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Open Gaza: Envisioning a Hopeful Alternative for the Enclosed City

What if we tore down the walls?

Karim Abdullatif

Open Gaza: Envisioning a Hopeful Alternative for the Enclosed City

Enclosed on a 365-square metre plot of land, over two million Palestinians live under siege within the walls of Gaza. But imagine if it was free from the borders, bombings and blockades of Israeli occupation?

In response to the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014, late American architect Michael Sorken - who was known as an advocate for social justice and Palestine - worked with environmentalists, designers and scholars at New York-based NGO Terreform to think through productive interventions for Gaza.

The outcome was ‘Open Gaza: Architectures of Hope’, published by AUC Press, which considers how life in Gaza could be improved if it were ever to be free of Israeli intervention, and was allowed to become a completely autonomous environment.

“We know from the outset that the footprint of Gaza must extend far beyond its present borders,” Terreform wrote when they outlined their approach. “Our objective isn’t to elaborate a model that obliges Gaza to ‘live within its means’ but to unpack ideas about both limits and possibilities.”

Through a series of essays, colloquies and designs, Terreform investigated the nature of both the physical and conceptual space of Gaza. “Architecture is never non-political, it always reinforces a set of social relations, whether within the family or between the ruler and the ruled,” Serkin, co-editor of Open Gaza, wrote.

Instead of looking towards the Mediterranean, as is the case with Palestine as a whole being a maritime country, Terreform imagines Gaza as a ring city organised around a green agricultural core. Through ‘Open Gaza’, the hinterlands are conceputalised as an opportunity to ease off the population density and disperse growth.

Urbanist solutions, like services and infrastructure, transportation and agriculture are of paramount importance in Gaza. With its borders removed, Terreform imagines a Gaza filled with football pitches, urban farms and public transport. This vision would allow Palestinians to enjoy an increased access to nature and a wider range of living environments.

Revisiting ‘Open Gaza’ today, as Israeli air strikes and blockades bring the death toll in Gaza up to the thousands, the incentive to entertain these propositions, visions and plans becomes even stronger as it offers a polar opposite to the reality in Palestine.


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