The idea of building the Um al Nasser children's center "The Children’s Land" in the Gaza Strip started in 2011 as a response to a call from the local Bedouin community to the Vento di Terra NGO, asking for access to quality health and educational services for children and women of their village.
Difficult areas such as the Gaza Strip are characterized by a systematic lack of urban planning. The decision to build a school complex employing bioclimatic architecture criteria was driven by the need to use readily available and cheap local resources.
The building, co-designed by ARCò – Architettura e Cooperazione group and MCA Mario Cucinella Architects studio, was built in few weeks, using the “earthbags” technique, a “do-it-yourself” construction technique that had been already used with success by the Jahalin Bedouin Community in West Bank.
During its construction the local community acquired innovative technical skills and, moreover, it was involved in building a photovoltaic and a constructed wetland.
The school complex is coordinated by a local team that is trained by Vento di Terra in management and in developing participative and alternative education programs.
The Center has six classrooms, with a capacity of about 150 pupils, five rooms dedicated to specific learning activities, a counseling desk for families and an infirmary.
The project involves several local and international educational associations that work together, offering a single, integrated response to the needs of the preschool children, their mothers and their families.
The project “Peace Architecture for Education in Gaza” is funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), Milano Municipality, L.U.S.H., and it is supported by the Vento di Terra NGO’s network.
THE UM AL NASSER BEDOUIN COMMUNITY
The project involves the Um al Nasser’s Bedouin Community, located in the northern Gaza Strip.
These people, expelled from Ber Sheva in 1948, have a semi-nomadic history and they share several cultural traits with the Bedouins living in the West Bank.
Um Al Nasser is situated close to the Eretz crossing, in a particularly tense area that was recently involved in the conflict.
One of the project’s purposes is to restore and promote the identity linked to the "Tent society”: an ancient society in which women had a central role, as holders of essential knowledge for survival.
THE ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN The building is conceived in terms of environmental sustainability, using innovative technical solutions to reinterpret the local identity and culture. The architectural design is realized by a team of experts: the group ARCò – Architettura e Cooperazione, which deals with sustainability and participation in architecture, and MCA - Mario Cucinella Architects, an international firm with an extensive experience in sustainable architecture projects.
The project aims to promote the local identity through the reinterpretation of the “Bedouin tent”: a temporary structure characterized by vertical elements that support a decorated cloth, usually made of sheep wool. Its structure is divided into two different spaces: a public one for the common activities and for welcoming the guests and a private space for the family daily life.
The Um al Nasser multipurpose structure reinterprets these traditional features with contemporary architectural elements. The tent is replaced by a ceiling, folding in on itself, that resembles the different angles of the cloths. The horizontal lines of Bedouin tissues are represented by wooden brise soleil that allow the control of sun radiation.
“The kindergarten grows from the desert”: the insulating walls that surround the central courtyard and the classrooms are made of bags filled with soil. This is the earth-bag technique that was used for the first time in the 1980s by Nader Kalili. The walls protect the kindergarten area where the children play and study like an oasis that shields them from external difficulties.
The Children’s Center is a one floor building partially underground, that covers a 400 square meter area. The building is composed of six classrooms, a library, a dean’s office, a teachers’ room, a welcome area, a laboratory for psychomotor activities, a multipurpose space, an infirmary and toilets. Each classroom is 25 square meters wide and it can accommodate about 25 children. The “Children’s Land” offers spaces and services for families, counseling, and health and peace education courses.
THE ENVIRONEMENTAL IMPACT With regard to the environmental eco-compatibility, there are several details that make this building an "architectural model" for the Palestinian construction sector.
Low cost and low tech solutions have been chosen because they are easy to explain and to be replicated in similar contexts by the local community.
Designers were supported by experts that dealt with structural, energetic and water-recycling aspects. The use of sand and wood minimizes the employment of polluting materials that have a high environmental impact.
It is a hypogean building, partially underground building. The classrooms benefit from wall and floor’s thermal intertia with lower internal temperatures in summer and higher in winter. A natural ventilation system allows to enjoy a lower perceived temperature and an optimal hydro-thermal comfort. The double roof system activates the convective motions and the exchange between hot and cool air from the bottom.
The center is equipped with a rainwater collection system that stores the water collected through the roof in an underground tank. Moreover, the photovoltaic panel system takes an advantage of the inclinations of the roof and provides energy to the structure. TEACHING PEACE IN THE “CHILDREN’S LAND”
"The Children’s Land " is a example of excellence for the use of innovative teaching methods, effective in reducing problems related to difficult situations such as the conflicts.
The Um al Nasser kindergarten has a double goal: to provide children with a place for encounters and to prepare them for the primary school, focusing on play and metacognitive experiences without neglecting the teaching of classical Arabic, mathematics and English.
The project aims to provide assistance to children and families, ensuring adequate access to learning opportunities.
Building a qualified center for children means working on the relationship between mother and son and, therefore, provide an environment where women can find a proactive dimension in their communities and families.
As far as democratic organization models are concerned, the teachers develop good problem solving skills. They also become positive models for children and their parents and involve the whole community in a “peace education” process.
The local staff, composed of seven teachers, a school coordinator and a social worker, has been trained by Vento di Terra NGO in management and pedagogy.
A counseling desk for orientation and educational support for the mothers run by a social worker will soon be activated in the Center.
The project includes health education workshops carried out under the supervision of the Palestinian Medical Relief, in order to counter the proliferation of intestinal infection that affects the majority of Um al Nasser children in preschool.
Unfortunately the school complex was destroyed during an invasion occurred in 2014