East Wahdat Upgrade: Cultural respect through doorsteps

East Wahdat Upgrade: Cultural Respect

If we have looked into the fight between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses in mid 20th century about the urban regeneration plan of Manhattan, we will understand that the American held different positions in terms of how their city should be further developed. In that case, both the designer and the end users are from the same background. The renewal scheme was still thrown up by the fight about ownership and collective memory. Very easy to imagine that what kind of difficulties the World Bank and the British firm were facing as a foreign power to propose a regeneration plan for an Arabic community with very sensitive geopolitical prepositions. It was not something unprecedented for foreign designer design for Amman. Dating back to the early 20th century, right before the war, the British government was actively introducing the grid road system to the very hilly Amman (Rawashdeh&Saleh, 2006). The colonial administrative mindset was placed at a much higher agenda than the respect for the natural typography. However, this was not the case when the World Bank (which can be counted as an institute from Western background, definitely not Arabic) designed for Jordan in 1980s.

The East Wahdat Upgrade plan was awarded the Aga Khan Architecture Prize in the 1992 not purely for its sustainable economic model but also for its very specific cultural awareness in the design. The design process has gone through a series of studies about the climate and cultural uniqueness of Arabic style of living. Even though, the design of urban regeneration plan doomed to be very replicable and generic, there are still very strong presence of individuality and cultural specificity in the design of housing. (Hasan, 1992)

p.49 Aga Khan Architetcure Award 1992, East Whadat Upgrade Program Report
p.49 Aga Khan Architetcure Award 1992, East Whadat Upgrade Program Report
p.51 Aga Khan Architetcure Award 1992, East Whadat Upgrade Program Report
p.51 Aga Khan Architetcure Award 1992, East Whadat Upgrade Program Report

The way of Arabic living is greatly influenced by the religion and climate. We can see patterns and phrases of Islamic religion on the walls and fences of those upgraded houses. The module system allowed the tenants to create and design their own doorway.  Some of the door were articulated  with details or inscription that are usually found in mosque.  Almost all the details could be adapted to quick personalization which helps those refugee to establish the sense of belonging as well as the feeling that they are home to this community. (Aga Khan Award,1992)

Before and After the regeneration p.38 Aga Khan Architetcure Award 1992, East Whadat Upgrade Program Report
Before and After the regeneration
p.38 Aga Khan Architetcure Award 1992, East Whadat Upgrade Program Report

After the upgrade, you can see the housing plot was equipped with higher fences. The reason for these was not blocking off the connections to the community but as a protective measure against extreme weather. East Wahdat was located at the southernmost part of Amman adjacent to the dessert in which windy or sand-storm weather would jeopardize the household. The higher fence and the material used to rebuild the houses were actually ways to respect the climate of the context.

 

 

Rawashdeh&Saleh, 2006, Satellite Monitoring of Urban Spatial Growth in the Amman Area, Jordan, ASCE Decmeber 2006, p.211-216

Habitat, 1999, Informal Settlement Upgrading: The Demand for Capacity Building in Six Pilot Cities – Amman, Ankara, Caracas, Concepción, Ibadan and Nkayi, 334 p.

World Bank, 1980, Jordan Urban Renewal Project Report

Lesile, Joylon , 1992, Technical Review Summary 1989: East Wahdat Upgrading Program, Aga Khan Architecture Award. The Aga Khan Award for Archtitecture.

Hasan, Arif. 1989. Technical Review Summary 1989: East Wahdat Upgrading Program, Aga Khan Architecture Award. The Aga Khan Award for Archtitecture.

Jacobs, Jane, 1961,  The Death and Life of Great American Cities

 

Architecture

2 Comments on “East Wahdat Upgrade: Cultural respect through doorsteps

  1. It is impressive to see the sensitivity to the local culture in this redevelopment plan by the World Bank and British planners. A common flaw of top-down masterplans is the lack of attention to the end users’ needs. Although the doorsteps seem to be a tiny part of the city, the freedom granted to residents to design their own doorstep demonstrates respect and care to the locals in the redevelopment plan. Even in Hong Kong, we rarely get the chance to design the door front of our own apartments due to property rights. This subtle move is a strong reminder to planners and architects on the importance to leave room for inhabitants to control their living environment.

  2. The right of residents to design their own doorsteps belongs to the scope of individual households. Are there other moves made in the street scale to let the larger community take part in the design of the city?

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