North of Jerusalem, reached by roads that are often narrow and winding, the Palestinian Museum first appears as a low-lying beacon set amid the surrounding hills. Composed of two shardlike limestone volumes joined above a low, triangular expanse of glass, the building crests a cascade of landscaped terraces. With its crisp geometries and its integration with the undulating topography, it is the striking response of Dublin-based Heneghan Peng Architects to the client’s desire for a sustainable, contemporary structure that nods to the area’s vernacular architecture while emphasizing a deep connection to the landscape.
The $17.5 million museum is the flagship project of Taawon, a nonprofit that provides development and humanitarian aid to Palestinians. Originally, it was intended as a space of memory, focusing on the Nakba, the displacement of Palestinians resulting from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. Later, the founders decided that instead of being limited to a single event, it should connect Palestinians around the world to their shared culture and history. The museum will showcase contemporary art, historical images, and traditional crafts, with a focus on their contribution to contemporary Palestinian culture. (Though the building opened last May, it will not mount its inaugural show until the fall.) Says museum director Dr. Mahmoud Hawari, “We would like to speak to the youth of Palestine with a view for a better future.” Birzeit University, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, donated 10 acres of its land for the project. Heneghan Peng’s design was chosen from more than 40 submissions in an invited international competition in 2011. Firm cofounder Róisín Heneghan had never visited the area before the competition. Her first encounter left her with strong impressions of the site. “I became much more aware of the importance of the plant life and its textures and smells,” she says, “and its power to evoke memories.”