Where history and current affairs merge yet again, it is up to architecture to help build the identity of the venue: and this can only be achieved by stone architecture when the landscape context and the public and symbolic role of the building alike so require.
This is the case for the new Museum of Palestine. The project came into being on the initiative of an aid organisation that works to support West Bank and Gaza communities and was one of the winners of the 2019 edition of the Aga Kahn Award – the prestigious international recognition announced every three years for architecture that responds creatively to the needs and aspirations of communities characterised by a high proportion of Muslims.
Architecture and landscape
The site chosen to build the museum is located at about 30 km north of Jerusalem on a hillside position adjacent to Birzeit University with a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The project by architects Henegang Peng (selected following an invitation-only tender competition) defined a master plan that began by redesigning of a series of terraced gardens with dry stone walls, resembling the agricultural features of the area. The museum building is home to exhibition facilities, workshops and the archives of the institution and is inspired by the same design: its monolithic form is entirely clad with local stone and consequently integrates strongly into the landscape.
The building’s ground plan has double-wedge outline. The main facilities for visitors – the hall and hospitality area, show area and glass gallery – are all on the entrance level, thereby restricting the need for vertical connections, while a terrace on the north wing overlooking the landscape is home to the cafeteria. The apparent geometric simplicity of these volumes underscores a sophisticated building envelope. The stone envelope on the western front seems to rise from the ground before opening into a huge window supported by vertical steel blades, that combine the dual role of structural elements and sun-blinds. The cladding stone was laid with open joints on a structure in reinforced concrete. The metal purlins and anchorage joints are above the waterproofing layer and the eight triangular portions of the coverage are slanted in such a way as to convey rainwater into the hidden eaves on the edges.
The museum integrates into the natural surroundings by adapting the ancient architectural language of the region through a contemporary geometrical language; at the same time, it balances the dominant local materials by introducing details based on innovative techniques. The project is also the outcome of interplay between different cultures: architects Shih-Fu Peng and Róisín Heneghan founded their studio in New York in 1999. They moved their head offices in 2001 to Dublin and also opened an office in Berlin in 2011.
Project: Henehang peng architects (Róisín Heneghan, Shih-Fu Peng), Dublino
Landscape Architect: Lara Zureikat, Amman
Client: Taawon Welfare Association, Ramallah, Palestina
Location: Birzeit, Palestina