We are always shown examples of grand architecture, in the form of houses, residential blocks, or commercial spaces and buildings. But architecture can be much more than that. Today we would like to show you a building a little different to the magnificent, awe inspiring projects we often feature. In this project of architectural solidarity, we go to a troubled part of the world. Still subject to dispute and contention, the Occupied Territories, in the so-called Area C, which although for international agreements is called the Palestinian Territory, is actually controlled by the Israeli military forces. The Bedouin camp, part of the Wadi Abu Hindi refugee tribe, saw the birth of a project in 2010 that was to give the local children of the community the opportunity of a real education, amongst all the turmoil and conflict. The rehabilitation of the local school brought the community together, and was constructed in a way to harness the limited natural resources of its harsh, desert location.
The Bedouin camp is located less than 10 kilometres from Jerusalem, has a population of only 2,700 people, and has a harsh, desert climate. In this complex environment, which sees the neighbouring colony of Qedar fight for the final removal of all Bedouin communities, two groups have come together in solidarity to build this eco-conscious school. The project is a joint effort of the work of Italian firm ARCò Architecture, and Vento di Terra, an NGO working in Palestine fighting for children's fundamental rights to health care. The cooperation has seen both parties combine their expertise ranging from local knowledge, education and training, to bio-architecture and architectural design. This fruitful collaboration has since led to the creation of two more schools in Palestine. With the community being involved in the building of the actual school, locals were able to develop an awareness and knowledge of design within the village, in addition to being a major cost saving move. The total cost was a little over £35,000 and took less than 60 days to complete. Apart from being built in such a harsh environment and under such tumultuous circumstances, this project has been made even more unique by being characterised with renewable energy sources, and the use of passive principles such as bioclimatic architecture.
The context of the building was difficult, as just upstream from the camps seasonal creekside location, stands one of the largest landfills in the area, used by both the city of Jerusalem and an Israeli settlement close by. As there was no real sewer system, each toilet was connected to a make shift, open air sewerage system in the vicinity of the camp. This contaminated the air, and made living conditions extremely hard, especially during the stifling summer. Water for the entire camp was supplied through one rubber pipe with a diameter of only 2cm, making it subject to perpetual damage. The electricity situation wasn't much better, with a single diesel generator trying hard to meet the energy needs of 2,700 people.
The Israeli authorities enforced a number of constraints on the construction, including restricting many changes and extensions of the existing building. All workers on the building site were from the village, and worked hard over the summer school vacation months, in order to finish before Ramadan in August of 2010.
The main objective was the adapt the structure to new modern standards in terms of climate and energy. The project managed to create a building with natural ventilation, and adequate thermal and acoustic insulation. A system to collect rain water was also put in place, and a number of solar panels installed to replace the old and outdated diesel generator of the old school.
The roof of the building was raised and tilted, so as to facilitate proper air circulation. The openings can be closed by Plexiglass plates. The roof structure was redesigned, with metal plates being replaced in favour of multiple layered panels to improve insulation.
A multi-layered exterior wall was added, made of materials suited to the climate. The 34cm wall included lime, bamboo poles, clay, straw, galvanised aluminium and finally, an air cavity.
Here we see the finished project. It is important to know that the Bedouin have a great culture of recycling, in fact, all their homes are made of metal, wood, and other collected materials from construction sites or landfills, but unfortunately these homes are not well suited to cold winters or hot summers. The finished project has created a well insulated structure, better suited to retain heat in winter, and cool it during the harsh summer. Vento di Terra and ARCò Architecture have combined their knowledge to complete a project of solidarity, sustainability, energy conservation, and community involvement. An example of architecture that should be followed not only in areas of political instability and conflict, but in any other part of the world, as it shows how architecture can be a way to bring a community together.