In the heart of the south of Jordan’s rose red desert, lies the City of Petra, one of the 7 Wonders of the World. A unique landscape described to be half as old as time, weathered by the forces of nature for millennia and by the tools of successive civilisations for centuries. The city still stands since its earliest known occupiers, the Nabateans, began carving an empire of homes, palaces, places of worship, tombs, art and an elaborate network of water channels within the red fortress of an enclosed sandstone fortress.
Currently the City of Petra is a major tourism attraction in the region, it is a major contributor to the national income of Jordan, and a crucial player in the daily lives of the locals of the area. The Bedouins of Wadi Musa, currently heavily rely on employment in the tourism industry, creating high pressure on the archeological site. Furthermore, with tourist numbers declining and the visiting time shortening, a major intervention was needed to revitalise the region.
I was very fortunate to be a part of an inspiring project with Maisam Architects and Engineers which involved a firm collaboration with the Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority PDTRA, to develop the Beidha region of Petra, which falls between Little Petra and the Petra ‘siq,’ both sites being a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The intervention by Maisam Architects and Engineers influences change way beyond the physical building scale. Their proposal for an Eco-Village aims to provide jobs for the local community, whether in construction of the eco friendly rammed earth structures, running the hospitality services the resort will provide, crafting and fabrication of all furniture and products involved, cooking every day meals for visitors and providing platforms for arts and performances. Furthermore, the project aims to encourage tourism as well as extend tourist stay by creating an oasis within the red sandstone of the unique landscape.
The architects’ approach was strong, yet delicate, an intelligent intervention conscious of it sensitive surroundings. The eco resort will be built via rammed earth construction. The building material of the rooms is literally the sand beneath the builders’ feet. Experienced rammed earth consultant Rowland Keable joined the architects, local builders builders and contractors on site, teaching us all techniques of mixing and constructing rammed earth walls. The locals easily picked up this craft, which is not alien to the region as some hundred year old sand structures are still standing in nearby villages today. The knowledge was being transferred between the locals quickly as more and more people from nearby villages were arriving on site seeking to join the project.
The Nabateans carved the sandstone rocks into a city that remains standing 3000 years later. Maisam Architects and Engineers, however, are constructing structures from the sand itself. A cradle to cradle construction process where the process can be reversed, the thick and rigid walls can be knocked back into sand, leaving zero impact on the immaculate landscape.
My role was assisting the supervising architect on site. In addition to supervising sessions between rammed earth construction specialists and the local workers, I even got to do some rammed earth building myself. Furthermore, I was asked to research and document various aspects of the project through photography and film, such as interviewing local builders and joining the team to scout the region for local crafts and talents, searching for their talents, capabilities, ideas and willingness to contribute and teach others their craft.