Dencity 2017: 1st Place Award

Palestine: The Right to Water

Entry by: Majed Abdulsamad, Jun Seong Ahn, Maria Isabel Carrasco, Haochen Yang


Sixty-eight years after the Palestinian exodus following the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe), many of the Palestinian refugee settlements, once located in distant rural areas like Al-hussein Camp in Amman- Jordan, have been bypassed by the ever growing metropolis urbanity. As time passed, scattered tents of refugee camps became multi-story concrete blocks in dense working-class informal neighborhoods built up gradually by the effort of their residents. What was found as a temporary solution for immediate sheltering crisis, went on to become long-term housing typology for those unable to return to their homes across the border, carrying within its walls stories of resistance, resilience and social inequality.

The permanent temporariness of a refugee camp’s typology has been often utilized to justify the marginalization of camps, and their inequitable access to resources, like water and electricity. This reality puts the camp in a fragile condition facing a rapidly changing climate in Jordan, the world’s third most water poorest country, where forcibly displaced populations constitutes around one third of its population. Less affluent neighborhoods and refugee settlements, are the most affected by the crisis of water scarcity in Jordan as the government struggles to provide citizens with constant supply of freshwater. Contradictorily, these same populations are the most affected by floods, landslides and the collapse of their structures happening every year during the rainy season, as a consequence of their location in the lower and stepped points of the capricious topography of Amman. As the ethnic boundary of the camp blurs offering an opportunity for Palestinian and other migrant minorities to live in the camp as well as in the surroundings informal settlements, the physical limit of the camp condition remains well-defined in the city fabric by its dense and irregular structure, also lacking of open spaces.

The Concept

In a regional context of dependency and subordination under which the camp relies, The Right To Water utilizes the irregularity and extreme density of the refugee camp to create an adequate and independent rainwater collection system that has the capacity to empower the population towards sustainable access to resources beyond regional limitations. The project aspires to fill the water shortage gap while providing structural basis for future vertical growth for the refugee camps in the dense city of Amman. Through a system of decentralized micro-water collection and storage units, the project aims to create an extended network of reservoirs embedded in the built fabric. Within this context, the urban fabric performs as a second topography that can be molded and reshaped through various interventions ranging from the use of elevated light structures that capture and divert the flow of water, to the provision of storage facilities. The proposed system consists of storage tanks that are interconnected by aqueducts and gutters to assure an equal distribution of the collected water as it overflows from small-scale individual tanks on the roofs into more collective reservoirs in the ground. The sequential overflow of water leads to an underground tank located in the lowest point of the newly reshaped-topography, which also becomes a point of “water revelation“ through a collective usage of water happening in the programs above it. According to the course of the day and the needs of the neighborhood this community space is flexible enough to allocate different programs like common kitchens and gardens, places for meetings and children to play, kindergartens, medical assistance, ablution, weddings, mourning, among others.

The camp scale cohesion is achieved through the network of the different social spaces, also physically connected, following the topography by their underground tanks. The final goal would be to expand this network to other informal settlements. Thus, the proposed water collection and storage extends its value beyond the functional infrastructure to become an element of finding and activating much-needed open spaces for gathering and social interactions across the camp and the city of Amman. Acknowledging that the growth of our cities implies the increment of the population living in informal settlements, the adaptability of this water system to other contexts implies a regional impact that in the case of Jordan would be reflected in the relief of its continuous effort to bring fresh water to urban areas through expensive mega projects.


The Right To Water advocates for a system that in its first stages can be implemented individually and collectively by its own residents (DIY) following these phases: installation of individual deflectors and tanks, construction of shared tanks, and connection of the shared tanks with gutters and aqueducts. The later phase, includes the city (Amman Water Authority), DPA (Jordanian Department of Palestinian Affairs) and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) for the construction of the major underground tank and the building that will allocate the collective activities. This model allows not only for independence and flexibility in terms of implementation, but will also become part of the legacy and memory of the camp to be left for future populations.

