Beyond its obvious physical existence as a place to which a person belongs to, a HOME’s most important influence lies on a psychological level impacting the formation of one’s identity.
Indeed, the architectural theoretician Christian Norberg Schulz (1926-2000), inspired by the German philosopher Martin
Heidegger, describes how ‘being in the world’ can only occur through specific places that are revealed to us during our existence, and that allow us to feel at HOME. Within a HOME that could vary in scale from a neighborhood to a country or even a continent, we need our house. A house is this private domain to which we withdraw and where we keep our ‘things’ that we have brought from the outside world. These things conceal aspects of our identity and allow the interior to harmonize with the exterior. Identity, it follows, is very much contextual, it is as much a product of our house and its things, as of our HOME and its culture. Identity is simultaneously specific and general, private and shared, it is constructed, negotiated and defended.
Lebanese oscillate between their micro-communal identities and their macro-national ones. When they are in Lebanon, they are mainly either Christian or Muslim, and when abroad they are Lebanese. The awarded Lebanese-born French author Amin Maalouf has understood this multilayering of Arab and Lebanese identity and explained it in “Les Identités Meurtrières” of 1998. Most precisely, Maalouf discusses his own negotiations of identity as a migrant in France and points out that each of us holds two inheritances: one that is ‘vertical’ stemming from our ancestors, the traditions of our people and of our religious community, and another which is ‘horizontal’ generated by the era, by our contemporaries. In other words, and as confirmed by the sociologists George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) and Erving Goffman (1922-1982), the self, or identity, is constructed through relations with others within places, and therefore is a product of particular social, spatial and temporal interactions.
As an architect that designs interiors, I am always shifting between scales, between architecture that is public and shared, and interiors that are private and semi-exclusive. I weigh the impact of my buildings on the shared HOME of the neighborhood and the city, and I accommodate the needs and desires of my clients in their houses believing in the importance of the interiors to their physical and psychological wellbeing.
In designing the duplex of Mr. Marwan Koleilat, an expat returning HOME to Lebanon, I had the chance to experience the richness of his constructed identity and its influence on the progress of the design. After having agreed on the program and its spatial allocations, Mr. Koleilat started seeing the realm of his duplex as a theatre for his ‘things,’ objects that he had amassed from all corners of the world during his 40 years of work in the airlines industry. He was stationed for considerable periods of time in the UAE, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to run his company’s operations in Asia and the Southwest Pacific region. More recently, he moved to Qatar to oversee the airlines’ whole network, which gave him the opportunity to visit every single corner of the world. During his stations and visits, his cosmopolitan identity was being continuously redefined whilst he associated new memories with and identified in the things he was collecting.
Now in his house in Lebanon, a vintage saxophone from Belgium sits next to a Buddha statue from Thailand.
A copper horse from Singapore looks at a blown glass vase from Cape Town. Carpets from Iran, Turkey and Thailand, a table light from Cambodia, a sheepskin carpet from Australia, a cigar box from Hong Kong, woodwork displays from Johannesburg and Korea, antique pieces from Beijing, and paintings from Hanoi pervade the spaces of the house. These things have found a new HOME in his house in Lebanon. In particular, marble-cut Chinese lettering dominates the wall of the stairs connecting the two levels of his duplex. It reads Ma-Wan, a Chinese name granted to him by the China’s Authorities when his company appointed him as their country’s chief representative. Marwan will soon return to retire in Lebanon, opening the door of his house to the world that is now his HOME, where his ‘self’ is fulfilled.