Old City of Jerusalem Revitalisation Programme
Aga Khan Award Winner

Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004.

Jerusalem has an extraordinarily long and varied history, but the urban fabric of the old city is threatened by overcrowding, lack of maintenance and poor services. The Old City of Jerusalem Revitalization Programme aims to rehabilitate the city, to preserve its heritage and to create a better quality of life for its inhabitants. It is a comprehensive project aimed at every aspect of human life, with several components, including restoration, training, education and raising public awareness. All these components are tied together to achieve an integrated and enduring revitalization. The body of completed works to date includes over 160 projects, all undertaken in close collaboration with local institutions, international organizations and funding agencies.

The urban fabric has suffered from neglect, inappropriate use and inadequate services, with many people living in dilapidated buildings in unsanitary conditions. To address these issues the Welfare Association -- a Geneva-based non-governmental organization established in 1983 to support Palestinians in all development areas -- set up a technical office in Jerusalem in 1995. The office is composed of professionals from different fields: architecture, engineering, planning, economics and history. Its main aim is to implement a comprehensive programme for the rehabilitation of the old city, comprising a number of complementary components: a revitalization plan; emergency restoration; total restoration; training in conservation; a community outreach programme; and an information centre.

The Old City Revitalization Plan forms the basis of the programme's work. A broad survey was carried out to identify the buildings most in danger and make proposals for their rehabilitation. The aim is not the immediate restoration of a contiguous quarter but interventions throughout the old city. Many of the projects are houses -- either single buildings of two or three storeys housing one or two families, or traditional residential complexes (hosh) of several units surrounding a courtyard and housing up to ten families. The programme also focuses on major public or religious buildings -- mosques, churches, madrasas (schools) and hostels -- some of which retain their original function, while others are adapted to a new use.

Buildings are selected either for emergency or total restoration. Emergency restoration is normally a quick and limited intervention to solve particularly urgent problems that pose immediate health or safety risks, such as structural instability or water leakage. The duration of the projects varies from about three months for a small house to many years for non-residential projects; work on buildings of historic and architectural value is carried out slowly and sensitively and decisions are made with great care. Dar al Aytam is one such example, and this historical orphanage, comprising five monumental buildings from the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, including a soup kitchen and bakery established by the wife of Sultan Süleyman, is being upgraded incrementally as an educational institution.

The other areas of the programme complement the restoration work to ensure the sustainability of the improvements. Training for architects, engineers, contractors and craftspeople is provided through short courses, internships and fellowships to study abroad. A community outreach programme encourages public awareness and participation in the rehabilitation process and organizes publications, meetings, workshops and lectures for schools, religious organizations, residents and users. Further components of the programme are also proposed: an information centre and a data bank of conservation professionals and organizations, and the Jerusalem Institute for the Preservation of Architectural Heritage in Palestine.

By the end of 2003, eighty-two residential projects and twenty-six public and fifty-five commercial buildings had been restored through the programme, providing decent living conditions for residents, creating new spaces for the community and ensuring the preservation of the rich historic fabric of the old city.

Jury Citation:

"The programme has received an Award for its comprehensive approach towards sustaining the life of a community in its natural setting -- a life threatened by the deterioration of its physical, social and economic conditions. The project is successful in addressing several issues, including the restoration and rehabilitation of housing, as well as the adaptive reuse of historic buildings and monuments for new functions. The programme is notable for the training it provides in conservation for architects, engineers, contractors and craftspeople, and for the establishment of an information centre and a database for the old city, including documentation, surveys, research and studies. Finally, the project has created a community outreach programme to raise public awareness of the value of historic buildings and to encourage public participation in the process of rehabilitation and restoration. This effort is conducted under severe constraints, restoring the old city as a living, vibrant and beautiful environment. The process is meticulously conducted by a team of professionals motivated by their love of the place and its people. This is a project about dignity and self-esteem."

Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture

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Associated Names
Site Contains
Associated Collections
Completed 1996-ongoing
871,000 m²
Variant Names
Jerusalem Old City Revitalisation Program
Building Usages
urban design and development