RIWAQ is a non-governmental, non- profit organisation established in 1991, in Ramallah, Palestine. The main aim of RIWAQ was, and still is, the documentation, rehabilitation and development of the architectural heritage of Palestine. This signifies the protection of all layers, styles and remains of all periods and civilisations that once existed in Palestine. The various strata tell us the story of the rich, varied and complex identity of Palestine; they also negate the “purity” of the politically charged one-layer identity. This approach signifies the protection of not only noble architectural and religious sites, but also the valuable and varied urban, peasant and nomad architecture. The the main objective is to convince the public at large, and decision makers in particular, that historic buildings and historic centres are an important tool for socio-economic- political development rather than as a liability. www.riwaq.org
The project that set the background for our work, “The Register for Historic Buildings,” is the most comprehensive survey of architectural heritage in Palestine. It took us ten years to compile and four years to review and publish (see riwaqregister.org). Alongside the Register, RIWAQ published a series of books on Architectural Heritage in Palestine and began testing traditional building materials and techniques; this continued to become our baseline competence while our programs have achieved greater diversity.
Historic Buildings | Cultural Nodes
Starting in the late 1990s, the Conservation program at RIWAQ was given its first chance to implement large-scale building conservation projects. Both in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, RIWAQ was commissioned to design and implement restoration projects through the Bethlehem 2000 project and the Old City of Jerusalem Revival Program. However, in 2000, with the political unrest and the unprecedented economic deterioration, RIWAQ shifted its conservation strategies towards the “Job Creation Through Restoration” project, financed mainly by Sida. The main focus of this program was to provide jobs and hence contribute modestly to poverty alleviation in the most impoverished areas. This was accomplished by generating short-term and long-term jobs through implementing labour intensive strategies. Since its start in 2001 and up to 2013, this program has managed to renovate more than 70 historic buildings, providing around 250,000 direct and indirect working days with a total cost of US $7 million.
In this program, abandoned buildings are leased to community organizations for 10-15 years rent-free in exchange for restoration works. RIWAQ documents, designs and restores these buildings, thereby transforming them into healthy, friendly and functional spaces that are fit for communal needs. Almost 75% of the buildings restored have been adapted to the needs of women and children focused organizations and around 80% of them serve a cultural purpose. These living hubs of communal and cultural life form a new cultural map of Palestine, a map that celebrates local initiatives and new connections.
Geography | 50 Villages
Over the years, RIWAQ has learned invaluable lessons in architectural heritage that have enabled it to develop as a pioneer in historic centres rehabilitation. Taking the lessons to heart, we have restructured and reconceptualised RIWAQ to better carry out our vision. The 50 Historic Centres project marks this shift as RIWAQ moves towards a community approach, emphasizing entire historic fabrics. This work takes various forms—awareness building campaigns, restoration work, education projects, and community involvement. The idea is simple: if the institution rehabilitates 50 Historic Centres, RIWAQ can breathe life back into 50% of Palestine’s built heritage and thus the communities in and around them. Our new approach enables us to truly realize RIWAQ’s vision—salvaging Palestinian heritage and thus ensuring that Palestinian identity continues to be embodied in part through its built forms. The pilot for RIWAQ’s 50 Historic Centres project is the town of Birzeit, the project that won us the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
The 50 Centres are all rural in setting, for as rural areas are becoming more and more economically dependent on urban centres, rural heritage is seen as a major tool for socio-economic development. While people view their historic centres as unfriendly environments that cannot accommodate contemporary, everyday life, RIWAQ tries to reverse this image by bringing new functions, activities, and programs to the historic centres.
Community and Culture
Community and cultural activities go hand in hand with conservation and rehabilitation. Our activities serve a number of objectives, mainly: raising the level of awareness and appreciation for our heritage, demonstrating the innate potentials of historic spaces, and bringing happiness and new experiences to communities that do not have access to cultural activities in Palestine. RIWAQ’s activities cover a wide spectrum of themes and target groups and are designed either in house or in cooperation with active cultural organizations. Our activities include a series of music concerts in historic centres, writing and illustration workshops with children, environmental training days, volunteer clean-up days, planting activities, trips to cultural and natural sites, tourist maps and heritage trails as well as teacher trainings.
RIWAQ has strategic partnerships with numerous private and public organizations, and we are part of local and international networks that work on cultural heritage, tourism and research. RIWAQ also promotes restored buildings and spaces among civil society actors to be used for their own programs and activities.
Since 2005, RIWAQ has been celebrating its achievements and opening up new spaces for discussion and creation every two years through an international festivity of arts, architecture, heritage, and culture—the RIWAQ Biennale. Through a well-designed series of walks, talks and interventions, we take local and international participants to our “Palestine.” The Biennale is a celebration of heritage as an incubator for creative forces to practice and contribute to the creation of new meanings and new forms for knowledge.
With four Biennale editions by 2013, RIWAQ has been able to foster new partnerships and attract new audiences to support our efforts to breathe life back into historic centres.