Since 1991, RIWAQ has recognized the challenging complexities of preserving Palestinian collective memory through projects that document and restore architectural heritage sites across the West Bank and Gaza. Harnessing the energy and skills of students, architects, archaeologists, and historians, RIWAQ embarked on the Registry of Historic Buildings, a thirteen year project (1994-2007) resulting in the publication of three volumes that include detailed histories, maps, and photos of approximately 420 villages in sixteen districts across the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza.
Other projects have not been as vast in size, but boast a similarly powerful vision with equally lasting impacts. RIWAQ’s “Job Creation Through Conservation,” for example, has transformed cultural heritage into an important economic tool, and shifted the concept of architectural conservation from an activity exclusive to affluence, to one that provides skill-building opportunities for residents, and community economic development for neighborhoods, villages, and municipalities.
Utilizing data provided in RIWAQ’s Registry of Historic Buildings project, we have concluded that by protecting 50 villages, we will succeed in protecting nearly 50% of the historic buildings in Palestine, which encompasses 50,230 historic buildings. Consequently, RIWAQ has shifted its priorities and resources from the conservation of single historic buildings to a universal approach that engages entire communities. Through this work, we believe RIWAQ has succeeded in responding to the vital question of what it takes to rehabilitate an entire town, not only physically, but socially, culturally, and economically.
The Light Bulb
Over twenty years had separated the two phone calls: the 2013 phone call in which RIWAQ had been informed that it won the Prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and the 1991 phone call when the very first funder expressed interest in visiting RIWAQ. That day, I rushed out of our modest office space and went home to gather three chairs, a round kitchen table, and a light bulb to host our first official meeting. That memorable light bulb not only lit RIWAQ’s dimly lit meeting room on a dark November afternoon, but also lit the first step in a long and winding path of exploring, documenting, and protecting cultural heritage across Palestine; a challenging mission spearheaded by RIWAQ since its establishment.
Over twenty years later, RIWAQ’s staff, Board of Directors and friends gathered to celebrate the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, acknowledging the organization’s hard work, tenacity, and enduring commitment to cultural and historic preservation across the region. Since 1991, we have become a dynamic team of talented people, with a growing community of partners, donors, and benefactors. Over the last two decades, RIWAQ has transformed the concept of cultural heritage as an economic, social, and environmental liability into one that is a valuable tool for economic and social change. Through skill-building opportunities and job creation, we continue to preserve Palestinian cultural heritage while bringing life back into our historic centers and providing infrastructure for social and economic development across the region.
Over twenty years separates RIWAQ’s first phase of documentation— which mobilized hundreds of architectural students and architects— from today’s 50 Villages Rehabilitation Project, which continues to mobilize entire communities. Since 1991, we have developed and grown our photo archives, GIS maps, and completed a national registry project, the first ever of its kind in Palestine. We have created lasting employment opportunities through the conservation of single buildings, and responded to the absence of a formal legal framework by creating protection plans and by-laws that safeguard our projects and communities. We have done so, all the while bringing architectural rehabilitation and cultural revitalization to neighborhoods and historic centers across Palestine. In addition, we take pride in RIWAQ’s numerous publications, Biennale, and Cultural and Heritage Routes.
RIWAQ’s team of dedicated employees, Board of Directors, friends, partners and funders are clearly an integral part of our history and are the pillars of RIWAQ’s accomplishments. Working with and for the larger community has further informed the organization’s mission and helped us to forge lasting partnerships with a diverse range of agencies and individuals. It is these relationships, coupled with the many stomach ulcers and bottomless cups of coffee for the sake of “community engagement,” that are the common thread in RIWAQ’s various stages of growth and development. For this, we are eminently grateful.