NG Architects -- as partners and consultants for the regeneration and development of Birzeit’s historic centre -- have been working closely with Riwaq on the selection and organization of the UK members of the ThinkNet team. These UK members, along with many other experts from countries around the world in the ThinkNet team, joined Riwaq in the West Bank for the 3rd Riwaq Biennale in October 2009. An intensive week of field visits, discussions and feedback sessions were organised. Murray Fraser, Michael Edwards and Fergus Nicol are just some of the UK members of the ThinkNet who joined us in Palestine, and they subsequently wrote valuable reports on their visit. Their reports address conceptual issues and also reflect specifically on how to enhance the regeneration plans for the historic centre in Birzeit, especially in terms of how the Birzeit plans might be seen as part of a general approach for Riwaq’s ’50 Villages’ project.
The following extracts are taken from Murray Fraser’s report:
“Anticipating the day when a ‘two state’ political solution will allow the creation of a proper Palestinian state, it is essential then that the West Bank has economically, socially and culturally vibrant urban centres. Current pressures towards quick-profit development and uncontrolled car-based planning in towns like Ramallah will only cause problems for a future Palestinian state. Hence an urgent rethinking of urban priorities is essential now, and RIWAQ will hopefully take a lead in this ideological realignment amongst Palestinians through its ambitious ’50 Villages’ programme. It is the task of the ThinkNet to advise on this task, and perhaps to stress points that might be undeveloped or not yet raised. Above all, there seems to be an excellent opportunity for RIWAQ to be far more ambitious in conceptualising its strategies in relation to Israeli occupation and development pressures on Palestinian towns and villages. RIWAQ has the chance to create a model of integrated architectural, urban and ecological thinking that can inspire people far beyond the West Bank region; this of course is also where the ThinkNet group can ideally help out, both in terms of new conceptual ideas and also spreading their impact worldwide...
What is needed today is a conception of Palestinian West Bank towns and cities as a giant continuous network which has many polycentric nodes of growth and development, and also an extensive range of communication links that can be brought into play whenever it is needed to get around Israeli Army blockades and/or the imposition of further Israeli settlements. Again, the most effective form of urban resistance lies in creating a large number of vibrant streets which cannot easily be stopped or blocked. In this sense, ideas for planning Birzeit must be linked into what can happen in Ramallah and other surrounding towns and villages, since Birzeit is so clearly now a part of an urban continuum in the region.” (Fraser 2009)