Can architecture embody a controversy? This question introduces the theory that a structure can claim ownership of divergence, war and antagonism. Unyielding Perspectives: A Museum Between Controversies investigates the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through history, landscape, and culture.
Architecture that remains neutral yet embodies the history of two nations must represent both timelines simultaneously and without bias. Israel and Palestine’s narratives have become entangled by the conflict that divides them. The final design of the museum abstracts the natural and cultural landscape, guiding the occupant through Israel and Palestine’s turbulent past. The objective of this thesis is to represent both cultures equally and without bias, establishing a space where both are to be protected.
Locating the Site
Israel’s Security Fence was erected after a plethora of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings plagued the country, which have resulted in over 850 deaths and thousands of injuries since September 2000. The goal of Israel’s Security Fence is to prevent Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating their borders and attacking innocent Israeli citizens. Construction of the Security Fence has been besieged with controversy, despite similar solutions being used around the world to protect their borders.
The last of the land to be dissolved into Israel during 1967’s Six Day War was Jerusalem, a region culturally significant to both nations. Situated on the highest peak of the Jerusalem Mountains, the chosen site provides a clear view of Israel’s Security Fence. This location is in direct alignment with three of Jerusalem’s historically significant structures: The Old City, The Knesset, and Yad Vashem. These three monuments are a testament to Israel and Palestine’s narrative over the last 2,000 years.
As mentioned earlier, Israel’s reasonably small territory features extremely diverse geography: including oceans, mountains, and even rift valleys. The “Mountain Region” stretches from Lebanon in the north to Eilat Bay in the south, providing shelter to indigenous plants and animals. The continuous mass of the region is interrupted by two major valleys: (1) the Yizre’el Valley separating the Galilee Mountains from the Hills of Samaria, and (2) the Be’er Sheva-Arad Rift separating the Judean Hills from the Negev Highlands.55 At roughly 3,200 feet, the Judaean Mountains is one of the few mountain ranges that span across Israel and the West Bank.
“Subjective Reverence” refers to an individual’s admiration and respect towards historical events, people, and locations. The visual timeline depicted above portrays Israel’s (top) and Palestine’s (bottom) subjective reverence towards their unique historic timelines. Viewing the disparate narratives side-by-side engenders appreciation and understanding towards their intertwined history.
The requisite lesson provoked by Israel and Palestine’s adjacent timelines is remembrance. Israel’s contemporary history permeates positivity, optimism, and confidence. Conversely, Palestine’s present-day chronicle is fragmented by external pressure from world leaders, discrimination, and unbridled terrorism. The two nations may share the middle eastern landscape, but their current circumstances could not be more divergent and dissimilar.
This project is meant to present the viewer with an abstract awareness of the conflict through the built form. As humans, our knowledge is largely based on what we see with our own eyes. This design challenges that perception. As one peak is lower than the other, the structure begins above land, representing the easily seen: the familiar. However, as viewers move through the space, they confront uncertainty, the section of the building that descends into the mountain.
Developing the Parti
The landscape’s natural urban separation distinguishes one peak from the other. By using a series of thresholds, the design can be divided physically and symbolically – establishing one peak as secular and the other sacred.
The Meaning Behind the Circle
Many conclusions can be drawn from the circle’s history and symbolic meaning. Universally however, the circle is recognized by the absence of direction; with no beginning or end, the circle becomes a direct symbol for neutrality. Given the choices for establishing the foundation of the design, the circle provides the most appropriate structural implications for spaces pertaining to both Israel and Palestine.
The Finished Design
The project materializes itself as a museum, consisting of three programmatic sections; the administrative, the museum, and the memorial. To traverse these spaces, the viewer moves through four main thresholds. The administrative section is the first the viewer confronts, as they ascend a staircase after entering the structure. Here is the administrative division, where viewers glimpse the tower for the first time. Immediately below are employee offices and museum storage space.
