A.M. Qattan Foundation, Architecture, Art, Cultural centre, Culture, Design, Donaire Architectos, Green building, Middle East, Palestine, Ramallah, West Bank

Palestine gets a $21m cultural complex designed by Donaire Architectos

The A.M. Qattan Foundation recently opened its 7,730-sq m new cultural centre in Ramallah, Palestine.

Designed by Seville-based Donaire Architectos, the new centre is a green building with a highly adaptable layout, which accommodates the Foundation’s different programmes and takes into account future expansion.

Principally a public space for teachers, artists, researchers and children, the centre has a multimedia library, named after founding trustee, the late Leila Miqdadi Al-Qattan, as well as galleries, event and studio spaces, a guesthouse and a restaurant.

Donaire Architectos won an international competition to design the complex, with a proposal that made the building “a flagship of Palestinian culture… a recognisable image worthy to represent its social leadership with a physical landmark.”

The building is designed to target an international audience with a contemporary language, but has been delivered in the local vernacular, built using a Palestinian workforce.

The main building is predominantly in limestone and is conceived as a stone plinth carved in terraces out of the natural soil, enhancing the interior-exterior relation through the use of lattices and natural stone screens.

Terraces and slopes surrounding the building are planted with olive trees, including some that were removed from the site during construction.

Donaire Architectos used locally sourced limestone and ceramic tiles to save costs and improve the overall carbon footprint, while providing durable and low-maintenance materials.

A passive solar design, inspired again by vernacular architecture, makes use of courtyards, big openings and light wells to introduce natural light and cross ventilation. Louvered screens shade the tower’s glass surfaces, in addition to the deep cantilevers over the wide openings on the plinth.

Built at a cost of $21 million, the centre took six years to be completed amidst political instability and the challenge of labour and materials scarcity under Israeli occupation. “It has been years of fighting to achieve anything close to the standards we wanted. There are defects, but it is the best we could do while building under (Israeli) occupation,” architect Juan Pedro Donaire told The Guardian.

The building earned a silver award from the Palestinian Higher Green Building Council – the second Palestinian project to bag the certification, following the Palestinian Museum.

The inaugural exhibition, titled ‘Subcontracted Nations’ – curated by the Foundation’s director of public programming Yazid Anani – draws together artists including Naeem Mohaiemen and Larissa Sansour to question ideas of the nation state. The arts space will be double the size of the Palestinian Museum, which opened in May 2016 in the West Bank university town of Birzeit.

This is the Foundation’s second major cultural centre in Palestine, having launched the Child Centre in Gaza in 2005.

“The new centre is being inaugurated at a time when horizons seem totally blocked for Palestinians,” said Omar Al-Qattan, chair of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “We hope the new centre will give Palestinians, especially young people, the hope and confidence that in spite of all the obstacles they face, they are capable of realising the most ambitious and complex projects at an international level of excellence.”

Read also: LACASA’s design for olive grove-inspired shopping mall in Palestine utilises local materials.