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As a child in Jordan, RIWAQ co-founder Suad Amiry listened intently to her father’s stories about his own childhood house in Jaffa, before it became part of greater Tel Aviv and the 420 Palestinian villages that were destroyed by the Israelis. Even though she had yet to travel to Palestine, the idea of these places was indelible in her imagination and she became obsessed with the idea of restoring and protecting the remaining villages.

In 1991, Amiry and a group of fellow architects and intellectuals founded RIWAQ- Centre for Architectural Conservation. Recognizing the challenging complexities of preserving Palestinian collective memory, Riwaq’s team and volunteers compiled a detailed registry of historic sites across the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza. The registry is a three-volume collection of photos, maps, and architectural data that took 13 years to complete.

As a culmination of its long period of work and experimentation in rehabilitating and safeguarding heritage in Palestine as a tool for socio-economic and political development, Riwaq has been implementing “The 50-Village Rehabilitation Project.” The project, which was launched in 2007, focuses on restoring historic buildings in the 50 villages that contain almost 50% of the historic buildings in rural areas of the West Bank and Gaza. It has become Riwaq’s vision to focus on those 50 villages for the foreseeable future, working on rehabilitation projects that target improvement of services, infrastructure, and living conditions of the public and private surrounding spaces.

Another project that Riwaq has been implementing is the “Life Jacket Project,” which focuses on rehabilitating and developing the historic centres of villages in rural Jerusalem. Riwaq adopted an approach that looks at rural Jerusalem as one cluster, rather than a group of separate villages. Riwaq explored rehabilitation possibilities of the historic centres within their broader urban context and the historic relations between the different villages on the one hand and the connections with the city of Jerusalem on the other hand.

This cluster approach towards the preservation of cultural heritage acknowledges the significance of each village and recognizes the importance of possible collaborations between these places. This approach does not give in to the attempts to fragment Palestine into small and easily-controlled enclaves, but rather ensures that no individual or group is left alone, and that no space is considered insignificant.

Riwaq’s projects are not only about job creation, or about the restoration of stones and historic structure, they are also about raising awareness about the importance of cultural heritage as a pillar of Palestinian identity and collective memory. Moreover, the projects create spaces that are suitable and safe for life and work, and focus on the production and dissemination of knowledge.

Throughout its life span, Riwaq has turned the field of heritage, architecture, and urban design into a medium of thinking about urgent and emerging socio-economic, cultural, and political concerns. In this paradigm, heritage becomes the field for knowledge production and social change.