From this section, the viewer approaches the first threshold, ‘The Unknown’, which is a tower symbolically made from the same material as Israel’s Security Fence. The second threshold, ‘The Separation’, acts as a partition between the administrative and the museum and is depicted as an expansive bridge that joins the two peaks. The bridge transitions into ‘The Solution’, the third threshold that cuts into the peak and acts as the museum’s lobby area.
The museum consists of an auditorium space, a library housing all relevant literature, and five galleries representing the key events in Israel and Palestine’s history. From the museum lobby the viewer ascends a circular path into the memorial space. This area is known as ‘In Memoriam’ and acts as the final threshold.
Architecture of Neutrality
The goal of this thesis is to represent both cultures equally and without bias. Architecture that remains impartial, or unsupportive of either side, allows the content within to receive the attention and respect it deserves.
The design language could not be drawn from either Israeli or Palestinian influence. It was required that the built form remain neutral in both its outward appearance and symbolic meaning. Instead, the natural geography was used to inform the design. The building is split between tandem peaks, representing two disparate nations that share one landscape.
Architecture that remains neutral yet embodies the history of two nations must represent both timelines simultaneously and without bias. Israel and Palestine’s narratives have become entangled by the conflict that divides them. The design abstracts these events in order to create various thresholds that guide the viewer through Israel and Palestine’s turbulent past.
The first of the thresholds is a tower symbolic of the unknown future the Jewish and Palestinian people faced in 1917. As the UN began immigrating Jewish masses from Europe into Palestine, the relocated were forced into a land had never seen, while Palestinians were confronted with an unfamiliar culture injected into their land. The tower, inspired by Israel’s Security Fence, is reminiscent of a gateway that symbolizes the beginning of the journey between two nations.
In 1948, the UN split Palestine into two nations and the state of Israel was born. This key moment in history is represented by the second threshold, the ‘Separation’, appearing as a quarter-mile long bridge personifying how distant yet connected the two cultures are. The design of an arched bridge signifies the strong, unyielding bases of either nation, whose opposing pressures support a thin and fragile connection.
‘The Solution’ represents the point in time when Israel erected a twenty-five foot, concrete wall around the West Bank. This wall, known in Israel as the Security Fence, was devised as an unproven solution to the country’s struggle with terrorism. The threshold, materialized as a punched opening in the mountainside, represents the failure of the wall to end the conflict. The opening leads the viewer into the museum, where the occupant is introduced to a better understanding of this conflict.
The final threshold honors those that have lost their lives throughout the war between Israel and Palestine. “In Memoriam” is a memorial that represents today in the sense that as the future cannot be predicted, what remains is respect for the past. The timeline is the present and, in this manner, we gain an understanding that there will be more deaths to come, that the battle between nations is not over, and will not be for some time.
The Memorial Anatomized
Commemorating Loss. The pillars, reminiscent of tombstones, commemorate those who have died during the war between Israel and Palestine. The eternal flame, a symbol of chaotic and intimidating natural power, illuminates the tragic and momentous events shaped by the violence of war. Reflected in the turbulent waters, the multiplied flames serve as a reminder that while so much has been lost, more death is still to come.
Alleviating Antipathy. Culturally, Israel and Palestine share the notion that water is a purifying substance. It is revered as a source of life, but also regarded as a barrier that separates two realms, both in the physical sense of territorial boundaries, and in the spiritual differentiation of life and death. The memorial is immersed in water, purifying all that has been lost to violence and hatred, while remaining respectful of nations divided by space, culture, hostility, and loss.
Perpetuating Movement. Below the memorial rests a pool of calm, tranquil water that the viewer confronts prior to ascending into the final threshold. Here, the water represents a general lack of understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Directly above this pool stands the memorial, whose waters are rough and turbulent. As the water moves in a counterclockwise direction and collides with the pillar, what was once calm becomes disturbed. The movement of the water, distorting the reflection of the eternal flames, represents the truth of the conflict. As more pillars are added with every death, the water – the relationship between the two nations – becomes more agitated.