About the entrants

Majed Abdulsamad is a graduate student at Columbia university’s Urban Design program. Born and raised in Syria, Majed started his architecture career in the college of Architecture at Damascus University before moving late 2012 to Chicago in the light of the Syrian revolution to continue to pursue his Bachelors in Architecture. After graduation, Majed joined Skidmore, Owings and Merril (SOM) Chicago office before moving to New York to pursue his graduate studies. Having witnessed the war and destruction that hit his home country, reducing Syrian cities to rubble, Majed developed a dream to rebuild his hometown, Homs, back to what it once was. Post conflict urbanism has always been a challenging and delicate topic, but the Syrian war takes that challenge to a whole new level with a refugee population of unprecedented scale spread across the world thousands of miles away from Syria. This forced migration crisis adds huge responsibility to the reconstruction and replanning process to be inclusive and capable of accommodating a potential reverse flow of once displaced Syrians back to their neighborhoods, or what’s left of those.

Jun Seong Ahn strongly desires in designing a city, architecture, and a space for people with strong dignity. Jun’s mission as a designer is to confront conflict, inequality, discrimination, and deficiency and create an innovative strategy by finding mutual intervention and revitalizing a community. More than architecture and urban design, Jun seeks to discover a new way of communicating society and culture through innovative technology such as Virtual/Augmented Reality or BIM. Jun has previously worked in various architectural firms in Korea and United States through various scales from small residence to skyscraper projects. He recently worked for NBBJ New York office under healthcare team designing NYU Langone Medical Center renovation projects. He contributed in dealing with policy, regulation, and architectural elements related to public health that improves quality of life within a built environment to prosper city and human scale towards the future. Moreover, Jun has received an honorable mention award from the Archasm competition, New York | Liberty Museum in December 2016 with a concept of ‘Recall the Past. Revive the Present. Relief the Future.’ Jun currently serves as a co-founder of CREAM, an interdisciplinary creative group formed by RISD alumni. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design. He also holds a Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University GSAPP.

Maria Isabel Carrasco grew up in Ecuador which inspired her to work towards the development of sustainable cities, now challenged and threatened by the rapid urban expansion and climate change, while advocating for social equity and integration. It is Isabel’s believe that the Architect and Urban Designer should go beyond the boundaries of her profession, using design as the tool to engage and empower communities. Isabel’s work experience comes from her contribution in a wide range of projects including residential and educational buildings, the renovation of a theatre and a university campus, urban furniture, among others, where her design process, building information modeling (BIM) and production of construction documents was always developed within an interdisciplinary team and working close with the final users. Isabel also collaborated in research projects for the Sustainable Cities and the Compact and Sustainable Neighborhoods research groups of the University of Cuenca, Ecuador. Isabel’s professional awards comprehend a national prize in 2016 and an honorable mention in 2012 during the Quito’s Panamerican Biennial of Architecture for the renovation of the campus of the University of Cuenca and the Lecture building for the School of Psychology respectively; as well as two honorable mentions in 2010 in the public contest for social housing projects in Quito. Isabel holds a Bachelor in Architecture from the Universidad de Cuenca, Ecuador, and is currently a student of the Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design at Columbia University GSAPP, graduating on May 2017.

Haochen Yang is pursuing an interaction between architecture and urban design at Columbia GSAPP. He is also holding a B.Arch degree from South China University of Technology. Subject emphasizes the attributions of subject itself, while the study of object is not limited to the materiality level, yet depending on different occasions. With this standpoint, he began to clarity the identity of subject on the premise of architecture as object. Urban design, in his eyes, is built on the subject of cities, and takes into account the figure-ground relationship at an urban scale, within which public space serves as the ground while architecture as figures. Proceeding from a systematic way of seeking for the solution of urban issues, and a comprehensive consideration for an effective cooperation with architecture, urban design eventually brings limitations to each building in a positive way, thus to better urban services when architecture turns itself into subject.