Palestinian designers and architects Elias and Yousef Anastas have delved deep into the matter of stone with a research project and experimentation around the use, and misuse of stone in Palestine and the progressive disappearance of stonemasonry know-how.
In the heart of the Cremisan Valley, one of the last green spaces around Bethlehem, a large lattice-like structure comprising pieces of stone quarried in various regions of Palestine, stands. The project titled ‘While We Wait’ and designed by Palestinian architects Elias and Yousef Anastas is five metres tall. When standing inside the self-supporting inverted Y-shaped structure, viewers are able to see through to the outside surroundings whilst simultaneously listening to the evocative sound.
The structure designed digitally, cut by robots, and hand-finished, is a stunning structure visually, but it is also a conceptual masterpiece. Commissioned by London’s V&A in 2017 and exhibited as part of Dubai Design Week later that year in the OMA-designed Concrete building, it was then moved on to its final destination in the Cremisan Valley. Its dynamic story is also part of the concept. “Beyond its innovative design, While We Wait is a commentary on the cultural claim over nature in Palestine,” explain the architectural duo. “Palestinian cities have historically entertained a very close relation to nature: cities were very dense and were built following self-managed urbanism. They were also surrounded by vast natural landscapes that were kept free as a way of preserving them. This artwork captures the duality between architecture and nature, which reaches a sort of a climax in the present times of Israeli occupation.”
The Anastas brothers, the founders of the Bethlehem and Paris-based architectural practice AAU Anastas, have developed their practice around dualities, producing buildings and designs that are both modern and local at the same time. The ‘While We Wait’ project is part of a wider research project titled ‘Stone Matters’ that investigates the potentials for including structural stone in the language of contemporary architecture and for combining traditional craftsmanship and materials with innovative construction techniques.
As well as the structure in Bethlehem, the pair have worked on several other site-specific real-scale experimentations such as ‘The Flat Vault’, a ceiling vault with a depth of just eight centimetres in a Christian monastery in Jerusalem and a stone vault, Analogy.
The project started as a reaction to the misuse of stone in Palestine and the progressive disappearance of stonemasonry know-how but has turned into a passionate project with historical, political, urban and cultural context. “The intersection of global and local events is at the basis of our research to better understand the present state of stone in Palestine as well as place its future in a global discourse on the use of the material in contemporary architecture,” the brothers conclude.
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