The Palestinian city has an architecture that is resolutely modern because it relies on systems rather than forms, on events rather than shapes. As such, it is more dynamic and potentially adaptable, transformable. It surely includes scenarios of living that are yet to be discovered. The richness of its diversity is a result of the use of typological spaces. In that sense, the Palestinian city is a gem of ingenious flexibility.
Apart from isolated post 19th century buildings or prestigious architectural operations, the nuclei of historical cities have no trace of any iconic architecture. The city is made of a repertoire of classified generic space typologies found all around the Palestinian urban landscape. Generic spaces stand out because they are abstract, they can adapt or transform, they can have any size. They have been used as tools to generate urbanity.
Understanding the extreme modernity of Palestinian cities’ architectural vocabulary helps better seize the scale of the city and the relevance of questioning its contemporariness. It leaves no room for static, romantic, folkloric reproductions of ancient architecture: it calls for an architecture of typologies that can adjust, change or reinvent itself in light of potential forthcoming new scenarios.
Ubeidiya is located at the desert’s threshold. Meteorologists draw “isohyets” which are lines that connect all points with a same average amount of annual rainfall. The most common aridity line defining the desert’s limit is set to be the 200mm isohyets for reasons linked to the cultivation of cereal crops. Ubeidiya has an annual rainfall of 246 mm. Land is still arable but it is on the edge of the desert line. It is at the margin of urban civilization. Moreover, it is part of the longest continuous aridity line in world metrological maps beginning in West Africa.
However, the site has been increasingly transformed into a point on the unique road that connects the northern and southern parts of Palestine. The site is simultaneously the limit of urban civilization and the connection between all urban centers. Palestinians reach the edge of urbanity to be able to reach other cities.
The site is characterized by a convergence of opposed scales linked to metrological conditions form one side and national routes form the other, while passing through the village of Ubeidiya. Due to current geopolitical conditions, the main artery of the village has become part of the national road that connects Hebron, Bethlehem and all the southern cities to Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho and all the northern located cities.
The suggested project ties links between all the evoked scales in an attempt to explore the capacity of the Palestinian city’s space typologies to adapt to extreme scale-conflicting urban conditions.
THE ABSENCE OF SCALE
The site is apprehended through a modelling of its ground. While maintaining the delicate slope towards Jerusalem, the site is earth shaped and crafted. Very slight mounds are created and give to the entire parcel an abstract scale in comparison with a flat surface. The curves of the landscape are accentuated through the work on levels and mound shaping techniques. The contour lines of the site are thus modified. The organic contour lines create scenarios and architectural situations that nourish the idea of the absence of scale that is present in most of the natural environment surrounding historic Palestinian cities.
The modeled site tends to be the most general configuration of a soil: it is not flat, not inclined, not radially shaped. It has no specific form, it only creates diverse circumstances at every point. It leaves the architectural typologies free to value their most distinctive properties. The entire project is thought as a set of relations between different architectural typologies as a holistic approach to create a site specific, scale-healing piece of urbanity.
SCULPTURAL HOLISTIC APPROACH
The components of the built are of a scale that is adaptable. The Hosh, Khan, urban stairs, manatir are all typologies that have specific features linked to the formation of the Palestinian city.The project is made out of three main elements: the modeled site, the circulation passages, and the architectural buildings. The passages are determined through fixed end points leading from a specific point to another, through a route on the modeled site whose slope is handicap-friendly. As a result, the passages weave through the site as stitches.The program includes typologies of the Palestinian cities from which a distinctive feature has been highlighted as the main architectural driving force. All of the buildings are dispossessed of any particular architectural language. The materials used are different and unique for each building. Their architecture is reduced to the most fundemental expression of each typology’s own distinctive property as described below. The entire project is driven by the transcendence of typological spaces as a way of creating urbanity.
— The hosh or the variable degrees of porosity.
The hosh is an enclosed shared space introverted and surrounded by houses, but at the same time an open collective space. It is typically what we would name a semipublic space. It is a shared entrance, a shared kitchen, a shared outdoor space, a shared gathering space for all inhabitants that belong, socially to the hosh. The distinctive feature of a hosh that is highlighted in the project is its ability of acting as an attracting point of porosities: the closer to the heart of the hosh and the larger the windows get along with increasing amounts of shadows. For the project, the hosh is thought as a building with a nearly opaque architecture facing outdoors and large openings in the heart of the project. As we get closer to the central shared patio space the heigh of the building increases thus creating a increasingly shaded area. The hosh uses the different degrees of porosity as an architectural expression.
— Play of light in the hammam.
Unlike neighboring countries like Lebanon or Syria where vault constructions are reserved to noble constructions or palaces, Palestine has a history of including vault typologies in its common architectural language. As such, the vaults are more numerous yet more difficult to reference. The hammam vaults are defined by pierced vaulted surfaces that strengthen the “rain of light” in the interior spaces. The hammam is thought as one large vault made out of stratum of terracotta material suitably and structurally arranged to create a massive yet light permeable skin. The hammam includes a relaxing area that overlooks the city of Jerusalem while under the large domed construction.
— In the spirit of great travelers.
The khan is thought as a program surrounded by a buffer zone that acts like the limit between public and private spaces. The architecture of the khan leans on the buffer architecture that acts as connection between different scales and between the exterior spaces and interior programs. The Khan hosts the hotel and restaurant. Its architecture is reduced to the fundamentals of riwaqs. Its geometry is extracted from the contour lines of the site. Its facades are repetitive identical and unique arched openings generating an abstract architecture that focuses on buffer zones and on the relation between exterior and interior spaces.
— The watchtower.
The richness of Palestinian typologies is their ability to express their architecture in relation with exterior climatic condition and use of space. Architecturally, the souk is made of simple conical geometries, allowing for circulation and programmatic spaces on the lower parts and a scheme of tangent circles on the upper part. The geometry creates an open covered space that generates a maximal area of shaded spaces.
Temporary unplanned spaces are part of the nature of Palestinian cities. This space is reserved for temporary structures that nourish the idea of the project: a large scale inclusive research project on the state of the Palestinian cities. The space could be used as a platform for universities, researchers, thinkers, all experimenting the transcendental typologies of Palestinian architecture.