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.See more
Project description by jury
The proposal for the restoration of the historic center of Kafr ‘Aqab, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, creates an environmental, social and cultural hub for the local community. The project is the outcome of a collaborative effort made with local institutions, administrations and, most importantly, the local community. It moves through different scales to include infrastructural and landscape interventions as well as targeted measures at the building scale for the restoration of historical fabrics. The program includes a play area for children, eco-kitchens for the women’s association as well as spaces for cultural activities and local institutions.
To strengthen the connection with the location’s rural history and promote an environmentally friendly approach, the project emphasizes local materials (limestone, crushed pottery and sand) for reconstruction. In addition, the project adopts green practices including rainwater collection, greywater irrigation, reviving a water spring, and the integration of vegetation as a key design component. Green areas are conceived as social activators to promote interaction between community members and shared agricultural practices, offering new quality spaces away from pollution and urban densification.
The Holcim Awards jury Middle East Africa recognized this project as a gesture of significant global importance and a substantive contribution to architecture. In a region that has suffered for years from poor planning and development inertia, resulting in overcrowding, poverty and inadequate public infrastructure, the proposal shows how vital collaborative design can be in achieving the social reconstruction of a community occurring before any physical restoration of a place. Beyond the optimistic and cheerful message conveyed by the proposal, the jury highly appreciated the sensitivity and authenticity revealed by the project in considering the opportunity it offers to salvage ancient habits and traditions through story-telling practices as a necessary step in a truly holistic restoration process.See more
As a Main category prize winner in the regional Holcim Awards 2020, Growing Social Fabric in Palestine automatically qualified as a finalist in the Global Holcim Awards 2021.
Kafr 'Aqab is a devastated neighborhood in East Jerusalem. This project is a collaborative effort between the local community and partnering institutions. It aims to create an environmental, social, and cultural hub for the local community. Because Kafr 'Aqab has suffered heavy environmental and physical destruction, an ecological approach was chosen. The project incorporates multiple green strategies like recycling, adaptive reuse, rainwater harvesting, graywater systems, and roof gardens. Local materials like limestone, sand, and crushed pottery, cleverly mixed with structural concrete elements, are being used in the reconstruction of the neighborhood.
“The project has a community-based approach through deep understanding of the old village’s life,” explains prizewinner Saja Mansour of RIWAQ Centre for Architectural Conservation, Ramallah, Palestine. “The design is based on oral history, and traditional know-how is used in the reconstruction and adaptive reuse of the historic buildings and sites.” The jury recognized this project as a gesture of significant global importance and a substantive contribution to architecture in a region that has suffered for years from poor planning and development inertia. They also highly appreciated the sensitivity and authenticity of the project in considering the opportunity it offers to salvage ancient customs and traditions through storytelling practices as a necessary step in a truly holistic restoration process.Read more »
Environmental Approach of Revitalization
Because of the disastrous environmental and geopolitical problems that Kafr 'Aqab suffers from, an ecological approach was adopted.The approach analyzes the interaction among living systems and their environment, between human and non-human processes. The planning approach,therefore, proposed a well-designed water management system, landscape plan, greenery waste separation & thermal comfort programs taking advantage of available resources. The project also aims at reviving the water spring and reclaiming of farming lands around the historic center. Green roofs and collective agricultural community gardens are essential parts of the project design.
Adaptive reuse of Historic Buildings and Thermal Comfort
This project is based on respect, admiration and belief in the historic built environment .It is an effort to bring life back by combining design, planning, restoration, landscaping and infrastructure. New functions, shaded landscape and open space, will create a platform for meeting, learning and adaptive reuse. The new facilities will include an environmental play-area for children, eco-kitchen for the women association, a community garden, and green roofs, thus improving local living conditions and biodiversity, and adding to the aesthetic quality of Kafr 'Aqab. This initiative is part of a learning lab for RIWAQ's ongoing and future regeneration projects. Utilizing abandoned historic fabrics into vibrant spaces for contemporary use is a needed approach for coping with limited resources.
Community Mobilization and Bringing Life Back
To attain a deeper understanding of life in the old town of Kafr Aqab, a long-term research through oral history was conducted to help uncover the daily life habits, ceremonies, stories and identify families and properties. The research was initiated in collaboration with a storyteller. The research resulted in a narrative storytelling performance about a local shrine and the ancient oak tree. The research was culminated with a video installation, and the “Adam and Eve": the storytellers’ exhibition, which explores the different roles of male and female storytellers, their narratives, their social and political impact through highlighting excerpts of the collected narratives. A series of community based activities are to be organized parallel to the restoration process.
The concept of conservation and adaptive reuse highly contributes to the reduction of CO2. The conservation methodology highly depends on local material (limestone, crushed pottery, and sand) for reconstruction. In addition, the traditional structures provide thermal comfort and minimize the need for heating and cooling. The project also includes systems for grey water filtration and use for plant irrigation and use of water wells and collection of rainwater. The design includes a set of roof and community gardens to be utilized by the local community. In addition, the design of the children's playground, street furniture and shading elements is based on recycled elements (pipes, electricity poles, etc), not ignoring the dense vegetation on roofs, courtyards, and alleys.
An environmental, social and cultural hub created through the restoration of the historic center of Kafr ‘Aqab.
Author comment by Architects Shatha Safi and Saja Mansour, Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation, Ramallah, …
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