You probably know Carl Gerges as a member of the Lebanese indie band Mashrou’Leila but there’s much more to his professional portfolio. An architecture graduate of the American University of Beirut, Carl has now founded a project close to his heart, his eponymous architecture studio Carl Gerges Architects, in his home city of Beirut. Gerges first project, the breathtaking Villa Chams, let us guess a promising future for the studio. We chatted to Carl over the phone to discover a little bit more about his new venture and future projects.
Hi Carl – First of all, can we ask you how you’ve been doing during this Quarantine?
This quarantine is constantly reminding me of how lucky I am to be able to stay in and work from home, while doctors and nurses are risking their lives everyday, thousands of people are losing their jobs, and countless amounts of families are ending up on the streets not being able to pay their rent or afford a living.
On a more personal level, I’ll remember this quarantine as the time when I launched my architecture studio. Even though it might seem like an odd timing, having such an abundance of time is a blessing for me. My drive to create has never been stronger. This is what pushed me to go all the way despite the global situation. I’m confident that everything will spring back in a much better way and I hope that people will emerge from their quarantine more spiritual and much kinder.
You’ve been known for over a decade for being the drummer of successful indie band Mashrou’Leila. Less people know that your background is actually in architecture. How do these two passions, and professions, intertwine in your daily life?
It’s quite natural for me to switch between music and architecture, the two fields overlap in my daily life. I often use my architectural skills with the band to work on stage design, art direction, and visuals; and vice versa. Touring with the band broadens my horizons and helps me better understand interpersonal communication and social media.
Can you tell us about the architectural projects that you have going on?
I just finished Villa Chams in Baalbek. This project means a lot to me because it’s the city where the band’s career debuted ten years ago. Our concert in the temple of Bacchus was a huge inspiration when I first started sketching. You can feel its impact in the musicality of the villa’s facade.
I’m currently working on a private residence located on a sandy beach in the south of Lebanon, and on the rehabilitation of a traditional Lebanese house in Beit Mery. Beit Mery is a particularly exciting project because my intervention not only involves the renovation of the existing two houses, but also the addition of a jardin d’hiver, a suspended pavilion, three different types of gardens and the integration of a spa in the cross vaulted basement.
Are you more into refurbishing and bringing a place a new life or starting from Scratch?
For me every project is a love story, an adventure that can take you on so many different paths. I also consider that you can never completely start from scratch. An empty plot of land for example already has a geographical location, a nationality, an orientation to the sun, native elements that you can’t dismiss and that you need to consciously integrate in your design.
If it wasn’t Beirut, where would you see yourself live? Is there any city where the architecture particularly catches your eye?
There are so many different, beautiful, and inspiring cities that I had the chance to discover while on tour with the band. We actually developed a strange habit with my bandmates where we compulsively started to decide to move to every new city we experienced, even if we barely knew it and didn’t speak the language. Obviously it never worked. There is something special about being based in Beirut that I can’t define and that I can’t seem to find anywhere else in the world.
We recently got to discover bits of your home in an article for AD magazine. It’s beautiful! What room is your favorite and which part of the redesign process did you enjoy most?
Thank you! My favorite room would be the bathroom. I spend a considerable amount of time in the shower, it’s where I get my best ideas. So I designed it with that in mind. It’s quite spacious, very well lit with two windows. The floor which is made out of bush-hammered carrara marble is heated so it’s a fantastic feeling to walk barefoot or even lay down on it.
My favorite part of the design process was actually the stuff that you can’t even see in the photos. It was very challenging to integrate modern day systems without affecting the original Art Deco architecture of the building. Steel beams were used to reinforce the ceiling and to brace the external walls, and a very thin false ceiling was used to conceal the air conditioning system, electric cables, and the central heating pipes. I’m also quite proud of the fireplace, it was the latest addition and it took a lot of planning to implement.
Let’s imagine that there isn’t a world pandemic going on – What are your plans musically and architecturally for the rest of the year and the future?
During the last five years I was faced with an infinity of problems and traumatic experiences with Mashrou Leila, getting banned from one Arab country to another, harassed by the press, and being hunted down in our very own country because of fake accusations. It was extremely draining emotionally, physically and mentally. So I had to quickly develop surviving skills to be able to cope with all of this madness.
Resilience has always been a quality that you acquire at a very young age if you’re born in Lebanon, but when you add up all of these experiences to the equation you suddenly become immune to virtually everything. So I learned to plan my life independently of all the turmoil and chaos that is happening around me.
My answer to your question is that my plans don’t depend on whether there is a pandemic or not they have never changed and never will. Make better architecture, more music and grow as an artist.
If you had to name an architect who has inspired you, who would it be?
Peter Zumthor and David Chipperfield.