It will be a landmark site, a building that represents Palestinian culture. This, at least, is the aim of Donaire Arquitectos, a Seville-based studio that won an international architecture competition for the project last month.
The A. M. Qattan Foundation's Cultural Center - named after its sponsor, a charity founded by a business tycoon and philanthropist - will start going up "like a lighthouse" on a pristine hill of the city that serves as the headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority. It will be made up of two parts: a main body built like a giant "stone plinth" carved in terraces out of the ground, with galleries housing the foundation's art collection, a library and a multipurpose room; on top of that, a "semi-transparent prism" will go up for the offices, explained the studio owner, Juan Pedro Donaire, via a telephone interview. There will also be a large square in front of the building for open-air concerts.
The architect said he hopes that his nearly four-million-euro project, which will be a year-and-a-half in the making, will help change the association people make between Ramallah and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
"We visited Ramallah because it was one of the conditions, and what we found there was a very dynamic economy, lots of cranes..." says Donaire. The sponsoring foundation is itself part of that construction boom, and does business in the Persian Gulf besides encouraging Arab art and supporting children's education in Palestine.
We visited Ramallah because it was one of the conditions, and what we found there was a very dynamic economy"
An international jury panel made up of experts from Jerusalem, Cairo, Beirut and London "unanimously" selected the Seville project, Donaire said.
"They really liked the fact that we clearly separated the public area of the building from the private one. Now we hope that it will become an icon, a recognizable image from all parts of the city, a flagship of Palestinian culture."
The center will be "clad in a skin of sandstone slats obtained from local quarries." The foundation also insisted on the environmental aspects of the project, Donaire recalls. "They are very environmentally aware, which is why we will install photovoltaic panels and there will be a rational use of water due to its scarcity in the region."
The Seville architects dream that their building will become "a light atop the mountain" and "a social reference point for Palestinians," a small-scale Guggenheim that will attract visitors from other countries.
Studios like this one, which opened in 2000 and employs nine young architects, have been forced by the crisis to present their ideas outside Spain. "Spanish architects are highly appreciated abroad because of their technique and training. It's a pity that we cannot work here, " Donaire said. "Now we want to focus on projects in the Middle East. It is a land that is starting to offer many opportunities."