The University of Balamand, established twenty years ago in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war, occupies a spectacular site in North Lebanon on a steep hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Established by the Orthodox Church, the university is committed to promoting understanding between the Christian and Muslim faiths, and to developing a secular education based on dialogue, transparency, and resistance to dogma and fundamentalism. The university plans rapid expansion over the next twenty years to an enrollment of 5,000, drawing students from throughout the Middle East. Sasaki's master plan accommodates this expansion while reflecting the university's overall goals. A dominant theme of the plan is a Path of Learning that links the secular—expressed by an ancient stone-vaulted goat house restored as a faculty center at the upper end of the campus—to the spiritual, expressed by a thousand-year-old Orthodox monastery at the lower end of the campus.
The master plan for the university accommodates significant growth in several of its existing academic programs and the addition of new ones while remaining operational on its site. As new buildings are developed for key academic support resources, the vacated spaces are consolidated for the expansion of established academic programs. Key programmatic drivers include developing a new complex for science and engineering faculties, reorganizing and expanding the residential life and recreation districts, developing new sites for new faculties of medicine, the arts and humanities, and reinterpreting the student life and academic support core of the university. Additional design premises include the transformation of the campus into a pedestrian environment and the reorganization of its landscape spaces, preserving and restoring the connectivity between its forested ravines, olive groves and terraces, and vegetated valleys.
Avoiding further sprawl into the hillside terrain, the core of the campus is reorganized around the its existing buildings at the center of the site into a village-like concentration of academic buildings. This cluster encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration and reflects the cultural energy of the village communities of North Lebanon. The relatively dense build-out of this section of the campus allows for an environmentally sensitive treatment of the university's land, while creating gathering spaces that ensure the development of a close-knit academic community.
Sasaki's landscape intervention turns the previously introverted core of the campus inside out, creating a series of plazas and courtyards that relate to various buildings, taking advantage of the climate and the site's views and orientation. This system of public spaces establishes a new image and entry system for the university while creating a heart for social life previously missing on campus.
The impact of the campus redevelopment on the region has been such that all enrollment projections have been exceeded since the inception of the university's new academic plan and the implementation of Sasaki's master plan. As part of this process, Sasaki designed key transformative projects including the landscape core of the campus, new student residences for women, the recently completed library learning center, and the first phase of the School of Engineering, currently under construction.