Palestine Modern: the unfulfilled promise!

Category: Product ID: 2852


The period after the Nakba (1948) is usually remembered as a disastrous period in which Palestinians were victimized and devastated by war and its consequences, including the displacement of the indigenous people, the destruction of their urban and rural habitats, and the disruption of their social and spatial practices. In contrast to this gloomy picture of Palestine, we notice in this period the spread of modern architectural forms that cannot be overlooked in our endeavor to understand the process of architecture and space in Palestine, especially the architecture of coastal cities (such as Jaffa and Haifa) and cities in the central West Bank (such as Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Al-Bireh and Bethlehem).

It seems that Palestinian architecture between the Nakba (1948), or shortly before, and the 1967 war, or shortly after, was influenced by the modern architectural style of the region in particular, and of the globe in general, and it was living a modernist era in terms of form, function, and construction techniques—an era that we can tentatively call “Palestine Modern”. This new architecture expresses the dreams and aspirations of the pioneering Palestinian architects and engineers who were “struggling” to claim a place for their architectural and spatial practices in a wider landscape.

This period witnessed important transformations, the most important of which, from an architectural point of view, was the apparent absence of many features of traditional architecture and the emergence of modern construction techniques by end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, and they necessarily reflected social and economic transformations and openness to the outside world. New architectural styles gradually moved away from traditional architecture and its forms, encouraged by the introduction of modern construction materials and the beginning of the emergence of the role of pioneering engineers in planning cities and in designing buildings.

At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the role of the engineer began to appear in constructing new styles of buildings, especially in the coastal and central West Bank cities. In this era, a group of investors and neo-bourgeois took the help of engineers to construct individual mansions outside the borders of the historic centers. The most important examples of this trend were the hotels, schools and residential villas outside the walls of Jerusalem, specifically in al-Baqa’a, al-Qatamun, al-Talbiya and Sheikh Jarra’h neighborhoods, al-Manshiyyeh of Jaffa, northern and southern expansion of Nablus old city, and the north-west and the south west expansions of Bethlehem. Western influences appear in these mansions. Among the architects and engineers of this era were Rushdie al-Imam, Andoni Baramki, and Spiro Choury and George ish-Shibr.

Among the most prominent engineers who worked in the 1950s and 1960s in the East and West Banks are Nazmi Nabulsi (who designed the National Hotel in Jerusalem, Najla al-Nabulsi Building in the Shuafat suburb) and Fouad al-Sayegh (who designed the post office building in Jerusalem and al-Yateem al-‘Arabi School in ‘Atarot and the Hilton Hotel in Al-Bireh), Ahmed Dakhqan, Hisham al-Husseini, Shukri Qab’in, Fawwaz Muhanna (who designed ‘Hekmat al-Masry residence in Nablus), Diran Faskerjian, George Rayes (who was very famous in Beirut), Theodore Kanaan (who designed The Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem), Hani ‘Arafat (who designed An-Najah National University, Nablus Municipality and Jericho cinema), Jaafar Touqan, Rizk Khoury, Saliba Qshair, Sayyed Karim (who designed Dr. Muhammad al-Qutub Villa–King Hussein residence in Shuafat). As for the foreign engineers who contributed to the modern architecture of Palestine, we mention Anthony Irving and his office in Beirut (who designed a hotel in Sheikh Jarra’h in Jerusalem) and the Lebanese engineer Jubran Jubran (who designed the Mount Scopus Hotel in Jerusalem and the ‘Hanania and Kharraz Building in Ramallah in 1975).

With the entry of all of Palestine under the Israeli occupation (1967), a promising architectural era came to a halt, and a sweet dream was turned into a frightening nightmare. The Israeli occupation institutions took control of the Palestinian space and the Palestine’s dreams of autonomy and modernity.

The adopted Palestinian Heritage Law of 2018, issued by the Palestinian president, protects buildings that were constructed prior to 1917. However, listing, classification, policies, and by-laws are required to protect later constructions, which is not foreseen in the near future. This makes modern architecture in Palestine vulnerable and prey to destruction and replacement with newer and larger buildings. This practically turned our villages and towns, especially after the Oslo agreement (1993) and the huge urbanization accompanied it, into jungles of reinforced concrete structures with imported curtain glass facades.


  • Dr. Khaldun Bshara is an architect, restorer, and anthropologist. He is currently an advisor at Riwaq where he has worked since 1994. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Engineering from Birzeit University (1996), his MA in the conservation of historic towns and buildings from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium (2000). Bshara joined the University of California, Irvine where he obtained his MA in Anthropology in 2009 and his Ph.D. in Socio-Cultural Anthropology in 2012.


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