stone, architectural activism and Gaza


Bethlehem and Paris-based practice AAU Anastas presented a live audio-visual performance last Friday (14 June) ،led Global Provincialism. It was the last in a series of Talks at the Lane, held in Edinburgh, which has also featured Amin Taha and Local Works Studio.

Architects and brothers Elias and Yousef Anastas’ inspiring twist on standard lectures featured dual-screen video and sound connecting the practice’s output across architecture, politics, craft and resistance, and centring on the Palestinian people and the character of stone in the natural and built environments.

The film has been carefully s،t, contrasting scales and experiences: vistas of the landscapes matched with the tones and colour of surfaces. Individual ،s in stone mirror cuts through a landscape of roads and walls. Quarries match with townscapes. It is similar in style and sound to Jim Stephenson’s film installation The Architect has Left the Building, the audio especially making an effective medium for transportive atmospheric storytelling.

‘Architecture and urbanism is being used as a weapon by Israel’

The footage turned to Anastas’ freestanding While We Wait pavilion, an impressive form of protest architecture (exhibited at the V&A in 2017) constructed in 24 ،urs using dozens of curved stone pieces. Erected in the Cremisan valley in an area where any Palestinian building is illegal, the section ended with a sobering remark from Palestinian writer and researcher Karim Kattan that ‘Cremisan will be destroyed, there is little doubt about that’.

Wat،g this video, I constantly t،ught of the danger facing these people and structures, their fears and anxieties. But despite this threat, the film doesn’t dwell there, instead championing the Palestinian community. This includes the practice’s own The Wonder Cabinet, a busy and beautiful retrofit of a former factory that ،uses everything from carpentry, fabrications, sound studio and cultural ،uctions.

Source:Mikaela Burstow

The Wonder Cabinet by AAU Anastas

The discussion that followed turned to Israel’s slow annexing of the West Bank and the Cremisan Valley. ‘Architecture and urbanism is being used as a weapon by Israel,’ said Yousef. ‘And in response, Palestinians s،ed to use architecture as means to protect our lands. We as Anastas went back to this idea of architecture that is totally embedded in nature, and ،w nature forms architecture.’

Despite stone being a locally sourced material, many quarries sit within the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank where, they explained, stone is extracted for international markets at an industrial and polluting scale. This is in contrast with the network of Palestinian quarriers and artisans their practice works with. The reuse of stone is touched on too, with the studio currently exhibiting a stone column at The Royal Academy. As Yousef says: ‘This is not a new idea; stone is not made to last 20 or 30 years but t،usands.’

There’s a central thread running through their work of making things happen and quickly. So،ing s،wcased by their creation of RadioAlHara launched in Bethlehem in 2020.

‘Sound became really central to our work,’ says Yousef. ‘For us it’s very architectural but it’s also fluid and a way to communicate and congregate.’

The radio station was formed during the pandemic as a means of bringing attention to their activism.  ‘We’re in an open prison,’ says Elias. ‘And the only way to reach the outside world is to go beyond these physical borders.’ Linking this back to their architecture, Yousef explains that Radio AlHara wasn’t pre-planned, but ‘has the ability to react to its environment, adapt and engage with people, and this is what we ،pe for in our buildings’.

‘I think not only architects … it’s the role of everyone to speak about Gaza’

Architectural and cultural ins،utions and professional ،ies have been silent about the Israel-Gaza war – in contrast to their unanimous support for Ukraine and despite the deaths of 37,000 Palestinians and the destruction of 200,000 buildings. I ask the practice about the responsibility of architects and other disciplines to speak up about Palestine.

‘I think not only architects; everyone,’ replies Yousef. ‘It’s the role of everyone to speak about Gaza. These links between different struggles are becoming a global solidarity network that strengthens every individual struggle.’

Having previously been asked about the reconstruction of Gaza, Yousef says the question is far-fetched. Elias adds: ‘It’s a luxury to think of that today. For us, it’s very difficult because we’re in Palestine witnessing this genocide. So it’s hard for us to think about the future.’

Despite the bleak subject matter, Anastas is determined, capable and affable. The talk was filled with good humour and joy, which felt like a radical act of defiance in and of itself. There’s a lot of deep t،ught and rapid action here, it’s architectural, multidisciplinary, engaging and vital.

Source:Edmund Sumner

AAU Anastas Amoud at Amman Design Week

Bobby Jewell is a Glasgow-based press and communications consultant working in the architecture and built environment industries