Architectural Challenges

Tulane Grad Yara Hantash Uses Subterranean Architecture to “Invert” Architecture’s Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict | Features


The Dwellings — Forced to reconcile their differences, a collaborative community emerged to foster a successful city below. The exiles share access to light, conducting the private actions of life in harmony with their neighbors. All images and captions by Yara Hantash.

Yara Hantash is a recent graduate from Tulane University’s undergraduate architecture program. Archinect was able to connect with Yara to learn more about her experience culminating design research through her thesis project during the coronavirus pandemic. Titled Involuntary Utopia, her exploration centers around the Isreali-Palestinian conflict and how architecture has become “an indisputable act of violence.”

Yara takes us through her exploratory investigation of the possible solutions to the architectural problems created by what she has identified as an uninhabitable Jerusalem. Producing this project while learning remotely, Yara says she realized that the new focus on presenting her project virtually provided unique opportunities to craft a more “cinematic” narrative for her audiences.

Archinect’s Spotlight on 2020 Thesis Projects2020 has been an extraordinarily challenging year for architecture graduates. Students were displaced as schools shut down, academic communities had to adapt to a new virtual format, end-of-year celebrations were canceled or changed dramatically, and now these students are graduating into an extremely challenging employment market. To support the 2020 class we’re launching a summer series of features highlighting the work of thesis students during this unique time of remote learning amid COVID-19. Be sure to follow our 2020 thesis tag to stay up to date as we release new project highlights.


By Yara Hantash

Israel-Palestine 2020 — Tunnels dug below the earth have sutured torn seams throughout the land.
Jerusalem, Near Future — Rising above the wreckage is Jerusalem, the heart of hate and hope in the country. In the contested spaces below the surface, a new life would be excavated…

In the singular case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the act of architecture has become an indisputable act of violence. The resultant spaces are irreconcilably divided and dividing, occupied and occupying, excluded and excluding. At the current trajectory, it seems that the negative character of architecture will not and cannot be redeemed. The following investigation speculates upon a future in which this destructive architectural culture renders Jerusalem uninhabitable.

Section Perspective — Decades of warfare have ravaged the built fabric of Israel-Palestine. As nation above tatters, its fragments are sutured together by tunnels and passages carved underground.

Traditionally, solutions to the deterioration of the built fabric have been redundant and normative: redrawing of borders and cartographic manipulations. Several architects, led by Eyal Weizman, posit that the issues that are normally confined to maps and plans are in fact part of a complex, three-dimensional matrix that is to be approached “vertically.” In this spirit of investigation, the thesis design proposal explores the possibility of a subterranean solution to the architectural problems identified in Jerusalem. 

The Descent — A sparse entry was carved into the earth, where once a narrow opening at the base of the city wall widened into a quarried cavern.
The Cave — In the familiar depths of the cave, the exiles provided for themselves the basic necessities of life: shelter and sustenance.The resourceful exiles, the half accustomed to surviving in base conditions, yielded crops and reared livestock in beneath the ground.

In his seminal speech on heterotopia, Of Other Spaces, Michel Foucault proposes the metaphor of the mirror. He likens the mirror to a utopia, a “placeless place,” because it portrays a world that is not reality, but a reflection of it. However, the mirror itself is a heterotopia, as it exists in reality while it encapsulates an inverted projection of reality. This metaphor reflects, for lack of a better term, the design intent of the proposal, which is to “represent, contest, and invert” the existing condition of Jerusalem.

The Field — Traditional master builders and trained architects and engineers worked together to open the earth to light the spaces they carved for the underground diaspora.

On Remote Learning and Presenting Virtually

Remote learning was an advantage for my thesis. As my project progressed, I realized that computer generated graphics would be a powerful medium for representing the emotional depth of the project. I was afforded a lot of time to layer the images with detail and test several graphic styles to best convey my message. Regarding presentation, online presentations provided a cinematic aspect to the images and resulted in a more holistic experience. A narration of each image as they occupy the screen by themselves, rather than standing in front of a cluster of drawings, created an impactful and reflective atmosphere. 

The Market — Above, the exiles divided themselves over the history preserved beneath the earth’s surface. Below, their cultures mix and merge along common lines. A shared language speaks a shared future and forgets a divided past.

Advice For Students Working on Their Thesis

Anyone going through thesis should understand the independence given to them in their studies and take advantage of it. Find something to be passionate about and pursue it to its fullest. It can be daunting to approach a project or idea or concept by yourself, and it can be hard to push yourself to do the work. The product, though, is the most rewarding achievement of your academic career.

The Theatre — Once the exiles became accustomed to life below the ground, they found strength in the commonalities between them. As they burrowed deeper into the earth, the spaces grew to accommodate the shared culture of the diaspora.
The Temple — Ultimately, the exiles entrenched themselves in an involuntary utopia. The act of architecture to build a future, rather than destroy a history, yielded a tentative peace underground that was proved impossible to find above.

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button