She got her permit and arrived for the first time in 1981. Amiry informed me that 1981 Palestine looks dramatically different from 1996 Palestine and even more so than 2017 Palestine. I can only imagine the charming villages and landscapes Amiry described to me. It’s easy to see why she immediately fell in love and did her Ph.D. on Palestinian village architecture.
But Amiry didn’t stop at PhD—she wrote a book on the subject. Even then she still wasn’t satisfied. It seemed that no one cared about the old homes of Palestine and so she decided to do something about it: Enter Riwaq—the offspring of the aforementioned observation, passion, and will (see *ON MOTIVATION).
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After losing 420 Palestinian villages circa 1948, Riwaq set about preserving the remaining 420 villages (Amiry personally recommends reading All That Remains for context). What the team considers the pride and crowning achievement of Riwaq is the National Register of Historic Buildings, which now features exactly 50,320 buildings. Read that number one more time.
When Riwaq started in 1991, Amiry and team weren’t exactly sure what they were doing, what the vision was, or where they would even end up (read leap of faith). They did know, however, that a database needed to be created to understand exactly what remains of the 420 villages we have today. So, they recorded everything—every structure, every floor, ceiling, window, and archway and set about renovating them to bring families back in.
Riwaq’s success in preservation/restoration/renovation is more than the sum of its registered structures—not to say that it isn’t impressive because, with over 50,320 registered and documented historic structures, it most definitely is. But the numbers aside, the register has meaning. Every structure is a testament to the saving grace of our own heritage. The register is a defiant grip on the value of the past. It is bold and essential. It is saying “we are here.”
Riwaq’s success may also lie within the team itself. The institution holds both a point of view and vision and the employees all share that vision and defend that point of view. It certainly isn’t easy to start an organization, sustain it, and make everyone who works in it feel that it is their organization too. To create something for the world and to foster a community who believes in it too is a success in and of itself. For this reason, Riwaq is alive and thriving 26 years later.
Amiry studied architecture in the 70’s, the era of modern high-rise architecture. The aesthetic was minimalist, sleek, and refined—and Amiry couldn’t care less for it. In fact, she was horrified by it. Her visit to Moscow was just one example of this. Exploring the city, its wide avenues, and its high buildings, Amiry couldn’t help but see the inhumanity of it all. They simply didn’t speak to her.