In an attempt to bridge the gap between the divided communities, a design team of three architects (Murray Fraser, Nasser Golzari and Yara Sharif) from the University of Westminster in central London is spearheading an innovative approach to urban reconstruction in the troubled regions of Palestine. Constituted as the Palestine Regeneration Team (PART), the aim is to carry out a range of ‘live’ projects which build upon everyday habits to help the local community through responsive design interventions. Realising that the limitation with most western academic analysis is its fixation with the negative aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the PART team aims instead to find constructive ways to use architecture and urban design to help the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The PART team is now working directly with Palestinian institutions to rethink and promote social, spatial and environmental sustainability. In conjunction with RIWAQ, a NGO that restores historic buildings in Palestine, the team has drawn up a scheme to regenerate the old heart of Birzeit, a university town near to Ramallah, and is now working on more detailed designs to refurbish houses in Hajja, close to Nablus. Birzeit and Hajja are both part of RIWAQ’s ambitious ‘50 Villages’ programme -- announced internationally at the 2009 Venice Art Biennale -- to counteract the urban problems caused by political instability and Israeli occupation.
The PART team has also been to the Gaza Strip on August 2010, running a workshop with UN-Habitat on the subject of sustainable neighbourhoods, aiming to offer alternative ways to re-build the destroyed areas of Gaza City after the assault and destruction in 2008 which has left a staggering 1.5 million people displaced in their own land. The workshop has initiated pilot projects, which build on the current initiatives of the locals to rebuild their houses using, mud, crushed concrete as well as other methods. Of particular interest to the team is the exploration of ‘invisible technologies’ whereby relatively minor and low-cost alterations to existing dwellings and urban layouts can greatly reduce energy consumption and improve thermal comfort for inhabitants. These projects offer more theoretical and experimental ways to rethink creatively the problems created by Palestinian/Israeli borders.
Currently, PART and the University of Westminster are the only outside academic institution directly helping the Gaza people with their reconstruction work. Furthermore, PART has set up the online Palestinian Regeneration Forum (www.palestineregenerationproject.com), a website where architects and scholars working on a whole range of projects related to Palestine can share ideas and strategies.