Our first Beirut Design Week will be remembered for many things: the showcase of unique regional-oriented design, the passionate and proud designers gathered for the annual event, the emerging graphic design scene embracing the region’s typographic history, and of course, the backdrop of a city in the midst of transitioning from a state of rebuilding toward one of reimagining its future. Beirut Design Week will also be remembered for its unforgettable and inescapable soundscape, a perpetual bombardment of city noises emerging from a dense and industrious population in flux. That may explain why The Silent Room by Nathalie Harb is recalled as a particularly welcome oasis during attendance – an experience and an architectural manifestation representing a quiet revolution promoting “silence as a form of resistance”.
We need more Silence. Silence as a cleansing necessity to reclaim authorship of our thoughts and of ourselves.
Situated in an empty parking lot adjacent to a remarkably busy highway bridge in an industrial section of Beirut, The Silent Room is hard to miss. Tall and recognizable by its angled roofline – but most for its pink paint finish – the building’s purpose is a mystery upon arrival. A small porch with a bench welcomes guests to remove their shoes before embarking the distance of a short flight of stairs, the ascension hinting of a transformative and meditative experience awaiting up top.
Turning a corner, a warmth of darkness greets guests into a womb-like environment insulated from the outside world by a thick layer of batting and textiles. Surrounded by such material, it feels immediately natural to lay down; the world outside fades away with only a few breaths. But like a womb, sounds are not completely erased: the din of vehicles rumbling by, the barrage of construction, and conversations happening nearby are still audible, but muffled into ghosts of ambient sounds, sometimes more felt than actually heard. A sense of physical and psychological distance emerges as sounds from outside are buffered, replaced by a marked note of one’s own breathing and meditative thoughts seeps in, while time trickles ever slower. Occasionally the comfort of acoustic calm is interrupted by a fleeting and gentle soundtrack of peaceful environmental sounds mysteriously emanating from a set of audio speakers hidden in the upper corners of the room.
Scenographer and installation artist Nathalie Harb’s The Silent Room stands in protest against urbanism without thought and concern for the human condition. The project’s purpose wasn’t motivated in creation of an anechoic chamber – a room designed to completely absorb sound in entirety. Instead, Harb’s The Silent Room – constructed in partnership with Squad Design and architectural firm, BÜF – serves as a public space in acknowledgment of existing environmental sounds, becoming an enclosed park of sorts, and imagined for underserved populations where noise pollution rules and where silence (and the personal reflection it allows) has become a scarce luxury. In time, Harb envisions erecting numerous aural oases across the globe, each combatting the invisible injustice of perpetual noise pollution one person at time.
We gave it a bit more saturation to stand out in the urban environment. Pink isn’t necessarily associated with silence, usually those colours are more muted, but I wanted to create that visual displacement or element of surprise, to stand out in the city and make it noticeable like a bunker- but one that invites you to peace. – Nathalie Harb