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Envisioning Gaza Beyond Borders And Conflict

The late architect Michael Sorkin advocated walking as a means of claiming one's place in the city and creating a more democratic society by envisioning Gaza beyond borders and conflict.

George Evans
Nov 04, 2023512 Shares30112 Views
The late architect Michael Sorkin advocated walking as a means of claiming one's place in the city and creating a more democratic society by envisioning Gaza beyond borders and conflict.
He criticized the "architecture of insecurity" that has spread over the world in the form of surveillance cameras, tollway scanners, GPS tags, and gated communities in urban areas.
In his book, "Twenty Minutes in Manhattan," Sorkin described his commute from Greenwich Village to Tribeca, passing past Washington Square Park. His localist internationalism and concept of the excellent city centered on propinquity, the space of nearness, neighborliness, and kinship.
Extreme examples of insecure design include Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and its siege of Gaza. Israel has turned the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip into a laboratory for the study and testing of repressive methods.

The Impact Of The 2014 Gaza War On Architecture And Urban Design

The 2014 Gaza War, also known as Operation Protective Edge, had a profound and lasting impact on the architecture and urban design of the Gaza Strip. This devastating conflict between Israel and Hamas resulted in significant destruction and loss of life, prompting architects, urban planners, and policymakers to rethink the design of this densely populated and beleaguered region.
  • Rebuilding Infrastructure- One immediate consequence of the war was the urgent need for reconstruction. Many buildings and critical infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and residential areas, were severely damaged or destroyed. The rebuilding efforts emphasized more resilient and sustainable architectural designs, with a focus on withstanding potential future conflicts.
  • Humanitarian Architecture- The conflict shed light on the dire living conditions in Gaza. Architects and humanitarian organizations began to explore innovative architectural solutions to improve the lives of the residents. This included designs for low-cost housing, improved sanitation facilities, and public spaces that prioritize the well-being of the community.
  • Urban Planningfor Resilience- Gaza's urban planning was reimagined with an emphasis on resilience. Concepts like smart cities, improved public transportation, and the integration of renewable energy sources gained prominence. Planners aimed to make the city less vulnerable to future conflicts or environmental challenges.
  • Cultural and Public Spaces- The Gaza War also underscored the importance of cultural and public spaces. Architects began to design spaces for communal gatherings, cultural events, and recreation, providing residents with a sense of normalcy and resilience in the face of adversity.
  • Architectural Diplomacy- Some architects engaged in architectural diplomacy, promoting dialogue and cooperation between different parties involved in the conflict. The hope was that architecture could serve as a bridge for peace and understanding, rather than division and conflict.
  • Sustainable Rebuilding- As part of the recovery process, sustainability and green design principles were integrated into the rebuilding efforts. Architects explored eco-friendly building materials, energy-efficient designs, and strategies to reduce the environmental impact of reconstruction.
  • Security and Design- The war highlighted the need for security-conscious design that could safeguard residents in the event of future conflicts. Architects began to incorporate fortified structures and underground shelters into residential and public buildings.
Gaza strip
Gaza strip

Michael Sorkin's Vision For A Borderless And Peaceful Gaza

The late architect Michael Sorkin described his daily commute via Washington Square Park from Greenwich Village to his Tribeca office in his book Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. Michael believed that walking was the key to claiming his place in the city and creating a more democratic society.
He said that by strolling about our communities and talking to our neighbors, we may better understand the complexities that go into making the cities we know and love. The concept of propinquity, or proximity, neighborliness, and kinship, was fundamental to both his localist internationalism and his vision of the ideal city.
For this reason, Michael was against what he called the "architecture of insecurity"—the widespread use of surveillance technologies like closed-circuit television, electronic tollbooths, global positioning system tags, and gated communities. The friction that is necessary for urban existence was eliminated by these control measures, meaning that bodies could no longer collide with one another in physical space.
Michael saw the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its siege of Gaza as an extreme case of insecure building design. Israel has turned the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip into a laboratory for the study and testing of repressive methods. Two million people have been living under siege for over 20 years in one of the most besieged metropolitan areas on Earth, which is just 139 square miles in size.
Despite its common label of "open-air prison," what visitors really see is a well-constructed research facility dedicated to the study of dominance. Israel has created databases to track the calorie intake of Gaza's imprisoned people and algorithms to calculate the cost of human life so as to wage "proportional warfare" in the territory of Gaza.

Historical Architectural Landscape Of Gaza

Open Gaza also highlights Gaza’s past connections and its potential to become a regional center in the future.
To highlight Gaza's role as a trading center throughout history, architects Mahdi Sabbagh and Meghan McAllister superimposed maps of the city from the Bronze, Hellenistic, Roman, and medieval Islamic periods, as well as a made-up modern age.
Gaza's ageless urban form includes the city's ancient harbor, the temple of Marnas (the Gazan deity of rain and grain), a downtown, expansive suburbs, a sports stadium, and an airport. They argue that Palestine may once again serve as a meeting point.
In this alternative history, the Romans, Umayyads, Mamluks, Ottomans, British, and the free state of Gaza all coexist, and the city's commerce and transit networks are thriving. This may appear outlandish and out of place, but it is no less artificial than the existing isolation imposed on Gaza.
In Gaza, architect Romi Khosla has proposed a monument to the Nakba that would serve as a meeting place for Israelis and Palestinians. The monument, which was built to remember the deportation of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, is intended to be a place where Israelis and Palestinians may come together in close proximity.
The Hand of Justice pit in Chandigarh, India, served as inspiration for Khosla's idea for a contemplation pit that aims to unite people despite their differences.

