Palestinian female engineer documents architectural history in Gaza

In a relatively quiet neighborhood, Haya Barzaq, a young female engineer, uses her cell phone camera to take pictures of beautiful houses in the old part of Gaza City after asking permission from the owners. She does this as part of a personal attempt to document houses and different architectural styles to be used as references to trace the evolution of architecture in Gaza City.

However, Barzaq faced several difficulties. Many homeowners and residents fear that Barzaq will document their residence to turn it into an archaeological landmark. If their house is placed on Palestinian heritage lists by local authorities, they may lose their rights to it.

Some residents are also skeptical of Barzaq’s ability to take pictures of their homes in the unstable security environment in the besieged Gaza Strip.

However, as soon as he announces his venture, they allow him to move forward and direct it to more homes with similar architectural features. Seniors are often the ones most excited to tell the historical narratives of their home.

Barzaq’s mother accompanies him on his documentation journey and helps him get the perfect shot by clearing any litter or weeds.

Barzaq has been passionate about architecture and exploring ancient sites since his youth and studied architecture at the Islamic University. “In 2017, I started working for a construction company where I needed to move between different sites. “This gave me a great opportunity to explore the different architectural styles of houses in Gaza,” he said.

He took great interest in the interior details inside these houses. “I was very interested in the stories of the houses built in Gaza at the end of the British Mandate and during the Egyptian rule,” he said. “I had already begun to document houses from the Ottoman and Mamluk periods, which are dome-roofed houses. I then decided to document residential houses in different architectural styles.”

Barzaq discovered that the style of houses built during the British Mandate and Egyptian rule was similar to the popular Bauhaus architectural style found in Europe. In Gaza, however, this style has been modified to adapt to Gaza’s climate and society.

He explained that these houses have several aesthetic features that are rare in modern architecture, such as colored cement tiles, iron doors with distinctive ornaments, and wooden doors that were very popular in the 1940s and went out of fashion in the late 1970s. Windows.

“I was fascinated by the sophisticated artwork in these mostly handmade houses. I was also impressed by some of the other details in contemporary homes, most of which have a semi-circular balcony overlooking a garden with various plant species.

The first to urge Barzaq to follow his passion and photography houses and document their knowledge in writing was Salem al-Kidwa, his professor in the Department of Architecture at the Islamic University.

Kidwa told Al-Monitor: “This documentation work is very important in light of the risks these houses face due to the demolition work. Also, more and more people want to leave these old houses and live in high-rise apartments.”

“These houses reflect a famous contemporary architectural style, the Bauhaus style. It is important to document this European style in Palestine, which is mostly found in some coastal cities.”

Barzaq’s initiative has garnered praise on social media, and some have even contacted him to share some details of the homes he has documented. Now he aims to put his photos in a book or create an archive on a website, especially since these houses are at risk of collapse and many have already been destroyed in successive wars in the Gaza Strip.

“Before the Israeli attack in May 2021, I took some photos of the houses on Al-Wehda Street. These were damaged during the war and even razed to the ground,” he said. He had forms. Just a few weeks before the war, I managed to get some pictures of him.”

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