INTERVENTI

School in Exil

 coll. with : Campus in Camps
http://www.campusincamps.ps
year : 2012
location : West Bank 
subject : Arichitettura della scuola di Shu’fat 
work : photography + documentation

Shufat_panorama-©Martina-Dandolo

Since the first appearance of Palestinian refugee camps after the Nakba in 1948, the architecture of the camp was conceived as a temporary solution. (…) The precariousness and temporariness of the camp structure was not simply a technical problem, but also the material-symbolic embodiment of the principle that its inhabitants be allowed to return as soon as possible to their place of origin. The refugee community opposes vehemently any attempt made by the governments of Israel to resettle them in other areas. The camp becomes a magnetic force in which political powers try to exercise their influence. Every single banal act, from building a roof to opening a new street is read as a political statement on the right of return. Nothing in the camp can be considered without political implication.

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In this context in June 2011, UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Program directed by Sandi Hilal, decided to intervene in the conception and realization of a girl’s school in Shu’fat refugee camp. For the first time a site specific and ad hoc design, and not a pre-conceived fix architectural scheme, was produced.

The political context that surrounds the project is extremely deteriorated.  Shu’fat camp is in between walls, trapped in a legal void, neither inside nor outside Jerusalem borders. The inhabitants of Shu’fat are threatened to be deprived of their Jerusalem residency documents and therefore expelled from the city.

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Is architectural intervention at all possible in such a distorted and unstable political environment? And how could intervention be at all possible without normalizing the exceptional and transitory condition of the camp? How could architecture exist in the here and now of the camp, yet remain in constant tension with a place of origin? The project of the school attempts to produce a space of existence between two polarized positions: on the one hand, that of refusing to intervene in any way because of a compromising political context; and on the other, that of maintaining the status quo instead of transforming the political reality. A team of architects comprised of myself and my colleagues Sandi Hilal and Livia Minoja and the engineer department of UNRWA imagined the “school in exile” as an occasion to elaborate a fragment of a different approach to education and society – a school to be experienced by the students, not as a site of repression and discipline, but as a site of liberation and responsibility.

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The generative form of the school is a circular space, a space around which people can gather to tell or listen to a story. Architecturally, the hexagon constitutes the single classroom, a space in which each participant is equally invited to speak.

Recognizing that the camp is a spatial expression of a particular relation to another place – the place of origin – the project, instead of dismissing this relation, inhabits this tension and contradiction. We created a double for each classroom, an outside open space, a piece of land to cultivate material and cultural dimensions of the place of origin.

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