The village Wahat el Salam/Neve Shalom is located on the foothills of the West Bank, forming a natural balcony with breathtaking views stretching from the Latrun Monastery, with the vineyards and terraced groves in the foreground, across the expansive agricultural planes, to the Mediterranean Sea and the silhouette-like contours of the city of Tel Aviv in the far distance.
Cultivating the Landscape
The profound respect and admiration for the overwhelming beauty and drama of this Levantine landscape furnished a point of departure and a driving concept for the development of a unique architectural approach: application of simple architectural gestures intended to orchestrate the qualities of this found landscape and maximize their inherent material and spatial characteristics. Abdelqader created a retreat that is not only sensitive and contextual, but also a part of the very landscape of which it is made. In contrast to the generic sub-urban house, here the concept of inhabitation is re-interpreted as cultivation. The steep slope of the site is structured by three retaining walls, which are typical of agricultural plantations in the region. The walls absorb service functions, such as kitchens and bathrooms, and also contain the villa’s master bedroom. Following the principle of agriculture, the three landscape terraces formed by these walls are ‘cultivated’ by the daily activities of living, dining, and receiving guests. Through a plain wooden roof structure – an imitation of the traditional pergola that provides shelter from the sun – the terraces become landscape rooms, which seamlessly merge with outdoor terraces and gardens.
Building elements brought to the site with a sense of lightness; it also generates an atmosphere of incompleteness and modesty, which stand in contrast to the heaviness of the local stone structure of the terraces, celebrating the continuity of the ancient principle of landscape cultivation.
Lightness and Heaviness
Abdelqader created a domestic situation through a collage-like recombination of existing rural landscape elements (walls and terraces) and local materials (stone), and their juxtaposition with highly contemporary, urban aesthetics that introduce elements and materials entirely foreign to the local rural setting: extensive glass walls, steel, prefabricated panels, etc. The principles of collage and juxtaposition are applied to spatial organization of elements and to their material finish and joints that are articulated to emphasize the integrity and specificity of each element, creating interplay of heaviness and lightness. For example, all the retaining walls, whether indoors or outdoors, boast a rustic stone finish; their window openings and doors are kept small. The wooden canopy, on the other hand, is propped up by freestanding steel frames, and seems to hover freely above walls and terraces. The principle is pushed to the extreme by the addition of a container-like bedroom wing with an external skin entirely made of coated, heavy duty shuttering boards that were recycled from another concrete shell construction project. The collage principle not only infuses the
Intimacy and Exposure
The playful juxtaposition between elements and materials is continued in the spatial dimension: the organization of interiors and exteriors is carefully choreographed to create passages that constantly negotiate between the spatial extremes of intimacy and exposure. Coming from the hillside and the center of the village, the villa itself is hardly visible, tightly embracing the sloping hillside. Instead of an entrance foyer or porch, the visitor enters an open landscape room, delimited only by the expansive panoramic view that lies ahead. The actual entrance to the house, however, is reached via an inconspicuous narrow staircase that descends into the ground. Visitors pass through a retaining wall of field stones, and emerge on a lower terrace which forms the focal point and heart of the villa: a central reception room (diwan) which is, once again, wide open to the landscape. The alternation between tightness and expansiveness, darkness and light is repeated and built into the spatial sequence of rooms and domestic functions.
Kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms are located in the depth of the ground and reached through narrow entrances within retaining walls, thus remaining protected from the sun and winds. These rooms are lit by narrow, slot-like windows. Public functions, on the other hand, are located on the open terraces, protected only by minimalist glass walls. The most unusual and striking space of the villa is reached through a small spiral staircase adjacent to the main living area: a minimalist garden, hovering above the domestic realm – a flying carpet where the villa’s architecture is reduced to its simplest and most essential function: to create a platform for the existing landscape and its enjoyment.