WEAPONIZED ARCHITECTURE: The Impossibility of Innocence (dpr-barcelona, 2012)

Part 3 of the book:
An Architectural Disobedience

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Weaponized Architecture is an examination of the inherent instrumentalization of architecture as a political weapon; research informs the development of a project which, rather than defusing these characteristics, attempts to integrate them within the scene of a political struggle. The proposed project dramatizes, through its architecture, a Palestinian disobedience to the colonial legislation imposed on its legal territory. In fact, the State of Israel masters the elaboration of territorial and architectural colonial apparatuses that act directly on Palestinian daily lives. In this regard, it is crucial to observe that 63% of the West Bank is under total control of the Israeli Defense Forces in regards to security, movement, planning and construction. Weaponized Architecture is thus manifested as a Palestinian shelter, with an associated agricultural platform, which expresses its illegality through its architectural vocabulary.The shelter constitutes both an architectural design and a narrative whose uncertainty is integrated as a creative catalyst.

After having established the power of architecture as a political weapon, this research can now inform the development of a project which, rather than defusing these characteristics, attempts to integrate them within the scene of the Palestinian struggle. The site is located near the city of Salfit, which faces the delicate neighborhood of the large Israeli settlement Ariel and the presence of “the Barrier”.
However, the first component of the colonial apparatuses that this project intends to address is the fragmentation of the West Bank into Areas, as explained in the previous part of this book. As a result, the project is built within Area C as a form of disobedience to the colonial Law.

The first architectural challenge that is faced responds to the camouflage of its own construction in order to exist. The construction site is linked by a 250 yard tunnel to another site located in Area A to provide the necessary material and manpower transfer frombone area to another unnoticed. The second architectural challenge is the development of the inevitable narrative that describes the project’s “illegality” and its potential destruction, which will fundamentally influence the design.

This project also attempts to address the issues created by the Israeli occupation by focusing on the two populations in particular that suffer from it. The first population is constituted by the farmers who encounter various problems that are more or less closely linked to the occupation. Palestinian agriculture is regulated by the Paris Protocol of 1994. According to Caroline Abu-Saba in her essay Cultivating Dependence: Palestinian Agriculture under the Israeli Occupation, “the Paris Protocol was designed for Israel’s advantage. Its principal effect was to institutionalize Palestinian economy within the Israeli economy.” In fact, by entangling the two economies together, Israel is able to control and regulate Palestinian imports and exports that subsequently favors their own agricultural products over Palestinian products. On the national scale, the control over movement exercised by the IDF, as expressed in previous chapters, makes Palestinian agricultural products more time consuming and expensive to move from their production sites to the different cities in the region; the food distributors of the West Bank are now forced to import Israeli products. On the international scale, it is very easy for Israel to invent a series of administrative and material complications exports at the Tel Aviv airport before the Palestinian products can leave the territory. Beyond this, there are other agricultural issues related to the place of production itself. Most of the arable lands of the West Bank are situated within Area C in which Israel maintains absolute power over movement, security, planning and construction. Where there are lands that have not been expropriated by the Israeli Authorities for the construction of settlements, there is a conflict between Palestinian farmers’ homes and their farmland. It is, indeed, not rare to see a farmer who has to cross the Separation barrier or some kind of fence or road operated by the Israeli army on a daily basis. This movement is therefore submitted to the varying good will of the IDF to let farmers cross this obstacle, often after a significant period of time. Israel also exercises control on the West Bank’s aquifers; water usage for irrigation is limited and expensive while the Israeli settlers –who also cultivate the land and export their products- are able to use this same water in a mostly unlimited way. Facing those difficulties, it is not surprising to observe a significant rural exodus in the West Bank, encouraged by the relative economic development of cities like Ramallah or Nablus, which more or less gives the illusion to offer job opportunities. Unfortunately, the Palestinian unemployment rate in the West Bank currently remains above 20%. The second Palestinian population, on which this project focuses is the Bedouin populations. Indeed, the Bedouins and their flocks are considerably limited in their movements by the various colonial apparatuses enumerated in the previous part of this book. The Bedouin culture has developed a nomadic way of life for centuries and the curtailment of their movement becomes a tremendous violence inflicted on the Bedouin identity.

The following project is an attempt to express an active resistance to those issues through its program, its practice and its sheer existence. As it focuses on those two populations, it hosts a double program. The first program is an agricultural platform associated with a storage space and a dwelling that can be compared to the traditional Palestinian Qasr (Arabic for castle.) The Qsar is a small building on arable land that hosts the functions of the farmers. The agricultural production done on site can also participate in the development of a local scale sub-economy, offer job opportunities, and, of course, become additional space to cultivate crops. The second program is a caravansary usable as a shelter for the Bedouins and their flocks for any period of time. It provides a “port” in a network of new “maritime” routes between the “islands” of the Palestinian Archipelago. They can thus affirm and celebrate their freedom of movement in a similar way than the one described by Raja Shehadeh in his book, Palestinian Walks in which he recounts his regular walks in Ramallah’s hills.

The elements that constitute the architecture of this project are not innocent. As the Palestinian Authority attempts to trigger important operations of fast building development in the Area A, the question of developing a vernacular and contemporaneous Palestinian architecture seems to have been forgotten. Due to this, the project attempts to observe the traditional paradigms of the two populations considered. As written above, the Qasr embodies the role of the farmers while the tent remains the model of Bedouin architecture. Just as the contrast between those two populations is striking, one being sedentary and the other nomadic, the differences between the two architectural paradigms are intentionally antagonistic. While the Qasr is built of stones and expresses the stability of the earth, the tent is made of textile and relates more to the sky. The following project celebrates this contrast by creating a continuous dialogue between these two architectural vocabularies.

Thank you to Jason Vigneri-Beane and Elliott Maltby

WEAPONIZED ARCHITECTURE: The Impossibility of Innocence (dpr-barcelona, 2012)

Léopold Lambert / Architect[e], Editor & Writer
leopold.funambulistATgmail.com