A Museum as a Catalyst for Urbanisation According to Senan Abdelqader
by PHILIPP MISSELWITZ
Umm Al Fahem’s present condition is characterized by a paradox: its congested urban fabric, density and size is that of a city. Its social constitution and cultural mentality is that of a village: A condition that could be described as urbanization without urbanity. This situation is exemplary for most Palestinian villages and cities within Israel. It is indicative of lack of resources, of the ambiguous identity and the marginalization of Palestinian minority within Israeli society: living withdrawn, torn between rural traditions and the aspirations towards a modern life-style. In short: Palestinian culture within Israeli suffers from the traumatic loss of the city as a cultural sphere.
The plan to develop Umm Al Fahem’s towards the main regional thoroughfares of Wadi Ara Road is fuelled by the wish to end this condition of physical, social and cultural introversion. Within the next decade, the new urban neighborhood Qtan Eldabe will grow: a unique and unprecedented opportunity for Palestinians inside Israel to imagine and realize a vision of what a contemporary urban centre might be. Already, many public functions that found no place in the existing city centre are located within close proximity from each other: a stadium, a swimming pool, a local cultural centre for youth activities or independent schools, but a confident and profoundly new vision of how these functions could be connected into a spatial and programmatic ensemble of public institutions has been missing so far. They remain additive, disconnected, unrelated and suburban in character.
Senan Abdelqader’s vision for the new Umm Al Fahem Museum of Contemporary Art addresses this lack on a cultural, programmatic and spatial level. Emerging from the work of the widely acknowledged local Elsabar Gallery, a new public institution will be placed in the heart of this new city centre: a platform for inter-cultural dialogue, encounter and cultural enrichment of national importance. Abdelqader’s design seeks to enhance this spirit of regained self-confidence. As an urban intervention it not only provides a missing ling that transforms the fragments landscape of public functions into an ensemble, but it also re-orients this new centre towards one of the most striking assets of Umm Al Fahem: the breathtaking view across Wadi Ara and the landscape of the eastern Karmel. The structure is conceived not as a self-referential monument but as a memorable moment of passage across a dramatic valley that divides two neighborhoods. Abdelqader’s architecture combines the infrastructural ideas of street and bridge, the spatial concepts of public forum and landscape balcony with the program of a museum. It connects the every day experience of crossing to a different part of the city or meeting strangers with a celebration of the landscape and the experience of art. Light wells, ramps and staircases invite the passer-by to decent into the body of this bridge structure and reveal an interior of multiple function. Its flexible spaces can be programmed for exhibitions, workshops and educational functions, an auditorium, library and archive, a cafeteria, apartments for artists residencies and storage functions.
Programmatically and spatially the concept conceives the museum as a catalyst for a new urbanization process with urbanity.