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Artsy, green-friendly apartments change meaning of luxury.

Summary: With the seemingly endless options of luxury apartments popping up all over the city, buyers, particularly a younger, socially conscious set, have become increasingly exacting in their requirements.

BEIRUT: With the seemingly endless options of luxury apartments popping up all over the city, buyers, particularly a younger, socially conscious set, have become increasingly exacting in their requirements.

No longer is the simple, practical luxury of rooftop pools and a large balcony enough. Instead, demand has grown for a new understanding about what a building can contain and represent. This includes more awareness of architectural aesthetic, green spaces offering relief from hectic urban lives and cultural venues available right next door, if not simply a few floors below.

Allee des Arts, one of the latest developments to break ground in Gemmayzeh claims to avoid "the banality of contemporary commercial architecture" and is part of the push by developers to try and bring in younger clientele with original, often more socially conscious offerings.

Focused on combining art within everyday life, Allee des Arts gets its name from the pedestrian alley of art galleries and boutiques which will exist on the ground floor with residential and business space above. Balconied gardens will grow up the building along with a 300 square meter private garden for residents.

But does Beirut really need another luxury high-rise? Philippe Tabet, general manager of Har properties is wagering yes, if that building offers more than a nice home, namely a private garden and an neighboring cultural space.

Har Properties was founded in 2009, was born of a meeting of minds between banking expert Philippe Tabet and the architect son of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Fahed Hariri. Despite each project having a different architect, there are clear company characteristics running between them. Allee des Arts is their third and latest project that attempts to reinvent the concept of living space.

Har Properties isn't the only Lebanese company that has recognized the need for trendy, multifunctional apartments.

Greenstone, the real estate arm of Johnny R. Sde Holdings, is constructing L'Armonial in Monnot. The residential project marries the rehabilitation of an Ottoman-era building with an adjoined 20-story apartment that will include a swimming pool, spa and wine cellar.

Like Allee des Arts, L'Armonial has targeted buyers with greater social and cultural inklings, in this case, by using the restoration half of the project to promote saving Beirut's architectural heritage.

Innovation in luxury housing is the result of an ailing real estate market. In an interview with The Daily Star, Tabet said crisis befell the industry not only due to political or regional problems but also after the crash of a housing bubble that by 2011 had reached unrealistic prices.

Tabet also pinpoints sociodemographic changes which he proposes are changing the demands of buyers; the rise in young people wanting to buy homes, higher divorce rates and a growing number of women who want to live alone. These factors have created a demand for smaller apartments that was not present even four years ago, he said.

Allee des Arts is not the first of Har Properties' projects to market itself as unique. UPark in Ashrafieh is based around the architectural concept of New York-style loft apartments combined with a 2,500-square-meter private garden for residents.

"In all our buildings you can find gardens, it is inevitable," Tabet says.

Their second project, AYA in Mar Mikhael provides some evidence that green-focused apartment are in demand. AYA is due for completion by the end of next year and 70 percent of its apartments are already sold. Architects based AYA's concept upon the 1,000-year-old high-rise structures built from mud and earth in Yemen with no two floors being the same.

Built around a similar concept of green space and art galleries, Allee des Arts' has already seen sizable interest. Gemmayzeh was given a brief preview in June of the future Allee des Arts when the developers organized a pop-up gallery event to replicate the future central alleyway of art galleries. Each gallery space will be rented out on the strict condition that they stay as spaces for the arts.

"People want art around them and for me, creating an emotion in our projects is the most important thing. I try to create an emotion." The launch was a success, with 30 percent of the future apartments sold in the following week.

Compared to swathes of empty luxury apartments across the city, conceptual luxury appears to be working. Tabet argues these alternative apartment options offer "not just housing, but a new way of living."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jul 18, 2014
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