Photo courtesy: Barbara Modolo & Decolonizing Architecture
Model pics: Alberto "Bruno" Sinigaglia
Text by Salottobuono & Decolonizing Architecture
Salottobuono designed several 'strategies of subversion' for Israeli residential settlements in the West Bank and included them in a
"Manual of Decolonization": a generic toolbox for post-occupation scenarios.
The manual determines to what extent the evacuated structures are flexible to accomodate new uses, and displays the various ways in which they can be adapted or transformed, on a detailed architectural scale.
Located on the hill of Jabal Tawil, 900 meters above sea level, the colony visually dominates the entire Palestinian area.
Until the occupation it was used as an open space for recreation.
The hills of Jerusalem and Ramallah were popular with families from the Gulf, especially Kuwaitis who travelled there to escape the summer heat (the people of Ramallah still call the hill “the Kuwaiti hill”).
In 1964, the municipality of Al Quds (Jerusalem) bought the land and prepared a plan for its development into a tourist resort. The work started in early 1967 with the construction of an access road.
The work was interrupted by the Israeli occupation. In July 1981, on the initiative of the Likud party, the colony of P’sagot was inaugurated as ‘compensation’ to right-wing Israelis for the evacuation of the Sinai Peninsula.
The area designated for tourist accommodation was the first to be occupied by settler housing. The first houses set on the hill of Jabal Tawil were prefabricated structures wheeled over from Yamit, a settlement in the north of the Sinai.
P’sagot is at present a religious settlement inhabited by 1,700 people, mainly American Jews and a minority of recent Russian and French immigrants.
Rather than a single unified proposal of urban planning covering the entirety of Palestine, of even the entirety of this settlement, our project presents detailed transformations on the architectural scale. There are hundreds of thousands of Israeli built structures in the West Bank, but because the number of typologies in settlements and military bases are limited – variations on the single-family dwelling in settlements and concrete prefabricated barracks in military bases – these ‘fragments of possibility’ constitute a semi-generic approach that could be modified to be applied in other evacuated areas.
The manual seeks to determine to what extent the evacuated structures are to accommodate new uses and will demonstrate the various ways in which they can be adapted or transformed. The production of the manual
is based upon a series of meetings with the “stakeholders” in this process. It includes representatives of various organizations and individuals, the local community, members of various ngos, government and municipal bodies, academic and cultural institutions, local residents and resident associations.
Their genuine participation is the crucial factor and the only agency that could guaranty the implementation of the actions outlined in the manual.
In the course of our analysis, we made use of both documentary and narrative sources to identify some of the landowners within the areas of the colonies. Jabel Tawil/P’sagot is at the gravitational centre of various orbits of extra-territoriality: displaced communities, individuals, migrations and family connections.
Our investigation traced some of the Palestinian landowners to the US, Australia, Kuwait, Saudi-Arabia, Iraq and of course closer at hand in Palestine, sometimes fenced off a few meters away from their lands. Their private and family histories are the intertwined histories of Palestine and its displaced communities, forced out by the occupation and by economic and professional opportunities overseas.
About half of the area occupied by the Psagot colony belongs to private owners with the other half registered as belonging to one of various kinds of collective lands. The fate of private lands should be decided by their owners, it is within the communal lands that we propose various types of collective uses.
In the first stages a controlled erosion deteriorates the existing roads, lots, parking, and sidewalks. Thepassage of time and the natural and unnatural results of neglect are allowed to overtake the land, while at the same time preserving certain features for potential reutilization.
This suspension of decay occurs at sites of intersecting streets where the asphalt is preserved and refigured in the service of an eventual connectivity to the adjacent town of Al Bireh. As the surrounding ground is alternately eroded and buried, a series of new conditions emerge – terraces of arable land re-form the western hill replacing the strategic importance of the hillside with new visual and infrastructural linkages to Ramallah. In other areas of the settlement, zones of new terrain emerge implying various types of development, forming an archipelago of parcels guided by a new logic of land ownership and distribution.
Whether thought of as parameters or as contingencies, the intrinsic variability of this process must be understood as indeterminate in outcome – its ultimate resolution subject to the negotiations, localized planning, and apportionment over time that will, no doubt, accompany a re-inhabitation of the site.
The placement of the containers (In P’sagot we have counted at least 60, even if the recent surveys have pointed out a bigger number) within the fabric of the settlement densifies the existing structures and allow for connections between the homes. This help to de-suburbanize the space. We propose to insert them in some interstice available, one slab of the container connects between existing buildings, giving a form to one continuous used surface which is adaptable to diverse urban functions.
Since the start of the second intifada, about 700 kilometers of fencing have been built around these settlements – totaling about the same projected length as the main section of the Wall.
The settlement islands encircled by “depth barriers” were declared by the IDF to be “special security zones” and the area extending four hundred meters around them to be “sterile.”
Its definition means that the military and the settlements’ civil militias may shoot-to-kill any Palestinian who happens to stray into these zones.
The natural growth of Ramallah and el bireh would expand on all private lands, however islands of settlement - the odd lots of public ground cut out from its fabric would remain floating within this urban fabric, becoming
the nucleus of a new set of public infrastructure.
Underground -The destruction of homes and other building within the settlements would leave a system of underground infrastructure intact. These infrastructure – water, sewage, electricity, telephone – buried under the coming rubble could in fact give life for a new form of over-ground urbanity.
Seeing prospects for development in place of the evacuated settlement of Gaza, the EU’s foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana suggested in 2005 the “settlement villas” destroyed and removed in order “to make way for high-rise construction”. His idea was that the infrastructure that was set to serve each single family house could be extruded into a vertical core of infrastructure serving a set of new high-rise buildings.
The molecular level of the occupation is the single-family house on a small plot of land. Investigating ways to transform this
repetitive semi-generic structure may open up ways to transform the entire geography of occupation. What are its limits of
transformability? Can a single-family home become the nucleus of new types of public institutions? Which structural parts should be retained and what are the possible ways of connecting together groups of houses?
The problem is also how to transform a series of small-scale single-family houses into unified clusters of communal space, to
accommodate larger functions like halls and classrooms, laboratories for a research institute, clinics and offices.
Design by destruction - Construction and destruction are complementary and as such somewhat indistinguishable as military actions in space. The Israeli military is involved in construction projects of settlements. The environment is shaped – strategically, tactically. It becomes a
mirror of the ideological/financial interests of the parties doing the shaping. There is a relationship between the way the built environment is organized and the logic of government.
Contemporary warfare is increasingly conducted through the destruction, construction, reorganization, and subversive use and reading of space. As such, the urban environment should be understood not simply as the location, the backdrop for conflict, not even only as its tools and apparatuses. But enmeshed with the forces that operate within it.
Within the settlements uniformity of architectural taste is often imposed
through the repetition of a small variety of single and double, family house-and-garden designs. Within all these types, the red pitched roof became the emblem, the ubiquitous symbol of Jewish settlements. In an interview a young architect based in the West Bank explained this issue to me: “A lot of ink was spilled [in critical discussion] over the issue of the red roofs… I personally think that there is something interesting about it though… since it was inaugurated as the common practice some twenty years ago… you can easily recognize, even as you are coming from the distance a Jewish settlement!… maybe it really does not blend in with the surrounding, but it makes a strong statement and marks an orientation point – this settlement is Jewish!” Beyond responding to typical middle-class suburban aesthetics, the adorning of settlement homes with red roofs also serves a security function: the sites can be identified from afar as Israeli.