As part of our search for spatial possibilities to brin life back to the historic centre of Beit Iksa, Palestine, we are looking at birds as a means to reclaim the sky and stitch the fragmented landscape
As a mean to involve and empower women, and build upon their local skills, a training program has been developed in partnership with another NGO, called MAAN. Through this program, local women will be trained to provide food for the local school so as to assure them a constant income. Additionally, as part of the private housing initiative spread headed by Shatha Safi (see Hajja chapter), local residents are currently becoming involved in the revitalization process. Many have proposed some form of a ‘swap scheme’. For example, the village blacksmith is going to be doing all of the metalwork needed to restore Beit Iksa’s historic fabric. In return, he will be provided with his own grey-water treatment system and a ‘green roof’ to enhance his own home.
The project, with its differing elements, aims to show that responsive design within the Palestinian context requires alternative ways of thinking about architecture that rejects any notion of innovative, iconic buildings. Instead, it is based on an open and critical approach to architectural practice that is able to respond to, and facilitate, the necessary transformations within the social, political and cultural conditions that prevail.
Beit Iksa marks a process where different partners and networks can challenge conventional architectural practice and its ‘iconic’ monumental nature. Rather, our approach manifests just how the design team can create responsive architecture that facilitates and responds to socio-economic conditions. The intellectual debates and discussions initiated by our participation in Birzeit, Hajja, Riwaq’s Biennale, Think Net Team, and Palestine Regeneration Team, all contribute in one way or another to the development of the design concepts. This makes the process accumulative and indeed open-ended. As mentioned early, the changes might be regarded as too small, subtle or even invisible at times, if seen on their own. However, Beit Iksa needs to be read from a holistic perspective that brings all the small elements together. Only then can one feel its impact beyond the village scale. The importance of this design process is to find methods to be able to build upon the different initiatives which has been started.
Revitalisation of the Historic Centre Beit Iksa: Moments of Slow Change
Team: NG Architects, Palestine Regeneration Team (PART)
in collaboration with RIWAQ: Centre for Architectural Conservation
Location:Beit Iksa, Palestine
Dates: 2012- present
Beit Iksa might be one of the main historic West Bank centres where the play between the real and the speculative is best manifested. Through the aim of bringing life back to the historic fabrics and stitching the fragmanted landscape, a new dialogue between mapping, testing, making, imagining and constructing is currently creating different moments of possibility on the ground. These different ideas however need to be seen as moments of slow change. Some of the interventions are very subtle and invisible, others are open-ended; all however, seek to create conditions born from everyday narratives for things to happen.
The Revitalisation of the historic centre of Beit Iksa is a collaborative design project between NG Architects / Palestine Regeneration Team (PART) in London and RIWAQ: Centre for Architectural Conservation in Palestine. This design is part of a much bigger scheme to protect and revitalize the derelict historical built fabric in Palestine, which is spearheaded by RIWAQ under the title of the ‘50 Villages Project’. The aim is to explore what can be done, using very limited available resources, to improve the social and economic conditions of West Bank Palestinians by regenerating the old decayed centres of towns and villages where they live.
Beit Iksa is a village located on the outskirts of Jerusalem with only 1,600 inhabitants left. It is encircled by new Israeli settlements and two major pieces of infrastructure which cut off its Palestinian residents from their nearby agricultural lands. One is the notorious ‘Separation Wall’ and the other is the local railway station. As in many other West Bank villages, the complex map that has been created by political realities, along with the scarcity of water and other essential resources, plus heavy surface pollution, has left this agrarian society marginalized and with a level of unemployment that exceeds 75% of adult males. Yet what might be treated today as an unimportant, ‘invisible’ village has been witness in the past to significant historic events, each of which has shaped its character and added to its built fabric. The most notable event was Napoleon Bonaparte’s visit to Beit Iksa right at the end of the 18th century, which duly gave the village its name, but also important historically was the strong ties between this village and the Ottoman Empire by it having been one of the 24 so-called ‘throne villages’ used to govern the region.
The design-led research consists of a strategy to stitch the village into the surrounding network of West Bank towns, as well as design interventions which are intended to help bring life back to the village. The two main components of the scheme are, firstly, to develop a new ‘economic corridor’ to end the isolation of Beit Iksa, and secondly, to create a ‘memory belt’ to mark, celebrate and revive the village’s historical transition into the present.
Her Space: The Eco Kitchen
The Eco Kitchen is simply one of a range of interventions into single buildings that now being implemented in Beit Iksa. It is designed as a prototype for exploring affordable methods of construction that can improve the quality of life for the local citizens there. In aiming to empower the women of the village, it responds to their energy and celebrates their skills, as well as their collective cultural traditions. This new kitchen is being designed for the Women Association. It offers women a point of economic departure while also responding to the urgent environmental challenges that they face daily. The testing out of new building materials, the exploration of affordable methods to collect and filter water, and search with local community groups to develop low-cost and passive forms of heating and cooling are therefore all essential ingredients of the project.
In rethinking the conditions of Surface, Air and In-Between, our overall proposal consciously seeks to question and redefine sustainability in Palestine. Its various components are not only limited to thinking about Beit Iksa itself but also to the farmlands which surround it. Once developed, the plan is to appropriate these new techniques to the other 50 villages across the West Bank.
His Space: The bus stop
His space starts with a point of informal gathering that has already left its marks on the main road. The point is packed with men and children waiting for a change to happen, and women overlooking behind the scenes waiting for the one and only bus to take them to Ramallah.
In our scheme for Beit Iksa a bus stop has been proposed to celebrate the informality of daily habits. This also creates a defining entrance to the village and its historic centre.
The bus stop is hence designed to incorporate a shaded sitting area, along with a kids’ zone made of swings. The design explores the use of alternative building materials like rammed earth and gabion walls. Additionally, it tries to stretch in its function to include some environmental activities that can be attractive for children (such as generating electricity through cycling).
The design proposals for Beit Iksa are not only centred on the buildings. The intiative is also about the activities that adjoin the village, and an imaginative socio-economic program which has been developed to ensure the project’s sustainability.
Following our exploration of spatial possibilities through the Air, a ‘bird folly’ is designed to mark one of the key points located on the Memory Belt mentioned earlier. It aims to respond to the strategic location of the village in relation to Jerusalem and birds’ migratory movement. The folly offers a protected habitat for birds to nest in, while also allowing for a space for children to be able to feed and watch birds.
The strategic location of the folly overlooking the forgotten villages of Lifta, Deir Yasin and parts of Jerusalem, is a starting point for creating the ‘aerial bridges’ mentioned early. Our hope is to accumulate the process over time by establishing bird stations/follies in different villages to mark the bird migration as ‘invisible bridges’.