Gaza: Rebuilding With Rubble & Earth

Lina Kara’in (MArch I  ’20)

Photojournalist Andrea Dicenzo

Photojournalist Andrea Dicenzo

Since 2007, Israeli-imposed restrictions on the entry of construction materials into the Gaza Strip have slowed down the reconstruction of thousands of destroyed and damaged structures. These structures include schools, hospitals, cultural centers and homes that were damaged or completely destroyed during the consecutive wars on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014.  Israel frequently limits or entirely suspends imports of building materials, specifically cement and steel, further increasing Palestinian dependence on Israel. 

As a Palestinian woman and a future architect, I am determined to look beyond this architecture of occupation, beyond the so-called starchitecture, and towards a more socially and economically aware architecture that serves the people instead. Thus, my thesis research aims at finding an economical, environmental, social and political alternative for cement and steel in Gaza.  This alternative will allow us to rebuild our cities free from dependence on Israeli imports or foreign aid.  Currently, I am testing rubble and earthen construction as an alternative to concrete construction in the Gaza Strip. I am focusing on using local materials that are either the by-product of building demolition or are readily available in the locality. These materials must be easily recycled or processed for construction purposes.

One of the most available materials in the Gaza strip is rubble. Rubble has become one of the biggest products of the successive wars and building demolition, and thus it is the main testing material for my research. Recycled rubble has been used in construction for decades. It is usually cleaned, crushed, screened and processed into fine aggregate, which is then reused in concrete mixtures, road construction, landscaping, building foundations and pipe bedding. This process requires a lot of energy, human labor and machinery.  For this reason, my research investigates new construction methods that use the rubble as found, thereby reducing the energy used during the process.    Rubble, which usually contains concrete, bricks, steel, tiles and glass, can be combined with other available materials such as clay, lime, sand, fly ash, straw, sawdust, rice husks, waste paper, and waste coffee grounds, creating a new construction method. Depending on the size and the material of the rubble, it can be used as aggregate, filler, or as a load bearing building unit, all in the same structure, leading to expressive material systems.

These materials will be tested in various combinations and ratios, and their compressive strength will be measured using a compression machine here at Gund Hall. These tests allow us to compare the properties of several mixtures and decide on their appropriate use for built structures. In addition to compressive strength testing, the samples will be tested with a mixture of different colors and finishes to produce a spectrum of textures and hues. The colors and finishing materials I will use are easily found and processed in Gaza. Some examples include color tests with red cabbage water, food coloring, spices, flowers and Henna.

I would like to invite all my fellow students on this journey with me.  I hope to start a conversation about the politics and economy of our current building materials and the effects they have on the social, environmental, and political aspects of our everyday lives!