Have you ever gotten excited about a fenestration pattern? If you’re unfamiliar with the word, fenestration is really just a fancy way to say window*. But when you find yourself talking about the fenestration pattern, you’re inadvertently talking about more. You’re talking about how the windows are composed along the skin of the building and picking up a logical pattern to their placement or picking apart how illogically the openings are distributed. I first heard the word being wielding around by a professor who was using it during a studio critique to not only tell someone their project was ugly, but to also make the student feel stupid for having to guess his meaning from context clues.
So when I found myself admiring the fenestration pattern of this building in Beirut, I wanted to figure out why. The project is by 109 Architectes for the University of Saint Joseph and I found out that the irregular pattern is a reference to building damaged during the Lebanese Civil War. It sounds deep and poignant but when I poked around for more information about the gesture I found a slew of negative comments about the project. I shouldn’t be surprised that a hypercritical bunch of folks like architects, under the veil of internet anonymity, would have things to say. Still, I’m left feeling a little bit like the student talked down to by the verbose professor. Is there just something I don’t get?
My first impression was that I might like it because it looks like cave dwellings–-or wait–maybe it looks like the punched out windows of Corbusier instead…or does it look like more recent work by Holl? There’s something that seems contemporary and simultaneously primal about it: I don’t know. But poking around on the internet won’t help me figure it out what I like about it. It will tell me what everyone else thinks is wrong with the project. And I don’t want to pretend it’s perfectly conceived or executed, I just don’t want to look at photos of the project and only see the opinions of Internet trolls. I’d rather see a cluster of university buildings that’s grappling to make sense of recent history. I don’t know enough about that recent history to critique the architect’s effort, but I know enough to admire what they’ve built.
*”Fenestration” is not exclusive to the enclaves of architecture school, and right now there are fenestrated endothelial cells in your kidneys helping you make pee.