Yara Sharif is Routledge Architecture's latest Featured Author. Read our interview to discover more about her new book, Architecture of Resistance: Cultivating Moments of Possibility within the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict.
"The journey has only started. Today I’m struck to realize that not only it is a challenge to be an architect and a woman, it is even harder to be a Palestinian practicing in the UK. This however, did not stop the work from being recognized."
“I became no longer able to live with the subtle acceptance of the ‘norm’ that existed. I needed to zoom out in search for a breathing space beyond the constraints of the Israeli occupation. I needed to search for a broader narrative where everyday life would be bigger than the city of Ramallah, where adventures might involve more than journeys across checkpoints, and where dreams could go beyond merely those of sneaking into Jerusalem (which, after all, is only 15 minutes away from my family home)”.
Architecture of Resistance marks the start of my journey as a Palestinian female architect trying to define her role and shape her identity and self. It is a collection of the different thoughts and ideas provoked by my own journeys when I used to live and work in Palestine, and which were later transformed into projects that I realized while doing my PhD by Design.
The absence of the Palestinian narrative in its social and spatial sense have always been disturbing to me, especially when the representation is always done by the ‘other’; the ‘powerful’. The book therefore tries to offer an insight into the Palestinian context by viewing it explicitly from within.
This need for an alternative discourse, amidst the unbalanced economic and political status, has been the focus of my work ever since. It has very much informed my approach as an architect, where I try to re-read the land from a new perspective by stripping it of the dominant power of lines – including any imagined ones – to expose the hidden dynamic topography born from social conditions. Believing in nourishing not only the physical space but also the space of imagination my work is a combination between live and speculative ideas. Both are seen as a necessary part of a whole.
In 2012, shortly after finishing my doctorate studies, I was able to continue the journey while joining academic institutions in the UK. I have been running a postgraduate design studios at different school of architecture along with co-running the architecture practice NG Architects. I have also co-founded Palestine Regeneration Team (PART); a design-led research group that aims to search for creative and responsive spatial practices in Palestine. This triangular relationship has widened the scope of my spatial and architectural activities and enabled me to establish a close link between research, academia and practice.
The journey has only started. Today I’m struck to realize that not only it is a challenge to be an architect and a woman, it is even harder to be a Palestinian practicing in the UK. This however, did not stop the work from being recognized. Between practice and research by design, the work has won a number of awards with the most recent being RIBA’s President Award for Research 2016 (commendation).
The work is ongoing hopefully to provoke a deeper and more critical kind of architectural thinking that is explicit in its engagement with political and social realities.
For more info on the projects see the links below:
In the past seven years or so I have been working on a number of projects within the triangle of NG Architects, Palestine Regeneration Team (PART) and the design studio. The projects vary in their scale and nature between live projects and speculative ones.
Series of urban strategies and design proposals are developed and realized in collaboration with NGOs, local and international partners. These projects are rooted in the need to look at street-based models of urban regeneration. Our approach is that the local cultural context, with its complex social networks and everyday habits, provides the main source for rebuilding sustainable communities and spaces.
Working with the Palestinian NGO Riwaq for example, I worked on a number of schemes where design is seen as a method of stitching the fragmented Palestinian landscape, while also offering alternatives to empower the communities. The historic centre of Birzeit, which forms a chapter in this book, is one of these schemes, which has won the Agha Khan Award 2013. The historic centre of Beit Iksa that later followed also won the 2014 Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction.
Further information on the projects and the design-led research approach can be found in the following publications
Nasser Golzari and Yara Sharif, ‘Reclaiming Space and Identity: Heritage-led regeneration in Palestine’, Journal of Architecture 16.1 (2011): 121-44 (part of a special issue on ‘Architecture and Conflict’)
Yara Sharif ‘In Search of Spaces of Possibilities’ in Khaldun Bshara & Saud Amiry, Reclaiming Space: The 50 Villages project in rural Palestine, Ramallah: Riwaq, 2015.
A forthcoming chapter in Routledge publication, with co-author Nasser Golzari , titled ‘Cultivating Moments of Possibilities in Palestine’,will be shortly out. The book is titled The Social (Re)Production of Architecture edited by Doina Petrescu and Kim Trogal.
Gaza is another key city that we have been working on since 2010 as NG Architects and later as PART. The work carried out in the Gaza Strip provided the key point of departure for the core principles of ‘empowering’ communities and ‘stitching’ fragmented neighbourhoods. The ‘Green Learning Room’ emerged as a prototype to address the issue of reconstruction. The project has gradually developed with more collaboration with national and international partners. It will be published in a forthcoming book edited by Michael Sorkin titled Open Gaza. The publication includescontributions from architects, environmental designers and theorists from around the world. A special chapter by myself and Nasser Golzari Under the title Absurd-City, Subver-City will unpack series of live and speculative projects by ourselves as well as by our postgraduate students of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University and the University of Westminster.
When discussing the subject of Palestine from a spatial point of view the majority of the work available – especially by western scholars -- seems to focus mostly on the artifacts of Israeli occupation; like the wall, or the illegal settlements, or the checkpoints etc. However, the re-production of space by Palestinians as a result of the occupation is under represented. It almost portrays the Palestinians as being passive subjects in the sense that Israel makes space while Palestinians react to it. This ‘invisible Palestinian narrative’ with its informal production of space – space of the everyday -- and most importantly from a local perspective, is what I tried to shed a light on in this book. For me what counts, is this process of capturing moments of possibilities and imagination in Palestine; a country that is still suffering under occupation. In a place where there is no such thing as equal powers, I try to capture hope in the gaps.
The idea of narrative has become a visible, and indeed essential, component when exploring design possibilities. I have tried to capture and represent the sense of daily life as it is experienced by Palestinians, specifically by unfolding the relationship between time and space. Narrative and subjective experience in this context became both a spatial condition and a conscious strategy to examine relationship between identity, place, the personal and the political all of which surface strongly in the book and in my work as a whole.
As a mean to reconstruct an alternative Palestinian map – one that can nourish, heal and empower – it has become a crucial part of the process of research by design to engage in conceptual discussions by using different mediums like drawings and images to hint at spatial possibilities – ones which can offer a critical view and leave a space for the reader to imagine and question. Speculating therefore might not necessarily offer the answers or the solution, however it can hint at possible scenarios that can stretch the space of imagination. This I believe is equally as crucial as stretching the physical space.
Architecture of Resistance investigates the relationship between architecture, politics and power, and how these factors interplay in light of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. It takes Palestine as the key ground of spatial exploration, looking at the spaces between people, boundary lines,…
Hardback – 2017-05-02
Design Research in Architecture
Yara Sharif is a practicing architect and an academic, a lecturer at the University of Westminster and at Oxford Brookes University and a partner at Golzari-NG Architects London, an award winning practice that has developed a reputation of working on sustainable community projects with specific interest in issues of cultural identity and responsive design. Her work generally stretches internationally where she mainly looks at design as a means to facilitate and empower forgotten communities, while also interrogating the relationship between politics and architecture. Sharif has co-founded Palestine Regeneration Team (PART); a design-led research group that aims to search for creative and responsive spatial practices in Palestine. Her research by design was granted the 2013 commendation award – RIBA's President Award for Research for Outstanding PhD Thesis. Her built projects have won a number of awards. She was granted the 2016 RIBA President Award for Research (commendation) in the cities and communities category.