During the 1940's, the basement of the Dominion Building was converted into a bustling diner with stainless steel and miles of curvy lunch counters. In 2008, Victor Bouzide and Ernesto Gomez of Nuba restaurant, took a leap of faith and opted to move their thriving twelve-seat take-out operation on Hastings across the street and into this cavernous underground space
The food at Nuba is essentially Lebanese, but with a perceptible dash of Latin American. Crossing the history of the site with the cultural background of the client is effectively taking the path of least resistance as far as determining the design of a place to fit its purpose. Surrendering to the critical paranoid method, as Koolhaas has put it, allows the design to evolve in a way which is compatible with and in fact a direct product of the cultural baggage brought to the project by the client and the site. The triangle tiles on the wall are actually regular 6x6 bathroom tiles, cut diagonally and mixed with different greens and whites, a resourceful way to disturb the over-processed qualities of the basic tile. the result somehow injects an Arabic sensibility into the simple tile. At the same time, the 6x6 format matches the existing (yellow) tiles from the 40's and while the triangular motif is completely consistent with decorative themes at that time, in this case, palms and cedar trees are the immediate references at play.
The room had gone through many iterations over seventy years or so, involving multiple layers of paint. Under the paint we found African mahogany milled into distinctive bullet shaped mouldings reflecting wartime machine aesthetics and the slow transition from the 1930's to the 1950's. In an effort to encourage the historical potential of the space, and, once again, a paranoid path of least resistance, we chose mahogany for all the new wood to be used in the restaurant. In addition, we crafted our shapes and mouldings in sympathy with the original work. As a final move, we opted to bleach the wood. Bleached mahogany was a fashionable technique in the forties and it has rarely been used since then. The effect lightens the wood and removes the redness which gives mahogany its "old fashioned" quality, which is why it was popular at the time. in this case, the technique has the opposite effect, in a way, branding the work with an undeniable yet barely conscious reference to the time period already embedded in the existing architecture.
By seamlessly blending the old and the new, with the ethnic and sub-cultural elements of the design, a strong impression is caused while at the same time, creating a disturbing ambiguity. When we cannot easily distinguish old from new, we are forced to accept a continuity which exists binding us with the past, neither fully real nor completely fictional.
The 40's were a relatively stable and even happy time in Beirut. Gay restaurants, lively cabarets, cinemas and cafes lined the streets of its centre. Nuba Gastown is an effort to channel that spirit and find a place for it in the context of the (historical centre of the) 21st century city.