Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation has spent more than two decades documenting Palestinian heritage and culture through restoration of the built environment. RIWAQ sees architectural restoration as a social and economic incubator; the projects it facilitates serve the public, create jobs, and strengthen community identity. Riwaq has done pioneering work in a region greatly affected and fragmented by conflict, completing complicated, multi-stakeholder projects on a large scale in the face of many logistical and sociopolitical challenges.
Suad Amiry and a group of fellow architects and artists founded Riwaq in 1991 because they were concerned about how quickly Palestinian historical sites were either being destroyed outright in the conflict or falling into neglect. Riwaq’s founding project was compiling a detailed registry of historic buildings in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a three-volume collection of photos, maps, and architectural data that took 13 years to complete.
Riwaq has used this resource to help identify buildings and sites for restoration projects. Riwaq has turned more than 100 decrepit sites into thriving public spaces, and its experience with single restoration projects led to a larger intervention: Riwaq is now focused on restoring and protecting entire historic centers—not just rebuilding individual structures, but also improving street infrastructure and green spaces. These restorations are completed by local citizens who are taught new professional skills through educational programs and workshops. This “50 Villages Project” is ongoing and will continue for at least a decade under the organization’s current directors, Fida Touma and Khaldun Bshara.
Riwaq’s holistic approach is exemplified in the restoration of the village of Hajjah, where they worked from 2010 to mid-2012. The town, dependent on the local production of okra, has a flagging economy and a housing shortage. Plans included creating public spaces, refurbishing homes and gardens, and starting school and community programs to help better promote the town’s agricultural heritage. Specifically, one central building was rehabbed to be a Red Crescent Center, providing healthcare services, a fitness center for women, and a daycare facility. Riwaq also refurbished the Madafah plaza and implemented preventive conservation projects that improved alleys, facades, small gardens, and interiors of houses. In addition to restoration works, RIWAQ organized an oral history recording day, a volunteer cleanup and planting day, and a stone carving and cutting workshop. Riwaq worked with the local farmers to organize the Okra Festival—the first festival of its kind in the town.
In all of its projects, Riwaq emphasizes local materials and trains workers in both restoration and new building; each project creates immediate job opportunities as well as the possibility of long-term employment.
For Riwaq, conservation and historic restoration are not about creating museum pieces—they are tools for social and economic advancement, creating spaces where contemporary communities can thrive.
A building alone does not tell the story. You need to save the context around it.
— Fida Touma and Khaldun Bshara