Summer 2004 Vol. II, Nos 3 and 4
 From the Editors
 To the Editors
 AUB News
 Campaign Update
 Behold Beirut Architecture’s
 New Frontier
 The Post-AUB Architectural Life
 An Exact Type
 Architecture and Graphic Design
 Students “JAM”
 Shaping the Landscape of Lebanon
 Blueprint in Action
 Commencement 2004
 Honorary Degrees 2004
 Young Lebanese Musicians Learn
 Lessons from the Master
 More than a Stamp of Approval: AUB
 Receives Accreditation
 Alumni Profile
 Alumni Activities
 AUB Reflections
 Class Notes
 In Memoriam
 Previous Issues

Shaping the Landscape of Lebanon

Students of AUB’s Landscape Design and Eco-Management Program are working to preserve the rich ecological, cultural, and historical heritage of Lebanon.

When the University held its commencement exercises on June 25, Professor Jala Makhzoumi was there—not for the graduation of her son or daughter, but looking every bit the proud parent. Four years after the introduction of the Landscape Design and Eco-Management Program (LDEM) in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS), she was there to watch her first crop of students receive their degrees. 

Makhzoumi remembers well teaching her first class at AUB in the spring of 2001, when she joined AUB as the coordinator for the LDEM program, together with Professor Salma Talhouk of landscape horticulture. “Many of my students believed they were going to study how to landscape villas for rich people,” she says. “They soon learned that LDEM is about creating landscapes that benefit the surrounding community, that are rooted in the ecological and environmental resources of the place, and that they can be maintained at a minimal cost both financially and environmentally.” As Makhzoumi explains it, landscape design and management is not simply about beautification. The landscape embodies many layers of meaning—historical, cultural, and ecological—and proper landscape design draws upon those layers to reflect and honor the natural organic resources of the place. In the Middle East and the Mediterranean, this requires an understanding of the natural ecology and seasonal cycles of the region, as well as a familiarity with the complex cultural and historical influences that have impacted the landscape and its use through the centuries.

The LDEM program falls under the Department of Plant Sciences in FAFS. Faculty members in this department teach landscape horticulture, plant biology, and plant pathology. An equal contribution comes from the Department of Land and Water Resources, where LDEM students are introduced to the fundamentals of soil, landscape irrigation, and water management. The courses in landscape design are taught by Makhzoumi, as well as by Visiting Professor Julie Weltzein and part-time professionals in landscape horticulture and architecture.

The LDEM students are lucky to have the AUB campus—it is virtually a living laboratory that provides them with a wide variety of landscape situations with which to work and experiment.  The campus is, in effect, a native botanical garden, with several different regions. The upper campus, particularly the area around the Green Oval, is an example of a more carefully manicured, ornamental garden landscape. The middle campus has a wilder character and typifies the native ecology of Lebanon. And the lower campus is being primed for the construction of major new facilities, each of which will provide its own unique opportunities and challenges for preservation of the natural landscape. Students also learn from the diverse inhabitants of the campus, which include not only students and faculty, campus staff and workers, but also other members of the wider AUB community who gather near the Main Gate on weekends to enjoy the relative peace and greenery of the area, along with the many cats and other animal species that call the campus home.

Makhzoumi hails the unique learning environment that the campus provides, saying, “I cannot teach what my students cannot experience.” The LDEM program takes full advantage of this and has its students working on a complex variety of campus projects at every level of their training. One of the earliest projects was the creation of a roof garden for the Biology Department, which allowed the LDEM students to expand their learning resources while beautifying a campus building.

Makhzoumi also cites another notable first-year effort, which involved the development of a courtyard garden design for the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences. Developing the design required students to gather input from the various users of the space, while interfacing with the Facilities Planning and Design Unit (FPDU) to ensure the project’s feasibility. On a more advanced level involving group cooperation, students work on a project that is large enough in scope and area for each student to work intensively on a single aspect. Makhzoumi gives as an example the hands-on training that some of her current students are gaining as they work to survey all the woody plants on campus, including trees and shrubs. In the process of documentation, students learn to map the specific location of each plant using AUTOCAD software, thus contributing to their technological expertise as well as to the store of information needed to preserve the campus landscape.

