Dr Yara Sharif, from the School of Architecture and Cities, recently delivered a lecture on the potential of architecture in Palestine at Harvard University, entitled ‘The Not So Ordinary: Capturing Possibilities through the Gaps’.

The lecture took place on 19 November at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, as part of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. The program is specifically dedicated to the study of Islamic art, architecture, urbanism, landscape design and conservation at Harvard and MIT.

Dr Sharif shared a collection of thoughts and ideas that led to her projects, each provoked by her own journeys and narratives while she lived and worked in Palestine. Her work has won numerous awards including the 2014 Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction for the Middle East Region, and RIBA President’s Award for Research in 2013 and 2016.

In her talk, she used speculation and irony as a way to stretch out the mental space beyond the restrictions of working under occupation. Her work uses the sense of subversion, absurdity, invisibility and chaos of living in Palestine to find spatial possibilities that lie in everyday survival and resistance.

Drawing on her personal experiences, she explained: “I became no longer able to live with the subtle acceptance of the ‘norm’ that existed in Palestine. I needed to zoom out in search of a breathing space beyond the constraints of the Israeli occupation. I needed to search for a broader narrative where everyday life is bigger than my city of Ramallah, where adventures might involve more than sneaking into Jerusalem through a sewage pipe, which, after all, is only 15 minutes away from my family home. I eventually made it. I could not reach Jerusalem yet, somehow I made it to London.

“Between zooming in and out, I was struck to realise that Palestine seen from an inside lens is very different to that from the outside. From an outsider’s perspective the signs all seem to be there; the separation wall, the contested map, the confusing landscape, the uncertainty of where a Palestinian space starts or ends. When viewed from the inside however, we Palestinians have to live with every single detail in our everyday life.”

Dr Sharif also explained the need to explore alternative ways of reading and redrawing the Palestinian map by bringing in the dynamics of everyday life and spatial resistance. She further talked how the impact of Israeli policies on hardening the border zone and being confined in physical boundaries can limit the space for mental imagination. She therefore sees it crucial to find new avenues of what architecture could offer, by looking at air and underground spaces as well as the bordered surface to discover the possibilities for architecture and design. 

Dr Sharif will also be part of a panel discussion on the impact of colonialism on contemporary urban landscapes at the Royal Academy of Arts London on Monday 3 December.

Watch Dr Sharif’s full lecture here.

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