a revisited version. As most of the traditional houses were being torn down, I also started to use materials resulting from the destruction – wood beams, wood doors and windows, tiles, wrought iron balustrades, roof clay tiles, etc. When I started work in the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s, I used local architectural elements but without much enthusiastic response at the time. Only several years later was I to apply my idea of neo-traditionnal or neo-vernacular architecture in this part of the world and was able to build in Bahrein, Abu Dhabi  and Dubai three individual houses. Apart from individual houses, I have built industrial buildings (a juice factory, a pharmaceutical factory and winery). In summary, my architectural works are modern while deeply rooted in the Middle Eastern traditions.

Dar al Mamluka Hotel, Damascus

Bab Touma, the Christian quarter of Damascus, is a neighborhood of internal courtyard houses that used to be single-family middle class homes. Over time, these houses became multi-family units, sharing the courtyard and thus adding bathrooms and kitchens in a chaotic way. Over the last 15 years, many of these houses have been upgraded into small boutique hotels with 6 to 12 rooms around the central courtyard.

Dar el Mamlouka had already undergone a rather kitsch restoration into a 10 bedrooms hotel. With a change of owner, we were commissioned to upgrade the hotel.

We discovered a beautiful cross-vaulted room in the basement which we turned into a beautiful cross-vaulted Turkish hammam. In the previous restoration, the access to the basement was done through the dining room area, thus ruining the space and adding undesirable circulation in this already crowded room. We dug a new staircase under the existing staircase leading to the upper floor thus liberating the dining room floor.

There are two major rooms (one on every floor) that were originally wood paneled and painted in the typical Damascene way. One of them was used as the hotel reception office. We moved the reception next to the entrance and transformed this room into a major suite. We had to restore again the woodwork. We redid as well all the bathrooms using in most of them hand painted tiles that are called Ishani tiles, a typical Damascene artisanal product.

The aim of our intervention was to try to get closer to the original XVIIIth century house while adding comfort in a discrete manner. It was also to use the proper materials and the right treatment for these materials in order to be faithful to this unique traditional architecture.

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