Outlines for Civilian Architecture

Study-day: Outlines for Civilian Architecture, Jerusalem, December 1, 2011

The study-day, organized by the (In)formal Architecture Research Unit at the Department of Architecture, Bezalel – Academy of Arts and Design, in partnership with Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights and Campus-Community Partnership for Social Change, addressed issues of civilian architecture – citizens' involvement in the planning process, and social involvement through the architectural practice.

 

 

          The study-day opened with introductory remarks by Architect Shmulik Groag from Bimkom, and Architects Senan Abdelqader and Liat Briks-Atgar, of the (In)formal Architecture Research Unit at Bezalel. The day was facilitated by students of the Unit.

 

 

Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Coalition for Affordable Housing, opened the first session of the day. Gan-Mor presented the gaps that exist between affordable housing and spatial justice in Israel, between the spirit that the social justice protest raised this past summer to the concepts and values expressed by the current government.

 

 

          Architect Efrat Cohen Bar from Binkom shared with the audience thoughts and insights relating to citizens' involvement in the planning process, following Bimkom's community planning initiative in Issaiya, East Jerusalem.

 

 

          Prof. Tovi Fenster, director of the Planning for the Environment with Communities (PEC) Lab at the Department of Geography and Human Environment, Tel-Aviv University, and Mr. Sebastian Wallerstein of the Department of Strategic Planning and Urban Renewal in Bat Yam Municipality, presented each one from her and his individual perspective the project "Meonot Yam" in Bat Yam. This is a joint project of Tel-Aviv University and Bat Yam Municipality, in which the residents of "Meonot Yam" site in Bat Yam plan the building, environment and landscape in which they live. Prof. Fenster mentioned in her presentation that the work with the residents needs to account for two tracks – the planning track and the communal-social track. The planner does not remain in the project for the long-term, and therefore it is important to form a significant, strong group of residents that will undergo a process of training and civic/communal capacity building that will enable the group to promote issues facing the municipality. Wallerstein also related to the human resource that the project develops as the great opportunity concealed in such a project.

 

          The session was concluded by Architect Senan Abdelqader who introduced the project of civilian architecture in Arab al-Sawahre neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Abdelqader described the special conditions in the neighborhood and the successes and challenges that the work with the residents calls for.

 

 

          The second session was opened with a presentation by Architect Yuval Yasky, head of the Department of Architecture at Bezalel. Yasky introduced the Salameh document (link in Hebrew) whose aim is to bring to the public discourse in Israel a new spatial agenda. The document undermines the planning principles that currently guide spatial planning policy in Israel, and which are responsible for many problems and failures. It calls for architects and planners to "…adopt a new culture of responsibility and wide engagement, with long-term thinking…" and to develop new models for building and planning of and in cities and suburbs.

 

 

          In continuation, Architect Liat Briks-Atgar related to the social role and responsibility of the Department of Architecture at Bezalel. Briks-Atgar is the initiator and director of Bezalel's leading social project "Point of Reference (Mare Makom) – Documentation and Study of Local Space from the Residents' Point of View and Preparation of a Civic, Planning Vision for Neighborhoods in Jerusalem". This project was chosen by the Council for Higher Education in Israel as one of the excellent leading social projects to be awarded funding for the 2011/12 academic year.

 

 

          The day was concluded by an open discussion with the participation of representatives of public institutions and local government, residents of Jerusalem, social activists, representatives of civil society organizations acting for spatial justice, architects and students. Among the active participants in the discussion were Eti Chen, representative of the "no choice tent camps" in Jerusalem, and Saleh Diab, resident of Sheikh Jarrah active in the struggle against the expanding settlement in the neighborhood.

 

 

          One key idea which developed as part of the open discussion is the formation of a group of students, architects and planners from the Department of Architecture at Bezalel, that will plan a public housing project in one of the abandoned buildings in the city, following similar models of such projects that exist abroad. The objective of the group would be to prepare a detailed project file relating to a specific building, which will be presented to possible funders for support to enable its realization. 

 

For the invitation (in Hebrew), press here.