At a hilltop site facing the Mediterranean sea to the west in the city of Birzeit, Heneghan Peng architects have designed and built a museum dedicated to the Palestine culture. In a design competition that took place in 2011, the studio was awarded this project that would be put up in a site donated to the museum by Birzeit University on a long-term lease. In return, the architects rewarded the city with a marvel that sits majestically at the hilltop, creating breath-taking views for the museum’s visitors.
Clad in limestone slabs that extend through the building’s facades and the roofs, the building falls into place as a gigantic and consistent structure. The faceted stone exterior and terraced landscaping plays into the general landscape, shaping how everything comes together in conjunction to nature.
The architect’s goal was to build a museum that would integrate into its context and create a traditional terraced landscape to mimic Palestine’s rural areas. Landscaping was huge part of the process and despite the current young state of the plants, you cannot help but wonder how it will look once the plants and trees mature. Imaginatively, it would turn out to be a holistic museum tucked away in a well-endowed vegetative environment on a very significant part of the city.
The terraced landscaping slowly grows into the whole site. It is less prominent near the building. As you get away from the building, you begin to see more vegetation. Closer to the building you see more hard space featuring the limestone slabs and walkways for access with little bits of vegetation. The site is a mix of a 3,500 square meters flagship museum and over 40,000 square meters of a cascading landscape.
“The landscape of the Palestine has the ‘worked’ quality of a city; every element of it has been touched and tells a story of intervention, production, culture, environment and commerce. Like a city, the terraced landscape has embedded within it its history. The approach to the Palestinian Museum is to draw on this history of the terraced landscape, embedding the museum into its immediate site and drawing from this site to tell a larger story of a diverse culture,” said the architects.
Along the ancient trading routes of Western Asia stands Palestine as one of the most significant shapers of trade and economic aspects of the region. To showcase this diversity in economic blend, the architects chose to have both indigenous and imported species of flowers and trees planted on the site.
The museum’s brief accommodates several exhibition spaces, an open-air amphitheatre, indoor and outdoor cafes, classrooms, offices and storage areas. Since the museum does not have its own collection of art yet, they organise exhibitions to take place there as the museum continues to curate and collect its art pieces and gallery pieces. The rooms inside are lit during the day with daylight entering the spaces through the slanted openings that contain windows set behind rows of black fins.
In representation of a country’s culture, often architects go for inspiration picked from various tangible items endeared to the nations or people being represented. In the Palestine museum, the architects are inspired by the location and shape of the site, the materials used are a stack uniform to general materials in the area, and the landscaping is cascaded, unique and elegant. It is a feat to fit a building into its context, something well achieved by Heneghan Peng.
Architects: Heneghan Peng
Landscape Architect: Lara Zureikat
Client: Taawon-Welfare Association
Project Managers: Projacs International
Location: Birzeit, West Bank, Palestine
Size: 3,500 Sqm
Photography: Iwan Baan