PlanB, Public War Shelter - Melhem Sfeir's Graduation Project at NDU, 2011

Architect: Melhem Sfeir

For the past 50 years, Lebanon has been the battleground of different clashes, between different parties. Those battles consequences ’mostly affect civilians and innocents who usually don’t have a say in the war they find themselves in.

“PlanB” is a reaction towards the impotence of someone who finds himself in this situation : it’s a conceptual proposal for a public war shelter in Aayn El Remmaneh , Beirut ; one that would gather everyday public functions (commercial ,artistic ,medical…), in order to attract civilians during peace time and familiarize them with the space (to decrease panic during war). Those same functions (depending on the function) would then be either transformed into shelters or keep their original function, in order to serve refugees during a sudden war-clash. The project is to act passively as a bunker for wartime but should stay active and alive during peacetime, and have a “positive” overall look and feel, one that would steer minds away from negative impression of bunkers. This concept has won the NDU creativity award for the year 2011.
Walking distance / expected numbers of refugees / approximate area
The war shelter is thought of as an immediate solution to a sudden bombing or clash; it should be easily and quickly attained. For that, it is to be designed as a facility to be reached within walking distance. It is mainly to serve the surrounding area, within this walking distance that, according to multiple references, should be between 600 and 700 m radius (distance considered “walking distance”, as in the distance “within reach”).
Knowing the approximate surrounding area, an average number of residents was calculated within that reach. This it allowed the definition of the approximate areas for the program thus giving a very primitive idea of the expected volume (size) of the facility.
Fear Control [Reduction]
In general, the project represents a reenactment of the “outside-inside” movement of refugees during bombing, where people would be outside and flee to the inside. That’s mostly why the project is constructed around the underground peripheries of the plot and has a huge inner opening.
Reducing fear for the refugee is one of the main aims of the project, and consequently, affects directly the approach . For that , a thorough analysis was conducted on the site , and based on different fear-related theories, and the collected parameters, fear control was to be based on three main pillars: Familiarity, Clarity and Human scale.
If one is familiar with a space or location, he’s less likely to panic under stress. In response, the established program integrates everyday functions to attract citizens daily and repetitively in order to make them familiar with the place. In addition, urban integration in this particular context enhances the feeling of familiarity: the urban figure-ground analysis would define the mass impact of each major function   (relatively to the approximate area provided within the program) on the ground, and intersecting the constructed grid (synthesized from surrounding axii) with the volumes will eventually define the volumes of the underground functions.
“Clarity” defines the “clarity of mind” of a refugee during sudden clashes. If they know where they’re heading, again, they are less likely to panic during a sudden event. Consequently, a study on the surrounding corridors, that will eventually be the routes of flow of refugees, was conducted. Those axes were then extended and their extensions were marked by monumental red elements that would constitute the entrances of the project: those entrances being at the tip of the corridors should be seen from the other end of the corridor, and thus provide a certain peace of mind to the refugee. At the same time, the monuments provide a certain sense of orientation within the project. At the end, connecting those focal points on the periphery will define the inner circulation inside the project and inter-connecting them will assure the liveliness of the project, since the outer circulation would cover the entire plot.
Human Scale
“Human scale” is based on the idea that an individual fears or awes what is not proportionally equal to him in scale. For that, the idea here was to reflect the city or entourage with their already existent proportions. In that sense, a study on the surrounding facades (in their current state) was conducted, and the elevations were printed on the floor: the skyline of the printed buildings defined a green buffer zone between the surrounding and the project, and the humanly- proportionate- projected windows and openings were to become benches within the green buffer zone.
All those “constraints” or factors are layered on top of each others to synthesize the outline of the facility. Research on the technical aspects of a bunker were also conducted, and provided information on the requirements for safety (slab thickness , underground ventilation, bomb impact buffering … ).
As for the inner planning of the underground, massive structural elements were placed in a “chicane effect” within the inner circulation, in a way that would passively block the decays of a nearby bomb, and allows a lively circulation during peace time.
The switch
The following are samples from the “souk” district and the “art” district explaining how a “shop”, designed with certain proportions or modules, can switch functions from Peace to War and become a shelter. Same for the exhibition wall, that can be transformed to a room for 2, in a war scenario.



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  1. Manal Zghendy

    awsome !!!! :)

  2. Manal Zghendy

    awsome !!!! :)

  3. Manal Zghendy


  4. Karl Mansour

    Yeah i saw it , he did a presentation in 3d max class about his senior project and how he created his autocad file .... i really liked his project . Best of luck :)