Such projects, Makhzoumi says, allow students to play a dynamic role in the shaping and sustaining of the AUB environment. It gives them the awareness of being part of a greater effort to preserve the abundant natural resources of the campus. Many students, she claims, also approach their projects as a way of repaying AUB for their university experience. Finally, all these projects help prepare students for their senior year, when they will be required to undertake large-scale projects of their own design that will call for months of independent research and planning.

An overview of the program’s curriculum reveals that it is highly interdisciplinary and extraordinarily rigorous. While taking classes in horticulture and plant biology, first-year students are also trained in technical drawing and basic design through classes offered by the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture. Professor Makhzoumi points out that one of her primary goals during the first year is to help students develop sharp awareness and sensitivity to the landscapes all around them.

Second-year students continue their education with more advanced studies in agriculture and horticulture. They also spend an increasing amount of time in the Landscape Design Studio working on complex projects, moving beyond conceptual training to realization of their own designs. At this stage, students develop an understanding of the mood and character that various materials and plants bring to a project, as well as how to negotiate the complex human relationships involved in each landscaping design. Makhzoumi explains that landscaping, particularly in the urban Beirut environment, often requires input not only from the resident community but also from official sources, such as ministries and landowners. Therefore, it is crucial that students are trained to implement a project that is beneficial to the community and to the environment while also abiding by the legal regulations involved.

In the third year of the program, students spend the spring at AUB’s Agricultural and Research Education Center (AREC) in the Beqa’a, where they implement a design of their own on the 247-acre farm. This work is the most complex to date for the students, requiring them to cost their projects, negotiate with contractors, and work together with the local rural community. At this point in their training, the students have reached a level of competency and expertise that allows them to take advantage of truly unique opportunities. For example, last year’s landscape design studio class at AREC was commissioned by the Initiative for Biodiversity Studies in Arab Regions-Biotech 2 Project to investigate the potential of use and promotion of native plants in Deir Al-Ahmar in eastern Lebanon. In carrying out their research, the students spoke to a number of interested parties, including municipality representatives, members of the local women’s co-op, and even schoolchildren and the priest of the village. These dialogues gave the students an understanding of the needs of the community, enabling them to present their project to the community in terms relevant to the needs of its members and highlighting the medicinal, culinary, and beautifying qualities of the native plants in question.

In the final year of the program, each student incorporates the special interests that he or she has developed into a large-scale, independent project. The first half of the senior year is devoted to the background research and investigation needed to carry out the project, taking time to become familiar with the scope, community, and objective of the intended work. The second half of the year concentrates on the actual real-life intervention of the project, performing a site analysis that will enable the creation of a preliminary design, and finally, a comprehensive proposal.


Throughout the entire process, each student works closely not only with faculty members, but also with independent professionals and contractors. Talhouk and Makhzoumi co-teach this final project, which exemplifies the balance between design and science for LDEM students. Makhzoumi notes that the students are highly ambitious, and that “working with each student is a dynamic, exciting, though not necessarily smooth process.”

A visit to the Landscape Design Studio at the end of the 2003-04 academic year revealed these final year projects in all their complex glory. One of the graduating students, Nadine Rahal, showed off her Beirut Waterfront project, which envisions a new master plan for the use of the Corniche areas of Manara, Raouche and Ain Al-Mreisseh. The plan makes use of a widening of the Corniche in the Manara area by adding space for cafes, kiosks, picnic tables, and separate pedestrian and biking lanes. The proposal also provides waterfront zones for swimmers, fishermen, and proposed ferry lines. Rahal’s project is notable for its preservation of this sensitive ecological habitat, as well as for its attention to handicapped accessibility. Rahal explained that her project required extensive study of the waterfront’s historical use as an agricultural, recreational, residential, and tourist district (which involved significant contact with the Beirut Municipality and the Ministries of Tourism and Transportation) and that it utilized her interdisciplinary studies in ecology, geology, environmental science, and landscape architecture.

