This Holcim Awards winner by Riwaq aims to bring back traditional know-how, reconnect communities over sustainable practices and equip women and workers with transferable skills. These social and environmental goals will be achieved by repurposing a ruined historical site in East Jerusalem to create a public forum and cultural centre.
Over the past 30 years, the RIWAQ-Centre for Architectural Conservation has worked to survey and preserve historical buildings in rural Palestine through associating architects, students, archaeologists, and historians. Its Holcim Award winning project “Growing Social Fabric” addresses the urgent need to provide the Arab Palestinian neighbourhood of Kafr’Aqab – where the population has soared from 25,000 in 2017 to around 100,000 today – with a vibrant community hub and access to public space.
Rebuilding sites and society
Shatha Safi, architect and founder of Riwaq, explains that open spaces such as the one they are rehabilitating have real symbolic value in East Jerusalem. Due to the geopolitical situation, public spaces find themselves at the nexus of tensions since in some areas, people cannot circulate freely and are only allowed out at certain times. As a result, many Palestinians have lost touch with the notion of a public forum.
Kafr’ Aqab’s rapid population growth is causing densification that restricts access to common outdoor areas. Piles of garbage, water pollution, and a general lack of law enforcement also hinder possibilities for outdoor activities.
Bringing back a sustainable village culture
Although it may not always seem like a priority when meeting vital needs is often a struggle, salvaging shared sites and cultural heritage is deeply important. Riwaq view these elements as essential to the identity of the Palestinians and to the socioeconomic development of an area, because reviving the traditional village spirit also means keeping alive local crafts and knowledge.
Restoring the 5,000 square-meter complex relies as much as possible on local workers and locally sourced ecological materials such as limestone, sand, and crushed pottery. Cooling, shading, and water management are regulated mainly by the vernacular architecture itself, as well as by controlled ventilation indoors and greenery outdoors and on roof gardens. Local architecture and building techniques are used whenever possible.
A forward-looking cultural hub
The project will ultimately benefit an estimated 30,000 inhabitants via an eco-kitchen employing at least 20 women, and a further 50 trained workers across the rest of the site. Four non-profit organizations will also be able to set up their offices in the complex and 300 children will have space to play in the courts. The partner companies are training their workers to become experts in the construction techniques devised by Riwaq. With the support of the non-profit Dalia Association, residents are also being informed about the site and its potential through meetings that are already fostering a renewed sense of community.