Jordanian architects win int’l recognition for sustainable designs

A shot from Tala Shelbayh’s 2nd prize-winning project “Living Memorial” (Photo: Tala Shelbayh)
A shot from Tala Shelbayh’s 2nd prize-winning project “Living Memorial” (Photo: Tala Shelbayh)
AMMAN — Two young Jordanian architects have won prizes from the Lafarge-Holcim Foundation, in a competition that seeks to recognize emerging architects making strides in sustainable construction.اضافة اعلان

Graduates of the School of Architecture and Built Environment (SABE) at the German Jordanian University (GJU), Tala Shelbayh and Nour Marji, won second and fourth places in Lafarge-Holcim’s 2020 competition, “The Next Generation,” in the Middle East-Africa category.

‘Living Memorial’: Creating a cemetery for the neighborhood
The concept behind “Living Memorial,” for which Shelbayh won the second place prize, came from “the need to find a solution for neglected cemeteries in the suburbs of the city and integrate them within the urban fabric to become an asset, instead of a burden,” Shelbayh said in an interview with Jordan News.

“The project offers a revolutionary change in the perception of cemeteries in Jordan by creating a new cemetery typology that serves as a public space for the community and can be present in each neighborhood,” the young architect explained. “Therefore, it was called ‘The cemetery of the neighborhood.’”

In this new design, the “neighborhood park” is on street level, while the burial units and funeral houses are placed underground, enabling more spaces to be accommodated. Sunlight reaches the underground level through open-air courtyards that serve as a meeting point for funerals.

(Photo: Tala Shelbayh)

(Photo: Tala Shelbayh)

The program of the project includes a Tikyeh, a traditional communal building that dates back to the Ottoman era, to help the poor and to collect donations to support the community and promote a sense of solidarity which gives it a social sustainability dimension. It also incorporates a worship space, a library, a community kitchen and other public communal facilities.

The modules will help in decreasing the footprint of the graveyards. Each unit contains 32 graves. In her specific design, there are 544 graves (in 12,000sqm), which is five times as dense as current cemeteries. This approach conserves space and is environmentally sustainable, she said.

“I know that the idea is bold, but I think that people might be ready for such a step,” said Shelbayh.

“The ideas in the project came from the people themselves and their needs,” she added. “By spreading awareness of its environmental, ecological, and social sustainability impacts, it can reach cultural acceptance.”

Architect Tha’er Qub’a, the supervisor of Shelbayh’s project, believes that what makes her project special is her “radical approach to creating a dialogue between the dead and living and providing solutions not only in an architectural approach, but urban and human as well.”

Shelbayh quoted her supervisor, saying that “an architect is a problem solver.”

She added that “architecture in Jordan is very sensitive and requires a deep understanding of the context in order to create healthy spaces for people to live in.”

“Living Memorial” has won local, regional, and international prizes such as the ISustain award 2018 and IASA landscape planning cemetery 2018 award.

‘Earthen Education’: Engaging with local communities
In addition to Shelbayh, Nour Marji took home the fourth place prize for her winning project “Earthen Education” in the Mesopotamian Marshes in Iraq. The marshes are a UNESCO world heritage site that requires deep contextual understanding.
Earthen Education proposes a school in Basra that offers sustainable solutions for the lack of educational facilities in order to preserve the natural and cultural heritage.

“The specialty of the project is the context-sensitivity,” explained Marji in an interview with Jordan News. This is “achieved by studying (the marshes’) surroundings and using them as resources, using local materials, celebrating the vernacular architecture, and most importantly, using people as a resource.”

The simple but highly functional school design includes classrooms, a library, a music room, in addition to multipurpose halls and activity rooms.

Rather than just being a school, Marji’s design constitutes a complex meeting point for the whole community, where the locals play the guiding role. By inviting local residents to participate in the building process, the project offers them a sense of belonging in the space and fosters attachment which will guarantee sustainability in the long run.  

(Photo: Nour Marji)

(Photo: Nour Marji)

“The approach towards architecture is becoming more human-centered,” said Marji. “Not only does this allow us to offer a better quality of architecture and to improve the contribution it offers to society, but it also triggers positive social change,” she added.

The architectural language of the space is inspired by the traditional geometry and construction method in Iraqi marshes, through repeating vaulted roof units that hold a great significance in vernacular architecture, creating the outlines of a public square.

The tailored selection of building materials plays a significant role in the sustainability and sensitivity of the project; the main building material is rammed earth walls, which are cast on-site using local soil, while a precise, small amount of cement is added as a stabilizer, creating a new hybrid, durable, and environmentally sustainable material. The walls are covered with reed roofs and made of reed columns and woven reed screens that allow air and light to enter the buildings.

This is Marji’s second time winning in the Lafarge-Holcim competition. Her graduation project in 2016, entitled “Square one,” won the fourth prize, as well as various competitions such as the Omrania Award, the ISustain Award, and the Tamayyouz international award.

Qub’a, Marji’s graduation project supervisor as well, explained that “the significance of her project, Square One, lies in her humble architectural language, which blended in the urban fabric perfectly and was harmonious with its context.”

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