Ammar Khammash, Hanna Salameh, Jordanian architecture, Op-ed

Jordan’s culture of architecture continues to thrive

If you ever visit Jordan and drive through the winding streets of Amman, the chaos and clutter might overwhelm you. You probably won’t be able to absorb the beauty of the city – from its natural landscape to the homes that teeter on the edges of the rolling hills – especially if it’s your first time. But the more I examine the culture of architecture that seems to thrive in the depths of the country’s artistic fabric, even if quietly, the more I realise that the heritage and tradition of building in Jordan has always been, and continues to be, alive and well.

This issue of Middle East Architect allowed me to speak with architects and designers from Jordan who are working in various ways to bring architecture to the forefront of society. While Hanna Salameh, founder of Hanna Salameh Design, created a national conversation about the Jordan Gate Towers, abandoned twin buildings in the capital’s downtown area, Ammar Khammash, architect and artist (and designer of the country’s currency), is working to revive the country’s traditional architectural language. His projects not only support Amman and its surrounding villages by providing work and re-teaching old techniques, but they also highlight the country’s wealth of archaeology and remind those of us watching of the beauty, simplicity and intelligence of Arab architecture.

“Hmud offers one of the most impressive examples of the traditional ‘Jordanian’ house,” wrote Khammash in ‘Notes on Village Architecture’, published in June 1995. “It is a house in excellent condition; its mud ‘furniture’ is intact and complete. Both the portable mud pieces and the built-in shelves and wheat bins are still there, richly ornamented with crosses and abstractions of plants.”

He continued, “The size of the house is relatively small in comparison to the average size of a typical Hmud house, nevertheless, it hides within its small rectangular limits a collection that is rarely found under one roof.”

A classic example of Jordan’s architecture is the famous archaeological site Petra, located in Jordan’s southwestern desert, but a greater look at the country’s villages and the way social interactions informed the architectural language and town layouts would, like Khammash’s writing, highlight the advanced knowledge residents have been working with for centuries, developed over periods of kingdoms, empires and lordships.

The country is also home to a growing number of contemporary projects. From the Queen Alia International Airport by Foster + Partners to the planned King Abdullah II House of Culture & Art by Zaha Hadid Architects. Such projects show that Jordan continues to attract large firms with even bigger dreams.

Thankfully, though, there are those who are striving to protect the country’s rich history, preserving it for as long as possible, like Khammash. And as the country continues to oscillate between vernacular and contemporary, learning how to merge the two, we will continue to watch, hopefully picking up a thing
or two.