Change the world

Architecture

13/08/2017

Kawthar Jeewa, third year Architecture students received a overall 3rd price for her design contribution at the W.A.Ve, the annual architectural workshop organised by the prestigious university of IUAV, Venice, Italy.

Learning for Palmyra

W.A.Ve is an annual architectural workshop organised by the prestigious university of IUAV, Venice, Italy. The 3 weeks workshop coincided with the Venice Art Biennale: Viva Arte Viva and when paired with the architectural setting of the island it is definitely worth the study trip! W.A.Ve 2017 was titled “Syria/ The making of the future” as a pragmatic exercise to reconstruct the architecture, society and economy of this formerly thriving country.

IUAV hosted over 30 international architects from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, France, Netherlands, Brazil, Chile and Italy and over 20 Syrian students. This summer was a fervent architectural exchange between masters and students alike, to design a sensible approach and more importantly a psychological understanding of the nature of this delicate reconstruction. Quoting Alberto Ferlenga, the rector of IUAV, “There are no massive reconstruction projects, in the knowledge that they have often done more harm than anything else. In many cases these are light interventions that recover parks, public space, reconstructing sociality and identity with the direct collaboration of the community.”

Sinan Hassan is a Professor at the American University of Beirut, who worked closely with Rem Koolhaas. He has developed a great knowledge of field conditions and works with the landscape and the linguistics. He has lectured and exhibited nationally and internationally and has won several design awards. Our Syrian born studio master intends through his architectural design to challenge local prevailing standards and elevate the local architectural discourse. Our designated site, was the city of Palmyra, a UNESCO protected heritage area which houses archaeological remains from the Neolithic, and the famous tower tombs, until Roman occupation in 1 AD. Palmyra was a historical crossing point from the west to the east as a link to the Silk Road, an oasis in the Syrian Desert. It was furthermore the birthplace of Queen Zenobia, who was later captured by the romans who soon after destroying vestiges of Palmyra commenced the reconstruction. The presence of Roman columns and edifices in Palmyra furthermore testifies that it was, at some point in time, part of the Roman Empire. Palmyra has a strong history of destruction and reconstruction, due to human intervention and natural catastrophes. However, modern Syria and Palmyra have been defaced by recent ISIS attacks, one of political ascendant and destructive in its societal consequences.

We decided on the title of “Learning from Palmyra”, in contrast to Robert Venturi’s “Learning from Las Vegas”. Las Vegas a place of opulence and celebration, an oasis of leisure in the desert, in contrast to Palmyra, an oasis of human memoirs in the desert. As future architects, to understand the reconstruction of heritage sites is to understand that heritage is not static. Addressing heritage as dynamic, is to continue history, as it requires for its own rooting in its landscape, a validity and recognition of the time of intervention. What are we learning from Palmyra? Far more than urban genocide, a human loss is presently occurring in Syria, one that cannot be fully comprehended and quantified in terms of humanity. With the knowledge that pain and emotions are not quantifiable we started our design approach. The remains of roman Tower Tombs and buildings were mapped in relation to the natural morphology of the site. The mountain acted as a protective overgrowth to the ancient city while being punctured by tower tombs. The dents and rises were carefully mapped and analysed, the mountain becoming a skin between the underworld and heavens. Our site, by the foot of the mountain and nudged by the local oasis, is where the analysed dents and rises were mirrored into the ground. The highest point of the natural landscape thus became the lowest point in the man-made land formation, metaphorical to a loss of perspective and bearing between human, human nature and nature. The tower tombs, as another layer to this field, were placed in juxtaposition to the man-made lakes and housed underground connections. Programmatically, becoming an underground museum rhythmed by the natural light, it was punctuated by occasional break through to the surface by the tower tombs resting sometimes amidst the water provided by the near oasis. The man-made lake is intended to bring back a long lost ecological biosphere endangered by climatic change and recent destruction due to negative human interventions. The ancient presence of water, as Palmyra was an oasis, was thus brought back to the present. Our approach aimed not to react and rebuild but to comment on the recent changes that occurred in the landscape, to create a positive space for social gathering and a place for isolation and remembrance. Thus again the tower tombs rest in the landscape, a series of protrusions on this gentle giant, a witness to the skies, water and dunes, and human destiny which continually unfurls and becomes history. As we came to acknowledge the mountain as a skin and space as matter, we brought to light the meaning of human interventions on earth as a wound or a commemoration.