East Wahdat Upgrade/ Creation of Homes and Un-slumming: Materials and Construction Technologies

In the Islamic World, the choice of materials and construction technologies of houses reflects greatly to their concept of homes as private, modest, and hospitable places. Before the implementation of the East Wahdat Upgrading Plan, the area was congested with substandard corrugated iron sheds, with poor living condition and no access to modern basic facilities, which could be considered slums. The reasons of using corrugated irons with simple construction methods were, apart from the significantly low construction time and cost, that the residents did not consider East Wahdat to be their homes. It was reported that some of the refugees in other informal settlement area, such as Jabal Ali, Northeast of Amman, refused the urban upgrading programme due to the fact that they were afraid the upgrade would convert them into the permanent residents of that place (Ababsa 2010). However, as times goes by, and with the introduction of full Jordanian citizenship among the Palestinian refugees, more and more residents in East Wahdat started to consider the place as their second homes (Pilder 2011).

In view of the gradual acceptance of the Jordanian-Palestinian citizenship, un-slumming of the East Wahdat area began during the implementation of the East Wahdat Upgrading Programme in terms of construction technologies and material choices that led to a feeling of home. Houses structured with reinforced concrete frame while partitioned by infill of concrete blocks were common in Amman around that time. However, the demonstration home built by the Urban Development Department (UDD) featured load-bearing block-works instead of concrete frame due to the considerably low construction cost. It was rejected by the residents promptly for two reasons: firstly, the load-bearing block-works reduced flexibility greatly, which was in contrast with their ideal of having a hospitable home; and secondly, the construction methods were not familiar to them. Since the project emphasized on local participation and self-construction, it would be very difficult to be implemented (Leslie 1992). One could easily note that the residents chose the reinforced concrete frames, though being more expensive, out of their customs and their familiarity of the construction technologies. The fact that the residents could participate in the upgrading process created a stronger sense of community to that place, which initiates the development of a feeling of homes.

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On the choice of materials, they were essentially local. Though the materials of the structural frames and the walls were chosen by the UDD, which were reinforced concrete and concrete blocks respectively, the external finishing was intended to be customizable by the users. As it came off from the upgrading programme, all the facades were rendered plain white, if not beige, with normal plasterwork (Leslie 1992). However, as a display of cultural identity and the expression of individuality, most of the projected elements from the façade were painted in blues, oranges or terra-cotta. Some of the façades were also stone cladded for the middle-income family. This resembled a piling of different individual cubes against the hillside, and created a spectacular view of Islamic World. It was interesting to note that the customizability of building materials would actually attract people to stay and generated a sense of home.

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According to Jane Jacobs, the key to un-slumming was to stop people from leaving the slum too fast, and that to create a strong sense of community would keep the people in place. In accordance with this statement, the creation of home feeling in East Wahdat, with the emphasis on building materials and construction technologies for the Palestinian refugees seemed to be successful in un-slumming the slums.

Reference:

Ababsa, Myriam. 2010. “The Evolution of Upgrading Policies in Amman Sustainable Architecture and Urban Development.” Amman Jordanie.

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

Leslie, Jolyon. 1992. 1992 Technical Review Summary: East Wahdat Upgrading Programme. Amman: Urban Development Department.

Pilder, Andrew David. 2011. Urbanization and Identity: The Building of Amman in the Twentieth Century. Oxford, Ohio: Department of History, Miami University.

2 Comments on “East Wahdat Upgrade/ Creation of Homes and Un-slumming: Materials and Construction Technologies

  1. It is really interesting to know how different places selected different methods to improve the housing issues within their country. For Amman, they intended, not only to advance their living quality, they tried their best to preserve their cultural identity by keeping the design concept of a hospitable, private and modest place. This is very different to that of Ulaanbaatar and many other places in the world. The project that Amman underwent was a modernization movement, in terms of housing and also her people. Ulaanbaatar also underwent modernization supported by the Soviet Union. Instead of transforming or to advance their nomadic ger living, they decided to build apartment blocks to replace ger living. This leads me to consider, in the name of modernization, does that mean abandonment of cultural heritage? Is there a way to fuse the old and the new?
    Although the ger district in Mongolia is different from slum living in Amman, they are similar in a way that they expand unplanned and that it is difficult for the government to control their growth. I think Amman took a courageous approach, not to reconstruct the whole place or to shoo residences away but to teach them a new and possible method to grow themselves, like a Chinese saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

  2. Thank you for your reply. It is an interesting topic to compare the uncontrolled urban expansion of Amman to that of Ulaanbaatar. In terms of cultural preservation, it is certainly worthwhile to keep the existing cultural identity during the upgrading/ transformation of the ‘slums’. However, I believe it is also worthwhile to consider the mode of living. In my understanding, in the case of Ulaanbaatar, the ger are meant for the normadic tribes, where they can pack easily and move from place to place. Therefore, the ger are not meant for permanent living, only until they moved to the city rim of Ulaanbaatar so as to seek jobs and settled down there. I do believe there are some similarities between the ger district and East Wahdat area where temporary iron shed once prevailed. However, as the architecture itself are not meant for permanent living in the ger situation, it would really be a challenge to preserve the cultural heritage of the Mongolians as compared the the Islamics when it comes to the context of a city. Would it be enough by just preserving the architectural form of the ger while the interior are being vigorously renewed?Could it be called cultural preservation if the construction materials of the Gers are changed into more permanent materials such as steel or concrete? Maybe the culture of the Mongolians exist in the form of continuous movement, which could be a challenge in the form of city.

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