Impact Of Israel-Gaza Conflict

However, the Israeli embargo and infrastructure de-development have had catastrophic effects on the area, and the reality in Gaza today is far different from this imagined future.
Extreme poverty, starvation, loss of dignity, sadness, and claustrophobia have caused Palestinian society in Gaza to shrink inside, creating a glaring crisis of proximity. The present state of emergency only highlights this.
After Hamas terrorists carried out a random attack on Israeli civilians on October 7, the Israeli military retaliated in like.
More than a million Palestinians have been ordered to leave the northern half of Gaza, and Israel has unleashed 6,000 bombs on the strip while simultaneously cutting off gasoline, power, water, food, and medical supplies.
The present conflict is a political catastrophe, not a humanitarian one since it stems from people's inability to recognize their shared humanity.

Towards An Equitable And Dignified Post-Conflict Gaza

The Gaza Strip is the most obvious example of total dominance in Palestine, although the country as a whole is divided. Israeli Operation Protective Edge in 2014 increased the damage resulting from the 15-year siege between Israel and Egypt.
In response, Michael Sorkin and the Terreform team wrote Open Gaza: Architectures of Hope, which looks at ways that life in Gaza might be better despite Israeli occupation and violence. The goal of the project is to envision a conflict-free future in Gaza, one in which Palestinians may live in freedom, equality, and dignity.
The world's attention returned to Gaza in May 2021, but the bombardment and siege continued unabated. Operation Guardian of the Walls is the fourth major attack on Gaza in the previous decade, and it was sparked after Israel rejected an evacuation ultimatum from Hamas.
When asked whether Gaza will still be a "livable place" in 2020, the United Nations expressed doubt. Despite the unlivable and unfair circumstances, people continue to live in Gaza today. Despite the differences that have been placed on the Palestinian people, there are still places of optimism within the society.

Rethinking Gaza From Technical Fixes To Human-Centered Architecture

In 1968, the American urbanist Lewis Mumford offered a critical perspective on an Israeli master plan for Jerusalem, denouncing the reliance on data and the prioritization of quantifiable progress over intangible cultural and ecological values.
Fast forward to 2021, Gaza grapples with parallel challenges, where a multitude of statistical reports and infographics from international organizations often transform the daily struggles and hardships of Palestinians into abstract figures. This reduction of human suffering to technical problems obscures the critical issues of justice, equality, and societal values.
Within the pages of Open Gaza, the author underscores the significance of the everyday existence, the individual, and the rich tapestry of extended families and children in Gaza.
Through a visual exploration of the objects that shape the lives of Gaza's residents and the structures they call home, the author probes the potential of architectural design and spatial reconfiguration in alleviating scarcity-induced hardships.
His response incorporates the perspectives of diverse stakeholders while weaving in design elements and aesthetics that acknowledge the potential for a different and improved future, even if it remains a vision at this stage.
The main argument says that looking at Gaza's current social and cultural situation through the "architecture of the everyday" gives people back their power and shows that there are chances for creative changes in the physical environment even when it does not seem like there are any.
The core objective of this contribution is to advocate for a sustainable form of self-build architecture that empowers families to construct their own homes, challenging the prevailing "survival at any cost" paradigm that often informs the work of many international aid organizations operating in Gaza.

Possibilities For A Better Future In Post-War Gaza

Architect Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, architects and University of California professors, propose a pragmatic, incremental approach to strengthen the sense of interdependence between people on opposing sides of a struggle.
They propose the establishment of Cross-Border Community Stations in Israel and Palestine, which would allow residents to discuss issues both sides had in common, such as illegal trash dumping, air pollution, and affordable housing.
The hardening of the border wall and the subsequent difficulty of crossing it meant they also had to rely on a telecommunications platform to facilitate these cross-border dialogues.
Reflecting on Open Gaza now, the impetus to see Palestinians in Gaza as a source of life, capability, and possibility rather than as grim statistics has never been more urgent or important.
Palestinians must be granted self-determination—control over the social, political, and economic resources that frame their own lives. However, is Israel able to live side by side with Palestinians who are neither occupied nor made to be dependent on humanitarian aid?
Will Palestinians ever be allowed to walk through their cities to ponder the incremental changes happening in their neighborhoods and negotiate with their neighbors to create the city they want, rather than just survey the ruins of their past and present?
This might seem impossibly distant in the present moment, but the only way forward is premised on the equal rights of Palestinians and Israelis. It is beyond time for Israel to end the occupation and reconsider a new politics of closeness.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is So Special About Gaza?

The Gaza Strip is unique in that despite its high population density, it is not legally considered to be a part of any existing nation.

What Is The Definition Of Gaza In Geography?

Noun. the Gaza Strip. Southeast Mediterranean coastal territory formerly ruled by Egypt, then seized by Israel, then given autonomy in 1993 and subsequently ruled by the Palestinian National Authority since 1994.

What Is The Conflict Surrounding The Gaza Strip?

A horrific Hamas assault in southern Israel two weeks ago prompted a retaliatory blockade of Gaza, resulting in thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees. Aid trucks delivering food, water, and medication have begun entering the Palestinian enclave via Egypt.

What Is The Gaza Strip And Why Is It Important?

Some have referred to the little strip of territory between Israel and Egypt as "the world's largest open-air prison." The enclave's population of almost 2 million makes it one of the world's densest urban areas.

Final Words

The cityscape of Gaza after the conflict is a symbol of strength and hope in the face of hardship. The city has a progressive attitude toward development, creativity, learning, and the arts.
By envisioning Gaza beyond borders and conflict, the people of Gaza are building a city that can serve as a beacon of opportunity for everyone.
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