Just south of Beirut, in Lebanon’s rich Shouf Valley, a newly completed church embraces the material heritage that surrounds it. Designed by Paris-based architect Maroun Lahoud, St. Elie’s is a modern take on the traditional Maronite churches found throughout Lebanon, and its white stone cladding provides a striking contrast to the area’s abundant greenery.
The church was commissioned by Lebanon’s Ministry of the Displaced, which seeks to rehabilitate infrastructure following the country’s civil war and also aid in reconciliation between the area’s Maronite and Druze communities.
Settled into the terraced landscape, this new place of Maronite worship centres around two square volumes that sit atop a sunken base. 'Its aspect embodies the characteristics of the Maronite Church; pure massing and flat roof,' Lahoud said. The façade also extends upwards in the form of a short, solid bell tower, another key structural element in the Maronite tradition.
To create the ‘pure massing’ noted by Lahoud, the architects drew from local sources, and there are two different yet complimentary material surfaces at work. The base, which houses the church’s annexes and a multipurpose hall, is made up of dry stone walling local to the site, and originally made up local homes that were destroyed during the civil war.
Sitting atop the semi-sunken stone walling are the main volumes of the church, which are made up of white bush-hammered stone cladding. The church appears pure white from a distance, but the locally quarried stones actually provide for a tonal range that plays off the day’s changing sunlight.
The church is filled with natural light by way of Lahoud’s minimal cruciform windows, carved directly into the church’s stone, and through the simplistic lined windows located above the altar and along the sides of the structure. 'The white walls seem to diffuse natural light,' Lahoud said, 'the marble floor reflecting it in turn.'