Student Works: An Infrastructural Lifeline for Palestine and Israel

[Torn Country, Thesis Cover Page, Christoph Hesse]

For Palestine and Israel, and undoubtedly for the rest of the world, the year 1999 was one of hope. A huge step towards a peaceful future in the Middle East was made in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, when the Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the so-called “The Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum”. It was overseen by the United States (represented by the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright) and co-signed by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan. Beyond political issues it contained the following physical (and potentially architectural) implications:

1) A stable and safe Gaza - West Bank Passage
2) The construction of a Seaport in Gaza to connect Palestine to the global economy
3) A Free Trade Zone shared by Israel and Palestine to foster stability
4) Solutions for the pressing water problems and the damaged Dead Sea area

This was all in 1999, ten years ago. Just one year later, in 2000, the promising situation was overshadowed by the start of the Second Intifada, halting the progress to the goals presented in “The Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum”. It seems that the window of opportunity is almost now closed.

The following 'student works' critically re-examines the memorandum while addressing the current political situation and necessities.  Designed by Christoph Hesse for his Masters of Architecture and Urban Design Thesis (2007) at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design,  the project highlights the potential of architecture, urban, and infrastructural design to go beyond political strategies (that often lack the strength to alter a given situation), to create a new reality, formulate new ecologies, and produce new economies.

Hesse states:

Especially in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, we have to overcome the domination of political approaches which usually end in military actions that capture a whole region under a ‘permanent temporarily’ of physical underdevelopment, fear and desperation. Maybe the project started as a dream, but so did peace in the Middle East.

[A stable and safe Gaza - West Bank Infrastructural Link]

[Water connection and elevation difference between the Mediterranean Sea and shrinking Dead Sea]

[Port Connection: A New civic center for Gaza, Image: C.Hesse]

The project proposes an inner harbor as a new seaport for Gaza - benefiting trade on the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Israel.  The origin of the water connection between the Mediterranean and Dead Sea would remain open as a canal to allow containerships to reach a distribution center in the hinterland of Gaza. Along the canal urban programs such as a linear park, housing and commercial areas would couple the infrastructure with other functions that are linked in a symbiotic relationship.

[Sectional Perspective.  Urbanization of the new canal and the inner harbor of Gaza.  Image: C.Hesse]

[Free trade zone shared by Israel and Palestine.  Image: C.Hesse]

The infrastructural form of the Gaza - West Bank connection is comparable to the shape of a boa. At two distinct points, the passage, which contains a four-lane road and railway connection, widens into a space for potential exchange between Israel and Palestine. The program of these critical sites are embedded into a free trade agreement to ease cooperation. Similar free trade zones exist between Israel and Jordan.

[Water storage reservoir with hotel and public functions.  Image: C.Hesse]

The end of the infrastructural connection occurs where the water tunnel reaches the Dead Sea.  Here, the water is held in an upper storage reservoir. Similar to the so-called urban attachments along the open canal in Gaza, a hotel is embedded in and around the dam that underlines the symbolic value of this place. Since the Dead Sea is located 418 meters below sea level, the drop between the upper reservoir and the Sea is ideal to produce fresh water and energy for the tourist industry and 250,000 households in Israel, Jordan and Palestine.  While doing so, the water replenishes and gives new life the shrinking dead sea.

[Fresh water for the shrinking Dead Sea and electric energy for the whole region]

Currently based out of Germany and Switzerland, You can view the current work of Christoph Hesse Architects & Lorenz Kocher Engineers  here.

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