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The Incarceration of a City: Floating Structures of the “In-Between”

by Arwa Qalawla

 Year 2022 - 2023

This project is the winner of the first prize in the Tectura Awards 2023.

A new type of robust infrastructure design responding to real-life scenarios in the Gaza Strip under Israeli occupation, destruction, and incarceration.

On the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, there lies a prison unlike any other: a whole territory, a whole people, urbanely imprisoned in a land-sea-air blockade that is consistently a target for bombing strikes (1) in what is known to be the largest open-air prison in the entire world, the Gaza strip.(2) Since 2007, Israel has imposed an airtight land, sea, and air blockade on Gaza (3), flagrantly violating international law by imprisoning 2.1 million people inside the Strip.(4) As a result of these extreme and deliberate tactics, Gaza transforms into a perforated city with tunnels beneath(5), debris and destruction aboveground, and floating forms of Israeli apartheid regimes encircling the entire Gaza Strip. (6) The project creates a series of sectional conditions of a new form of infrastructure responding to real-life scenarios in Gaza, such as imposed Israeli siege, oppression, and apartheid. This work serves as a statement and a medium for speculating on new design approaches, especially when confronted with extreme and deliberately constrained settings. At the same time, it exposes Israel’s hybrid layers of apartheid against Palestinians (7) and the Israeli war atrocities in the Gaza strip. This work goes realistic while providing a spatial narration for Gaza’s contingent urban conditions.

The proposed infrastructure operates on multiple terrestrial levels ensuring the continuity of life activities in Gaza in three scenarios with the ongoing Israeli blockade. The infrastructure becomes a prototypical node for critical locations in Gaza. It generates various sources of energy from different parts on various levels, some serve as major parts and others as backup. Furthermore, it cultivates rainwater which is filtered and stored underground for use in the living voids and the aquaponics system. The aquaponics system is underground and self-sustaining; his system can work underground on a large scale without requiring water (taking into consideration Gaza’s scarcity of water) or soil to function. During Israeli aggression, people seek shelter and move below ground, and functions migrate to subterranean levels, allowing teaching, manufacturing, farming, and other activities to continue below the surface of Gaza.

In a city like Gaza, where impending destruction is a fact, it requires a system that can adapt to the city’s lifecycle, therefore, the infrastructure works like operational redundancies, when some parts are destroyed, others continue to function instead. It works in three main scenarios: Scenario A: Incarceration/No airstrikes: The infrastructure acts as an urban battery system, with living voids, the main core, power generation, water, aquaponics, and other Gazan life activities. The functions operate above ground, belowground, and in-between. Scenario B: Incarceration+ Bombing strikes: The system migrates its activities below-ground to ensure the continuation of life, and it becomes an infrastructure for survival. Scenario C is the final scenario, a future scenario that depicts Gazans’ resistance and determination to live. Following the war, the destroyed parts of the infrastructure are recycled and used in its reconstruction, much like how Gazans rebuild their city after each destruction(8). This is constantly written and rewritten by the people, the Gazans themselves after every Israeli aggression, leaving an open-ended scenario for the infrastructure’s future changing tectonics.

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