For the sisters behind Beirut-based T SAKHI, Lebanese traditions inspire a modern view of architecture.
Beirut is a city of past and present. Its downtown juxtaposes modern towers against Roman ruins. Low-rise edifices from the Ottoman and then French rule of Lebanon remain, some of them hulled out—visible bookmarks in the city’s long history that attest to a devastating war from 1975 to 1990.
Against the backdrop of Beirut’s culture and history, Tessa and Tara Sakhi, young globetrotting sisters, founded T SAKHI in 2015. The architecture firm seeks to mirror their hometown’s hybrid identity, incorporating the myriad aesthetic traditions of Lebanon with their internationally minded scope on modern design.
Tessa, 25, and Tara, 27, diverge markedly in disposition. “Tara is more the artist,” says Tessa, as the two sit side by side on a couch in their studio. “If we were really similar, we wouldn’t be able to work together. We push and pull each other in different directions.”
“Tessa is more pragmatic. She shatters my dreams,” Tara responds, only partially kidding. “We fought like crazy at first. When you’re family, there are no boundaries. It’s not like an office where you have to be respectful. After all, we used to share a bedroom.”
Born to a pair of architects of Lebanese and Polish descent, the sisters moved around—Tara to Paris and New York, and Tessa to Paris. “We’ve always led a nomadic life,” says Tara, who spends most of her time in Berlin these days, returning to Beirut to work with Tessa. “We discuss our projects in French, our feelings in English, and fight in Arabic,” she says.
These multiple identities permeate their work. T SAKHI’s current domestic project, the Masri residence in downtown Beirut, adds a starkly contemporary two-story steel block atop the original 1920s stone building, but pierced window grates recall the latticed mashrabiya windows of Arabic architecture. Inside, it mirrors traditional Lebanese interiors, with a large, high-ceilinged communal room at its heart directly surrounded by small bedrooms—a space designed for togetherness. The garden encroaches from outside, underlining the gradating relationship of public and private space.
Tara, a photographer, adds to their work the feeling of her black and white images, where the subject is always dramatically framed—by trees, by a ring of light or by a window. In T SAKHI’s recent jazz club project, that intimate sense of framing carries through. The space, in shades of night- sky blue punctuated by copper and gold, is filled with snug seating arrangements, including bird-cage style hutches, that arrange guests—Tara refers to them as subjects—in different compositions. The sisters point to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet as a starting point, and emphasize the importance of films in their work. “We’re storytelling with bodies moving through spaces like dancers,” says Tara.
Communication and community underlie their inspirations. One tipsy evening together, the sisters were inspired to design a set of glass flasks. Reminiscent of ancient stone vessels, the flasks in shades of aqua are handcrafted by Murano glassblowers, then individually encased in brass by metalworkers in Lebanon. “It’s the combination of two cultures through their artisans,” says Tessa. And it’s made to get people talking.