Fellow graduate Dima Zoughaib chose to focus on a radically different area of Beirut: the crowded and impoverished Beirut neighborhood of Ouzai. “I went there to try and find ways to maximize the neighborhood’s public space, and I discovered the soft side of Ouzai,” she said. Individual homes, she found, incorporated a level of greenery that was invisible from the busy commercial streets below, with families making wide use of container gardens, green roofs, and climbing plants. Inspired by the green vitality hidden behind closed doors, Zoughaib focused on three strategies to improve the neighborhood’s outdoor spaces. She proposed the upgrading of the inner neighborhood’s souk, which includes some of the area’s only open space. Zoughaib’s design used environmentally-friendly shading and lighting methods within the souk to help create an atmosphere more conducive to relaxation and socializing. She also proposed the conversion of a large lot of bare land know as “Al-Murammal” into a soccer field, but noted this intervention as too costly to be implemented in the short term. Finally, she proposed the conversion of another empty lot at the end of the souk into a multi-purpose recreational area that would include an outdoor cinema, space for youth workshops, and a mini-sports court, with the roof of a neighboring building converted into an outdoor cafe.

If the LDEM program is to be measured by the professional interest it has generated in AUB’s students, then it must be considered a resounding success. Makhzoumi says that potential employers began contacting her for referrals even before the first class of students had reached their senior year, and that several large landscaping firms in the Gulf have expressed interest in hiring LDEM graduates. Of this year’s graduating class, several have already found work: one student has been hired by a major regional engineering firm, another is negotiating for a similar job, and a third is being retained at the University as a research assistant. A number of other students are very interested in pursuing graduate education in Landscape Design and Management, an option that Makhzoumi hopes will soon become available at AUB.

The work of the LDEM students is extraordinarily impressive and exciting, and the dynamism of the program is heightened by Makhzoumi’s infectious enthusiasm. Her personal research is intimately connected with AUB: she is currently engaged in an intensive study of the historical development of the campus landscape. What started out as a very rural, practical, and sustainable campus landscape, she explains, became increasingly urban. The 1940s saw the introduction of many exotic and ornamental plants not native to the region; and by the 1970s, it had become clear that the pattern of campus landscaping was no longer sustainable. Since then, the University has been looking back to create again a more ecological landscape that draws on the natural beauty and resources of the region.

Professor Makhzoumi has spearheaded a number of efforts to generate interest in the work of researching and preserving AUB’s landscape. She recently announced that she and Professor Talhouk are in the process of organizing a campus-wide open competition that will encourage students from different disciplines to express their expectations of the campus landscape. The purpose of the initiative/competition, according to Makhzoumi, is to help students “realize the value of the campus we so often take for granted.” The competition is scheduled to open in fall 2004 and will be of an interdisciplinary nature: students may submit their visions in a variety of formats and may present a concept that focuses on any number of disciplines. With such flexible guidelines, Makhzoumi hopes that the competition will invite wide participation from AUB students.  

She is also interested in memories of the campus landscape, and has asked former students, faculty, staff, and others who have at any time been part of the campus community to share their memories with her. She cites one particular alumnus, who told her that he would frequently see one of the members of the West family out with his shears, clipping hedges. Such memories, she explains, not only help document the changing relationship of the community with the AUB landscape, but also offer a window into how intertwined the landscape is with the daily life of the campus community.

One of the factors that makes her work both exciting and challenging, Makhzoumi notes, is that the program’s concept of landscape design and eco-management is so new in the region. She recalls her Baghdad upbringing and her eventual realization that the beautiful rose beds and vast lawns gracing areas of the city were utterly inappropriate to the arid region. “The Mediterranean landscape is an evolutionary, multifunctional, sustainable, and ecologically diverse landscape that can be beautified and adapted for a variety of uses,” she says. “The indiscriminate application of European codes and designs in this part of the world is unsustainable.” With AUB’s first handful of LDMP graduates now venturing out into the world, we can be sure that there is a bright future for the unique beauty of the region’s natural landscape.