‘Nearby I found a well preserved qasr. The word, which literally means a ‘castle’, and refers to the mainly round stone structures dotting the land where farmers kept their produce and slept on the open roof. It was in one of these structures that my grandfather Saleem and my uncle Abu Ameen camped out when they went on their sarha together.
The commonly used noun sarha is a colloquial corruption of the classical word. A man going on a sarha wanders aimlessly, not restricted by time and place, going where his spirit takes him to nourish his soul and rejuvenate himself. But not any excursion would qualify as a sarha. Going on a sarha implies letting go. It is a drug free high, Palestinian style’ 1
This year we will be working in Palestine for the main project, in the city of Nablus to the North of the West Bank, part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Nablus lies in the biblical region of Samaria, it is the largest city in the West Bank, but is almost entirely untouched by tourism and until recently has been hemmed in by checkpoints and isolated from surrounding areas.
The Royal London Hospital
We will begin the year with a month long project based in the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. Established as part of the voluntary hospital movement in 1740, ‘The London’ as it is often known is currently being extended and rebuilt by the developers Skanska to become the largest hospital in the UK.
The hospital occupies a key position on Whitechapel Road, and is an important part of the High Street 2012 Olympic project. High Street 2012 encourages development and revitalisation along the route between the city and the Olympic park, in order to both support and sustain the existing community, and create places that will be visited.
Working with Design for London, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and local stakeholders such as the Samaritan Society, we will make building proposals that relate to both the redevelopment of the hospital site, and the ideas behind High Street 2012.
We will visit Israel and the West Bank in November, spending three days in Nablus. Working with local NGOs we will explore and investigate the place, from the ancient souks of the old city, to the surrounding hills.
Recent conservation initiatives have begun to preserve areas of the old city, but amongst the narrow streets, abandoned palaces (or qasrs) and other remnants of a more prosperous past lie unvisited and decaying. With only four hotels and few restaurants, Nablus provides little possibility for visitors to linger, and extreme levels of unemployment have left the city in urgent need of new industry and employment opportunities.
Working within the old city, we will ask you to propose a building that provides a new place to stay, and through your own additional programmatic ideas encourages a form of constructive tourism and employment for Nablus.
1 ‘Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape’ Raja Shehadeh