Building peace and green architects

Despite recent troubles, an Israeli-Greek architect is organizing an important new sustainable building workshop for Palestinian and Israeli architecture students. Architect Elias Messinas. His goal is to create a new reality for Palestinian and Israeli architecture students in the Middle …

Despite recent troubles, an Israeli-Greek architect is organizing an important new sustainable building workshop for Palestinian and Israeli architecture students.

Elias-Messinas
Architect Elias Messinas. His goal is to create a new reality for Palestinian and Israeli architecture students in the Middle East.

Despite recent troubles over the Gaza flotilla raid, Palestinian architecture students will be joining their counterparts in Israel for a one-week workshop this summer designed to introduce them to green building practices.

The six-day workshop, from July 25 until August 1, is being organized by the Greek-founded NGO Ecoweek, and run by Israeli-Greek green architect, Elias Messinas. It includes seminars and practice sessions with some of the world’s hottest green architecture experts, and promises to put the Levant region – of Israel and the Palestinian Authority – on the green building map.

Green architecture is playing an increasingly significant role in the Middle East. In Israel a handful of architects already work solely as green architects, including Geotectura. In the Palestinian-Authority run West Bank, green training for the new generation is still very limited.

Over the last year, however, as the economic and social reality for Palestinians in the West Bank has improved, its youth now have the resources and ability to advance sustainable practices in building and design, and they are eager to catch up with the rest of the world. Some 15to 20 students from the West Bank are expected to take part in the 120-person seminar.

Architecture in synch with its surroundings

Not wanting them to be inspired by out-of-touch architecture incongruous to the land, people, culture and local economy, Messinas wants to help create a new reality for Palestinian and Israeli architecture students in the Middle East. “Young architects need to look at their community instead of looking at magazines,” says Messinas. “We are working to bring back the sense of responsibility to architects [to their communities], especially the young ones who are often isolated from the reality of their own communities.”

As part of the workshop, the students will be assigned to play a role in creating real community projects. Messinas has planned that they will help develop a women’s empowerment center in the East Jerusalem community of Azaria. And the finished product, whether it’s built from Adobe brick or another natural material will be in the hands of the students, he says. The same is true for the Israeli students who will also be challenged to create several green building projects in their communities.

Messinas is inspired by Hassan Fathy, the late Egyptian natural building architect that Messinas was fortunate to meet in 1989 in Cairo. “He’s guiding the whole thing from the grave,” Messinas tells ISRAEL21c. “I would definitely invite him if he could make it. One of the things he said is that young architects need to look at their communities, not in magazines.”

And while a number of green building superstars will attend the event in person or remotely beamed in through digital technology, Messinas plans on inviting Palestinian architects to help guide the students on the path to finding their own roots. One is an expert who will be talking about a project he’s working on in Gaza to collect water and how to create gardens with minimal water use.

Green-Architecture
Green architecture is playing an increasingly significant role in the Middle East.

Architecture in action

The Middle East has a few of its own architects that inspire others to build according to the land and the culture. Beyond Fathy, another great was the late American-Iranian architect Nadar Khalili who led green building practices in California up unto his death in 2008.

The international experts expected to attend the event sponsored by the US Cultural Center in Jerusalem will include Michael Sorkin, a green urban planner from New York; Bjarke Ingels from BIG, an architect firm in Denmark; Nataly Gattegno and Jason Johnson, and the super star Robert Axelrod from the University of Michigan who wrote the book the Evolution of Cooperation. He is consulting the World Bank, among others.

The pattern for the upcoming green workshop comes from Messinas’ work in Greece, where he organizes similar regular events to students from Greece and the EU, since 2008. “We give them lectures and instead of sitting back and being passive they have to use their skills right away,” says Messinas.

For example, working with other architects, last year the EU students took the site of the old airport in Athens and proposed green solutions.

Introducing students to cutting-edge technologies which integrate with renewable energy, Messinas wants students not only to learn how to build green, but to create buildings that are sustainable in the long run through passive heating and cooling systems. His last event in March this year in Athens brought out about 2,000 people. Previous Ecoweek seminars in Greece included guests such as Al Gore.

In the Ecoweek Israel-PA version, the students will be invited to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheva, with architects leading each workshop. As part of the experience, the young students will study and spend time at their assigned sites. The expectation is that they will learn to introduce green building practices into their future careers as architects, and that they will forge friendships that will last a lifetime.

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About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.