Gaza. (Ghuzze). Section near the mosque (1920-1933) by American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo DepartmentThe Barakat Trust
What is Vernacular Architecture?
Vernacular architecture is informal and usually traditional or ancestral to a region, built with locally-sourced materials. As architect Salem Al Qudwa points out, vernacular architecture passes down crucial knowledge to modern builders and heritage scholars alike.
Windcatchers at the Cairo Citadel (2017-09-27) by ZienautoThe Barakat Trust
"There was a feature called mazyara, which was a wall oriented downwind. It was drenched in water and served the same purpose as airconditioning – cooling the house... I try as much as possible to support schemes that preserve the built environment."
Bombed house in Gaza by Marius ArnesenThe Barakat Trust
Barriers to Conservation
Because of the current blockade, it is difficult for the people of Gaza to preserve and restore their heritage sites. Actively destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again, the buildings in Gaza are seen as temporary weapons rather than sacred places of historical significance.
Southern Palestine. Ruins at Gaza (1900-1926) by American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo DepartmentThe Barakat Trust
"Sustainability is very important and it is our duty to preserve existing assets for future generations... As such architects working with old buildings have a lot to learn from them – the ways in which they use natural energy, and local materials."
Street with Damaged Buildings (2009-04-12) by Marius ArnesenThe Barakat Trust
"There have been many instances when heritage has been lost, for example a palace belonging to the Al-Salem family that was around 800 years old... I can think of at least 40 or 50 valuable heritage buildings that were destroyed."
As Muneer Elbaz, an architectural conservator and lecturer living in Gaza, points out, the people of Gaza are barely able to survive. The urgent rehabilitation of heritage sites is, therefore, a mere afterthought.
"Undoubtably, Gaza’s heritage buildings need care and maintenance. [Gaza] has high unemployment and poverty rates. The Palestinian Statistics Dept. reports 53% poverty in Gaza in 2017... 33% are extremely poor. Some live in the old city, in houses that require maintenance."
Architects meet with Mayor of Gaza (2020) by Gaza MunicipalityThe Barakat Trust
Gaza also lacks the institutional funding, education, permits for travel, and equipment required to do heritage work. Support from international organizations allows for resource reinvestment in local communities. Pictured is a meeting with the Mayor of Gaza City.
Machine uproots soil with architects surrounding (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
"...The World Heritage Convention of 1972 recognises heritage as belonging to the whole world, not just the country it’s found. I believe that heritage in poorer regions of the world requires the intervention of international organisations to ensure that it is preserved."
Muneer measures book (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
Muneer Elbaz's work
With grants from the Barakat Trust, and that of other institutions, Muneer has worked on two projects: 1. The restoration of the Souk al-Qissariya and 2. The preservation of the Great Omari Mosque manuscripts.
Architect holding soil, falling through his hand 2 (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
Al-Qaisariyya Restoration Phase I
A soil analysis revealed that the Bazaar’s foundations were collapsing, so the team went about reconstructing the ground beneath the building. They also fixed the sewage system, as rain water did not properly drain from the cobblestone pathways.
Wiring running along Souk al-Qissariya ceiling (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
Al-Qaisariyya Restoration Phase II
Next in their project, the team addressed issues above-ground. The central vault of the Souk al-Qissariya was destroyed during WWI, so they needed to rebuild the ceiling.
Dense wiring outside Souk al-Qissariya (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
The exposed wiring and air conditioners inside Souk al-Qissariya were also discovered to be a hazard to passing civilians and building itself. All wiring will be relocated underground.
Meeting (2020) by Gaza MunicipalityThe Barakat Trust
Because Souk al-Qissariya is still used to support local commerce, it is important to have good communication between shop owners, community members, and the administration. Pictured is a meeting between the shop-owners of Souk al-Qissariya and the technical archiectural teams.
Manuscript restoration (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
The Great Omari Mosque Manuscript Restoration
Unlike buildings, the manuscript collection at the Omari Mosque Library has the potential to be accessed by the whole world virtually. However, the manuscripts were in urgent need of rescuing.
Manuscript scanning (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust
By cleaning, digitising, and carefully storing each page from the collection, heritage workers ensure that the material culture of Gaza is preserved amidst political unrest.
Compiled by Leena Ghannam. The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.