For Riwaq-Centre for Architectural Conservation, architectural heritage, is not a passive act rooted in romantic values; rather, it is a dynamic form of enacting change. The concept and definition of heritage has gradually advanced, opening up possibilities for new understandings of urban spaces, buildings, and individuals. These possibilities embrace contemporary activities, meanings, and practices that one can draw from the past to shape the future.
Pioneers in Heritage Preservation
Riwaq-Centre for Architectural Conservation, is a Ramallah-based non-profit Palestinian organization. It aims at the preservation and restoration of historic towns and buildings in rural Palestine.
At the core of Riwaq’s work is the attention to the relevance of the past, the urgency of the present, and the sustainability for the future.
Throughout its 30-years march, Riwaq has been able to register 50,320 historic buildings in 422 villages and towns in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
The purpose is to conserve and preserve historic relics from the past that reflect cultural and socio-economic practices throughout Palestinian history.
Riwaq’s registry of historic buildings in Palestine is an open data source. Riwaq hopes to extend the register to include areas in historic Palestine. Parallel, to its inventory and documentation work, Riwaq has been able to renovate 130+ historic buildings to serve as premises for community centers, women associations, youth centers, children’s libraries, music centers among others. Riwaq approach to conservation is built on the following principles:
- Partnerships with Local Organizations
- Oral Narratives and Community-based Approach
- The Clustering Approach to Rehabilitation
Partnership with Local Organization
Riwaq’s work heavily relies on collaborating with grass-root organizations. These organizations and groups revitalize these renovated historic buildings after they have been abandoned for long times in the Palestinian villages. The renovated spaces become vibrant spaces for contemporary local socio-economic and cultural development activities.
The adaptation of spaces and courtyards is co designed with the organizations that will rent and use these buildings after renovation. As such, the local community is incorporated within the early stages of project design and planning.
Partnerships with local organizations as well as with owners are meant to ensure the continued use of the buildings for cultural and socio economic activities, as well as having spaces for income-generating business run by these groups (for example, having an eco-kitchen that serves the village or the surroundings).
Oral Narratives and Community-Based Approach
Riwaq focuses on highlighting the architectural importance of buildings and their historical significance. To do so, collective efforts with local communities are put into action.
In its works, Riwaq utilizes stories and narratives about villages and buildings by implementing oral history sessions; mostly performed with elderly women in the villages. The oral history sessions, along with historical research, represent the core of the rehabilitation and design processes.
The collection of knowledge from the local community allows for the imagination of what it was like living in these areas and provides the threshold for planning, designing and restoring spaces that respect the past and serve the present use. In this sense, restoration becomes a way to understand, narrate, and imagine Palestinian history, which has been deliberately hidden and concealed by the Israeli colonial processes.
RIWAQ designs and facilitates cultural, educational, and community-based activities in each of its respective sites. Their activities are designed to foster participation and engagement of local communities in the rehabilitation projects, and are committed to raising awareness of the power of cultural heritage and its ability to bring people closer together.
Clustering Approach: A Conceptual Shift in Restoring Historical Towns and Buildings
Riwaq’s primarily utilizes the clustering approach as a tool to reconstruct an alternative Palestinian map. This approach marks a conceptual shift that moves away from a conventional restorative approach—that is, conservation and documentation of single buildings—into exploring the wider urban context while protecting its heritage.
This approach brings interdependence, integration and collective solidarity against issues that threatens territorial boundaries and unity of rural Palestine.