Tree School in Shufat refugee camp, Jerusalem


In September 2014, the School for Girls in Shufat refugee camp in Jerusalem, designed by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti and Livia Minoja for the UNRWA Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Program, opened its doors to 1000 students.

The design of the school is inspired by the experimental educational approach cultivated by Hilal and Petti in Campus in Camps*, an educational program based in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem and the tree school**,  communal  learning initiatives that are not confined within the traditional walls of academia, but which cut across different forms of knowledge, integrating aspects of life and dialogue with the larger community.

Their approach is devoted to the formation of learning environments where knowledge and actions are the result of a critical dialogue among participants, and in direct connection with communities where the interventions are taking place. To describe this egalitarian, creative and experimental environment, they use the Arabic term Al jame3ah. Translating in English as “the university”, the literal meaning of Al jame3ah is “a place for assembly”. As such, its educational approach is to create a gathering space and a pluralistic environment where participants can learn freely, honestly and enthusiastically and where participants are involved in an active formation of knowledge based on their daily lived-experience.

The common learning environments that they create are constantly reshaped in order to allow the accommodation of new interests born from the interaction between the participants and the social context at large. Here the aim of their approach is to reconcile knowledge with actions in a manner that escapes from the from the limitations of “pure theory” or “pure activism”.

Al jame3ah is not an isolated utopia, but rather it is a space that aims to contribute to the way schools and universities understand themselves, and overcome conventional structures. In doing so, it seeks forms of critical intervention for the democratization of knowledge production.

121128 one plan


The generative form of the School for Girls in Shufat is a circular space, an hexagonal form in which students are equally invited to participate in the class discussion, whether in an indoor classroom or in the outdoor gardens.

The open spaces of the gardens have been implemented by DAAR residents with the participations of students, teachers and organizations from the refugee camps in coordination with UNRWA. They are spaces where gatherings can take place more informally outdoors and under trees.



For Louis Khan, schools began with a man under a tree, who did not know he was a teacher, sharing his realizations with others, who did not know they were students. 

In this pedagogical spirit, the open spaces of the gardens in shufat school offer the possibility for the constitution of  a tree school where people from the community could become teachers and activate community-based discussions around topics that the participants can choose according to their relative needs.

The tree school is a device that creates a physical and metaphoric common territory where ideas and actions can emerge through critical, free and independent discussion among participants.

*Campus in Camps explores and produces new forms of representation of camps and refugees beyond the static and traditional symbols of victimization, passivity and poverty(

**In occasion of the 31st Bienal de São Paulo in 2014, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti and the Brazilian based art collective Contrafilé formed the first the tree school in Southern Bahia with thinkers, artists, and activists from the quilombola movement, the Landless Workers’ Movement and Palestinian refugees in order to activate community-based discussions around the role of education as a liberating and democratizing tool. Tree schools have been established in Cuernavaca, Beirut and Bangalore.(


Italian Ghosts

During the period of its Fascist regime, Italy employed modern architecture to represent its imperial ambitions in Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Ruins of Roman era architecture in Libya were used as political anchors to legitimize the “return” of Italy to these territories and the creation of a “new Roman Empire”.

However crucial they were for the colonial project for Italy’s history and identity the modernist architecture of Italian colonialism is as little known as the entire period of Italian colonialism and its ongoing legacy.

The embarrassing elegance of these architecture contrasts with the crimes of the colonization that have never been acknowledged; the “Gheddafi-Berlusconi reconciliation” of 2009 attempted to bypass, ignore or forced to produce a farce of the past.

The afterlife of these buildings might help to unpack and reveal the strict problematic relation between modernism and colonization, Italy and its colonial ghosts.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image



DAAR contribution to Monditalia, Venice Architectural Biennale curated by Rem Khoolhaas in 2014 is an installation that turn a confessional inside out, shifting it from being a religious-psychological apparatus for personal redemption into a political tool that calls for the exposure of the neo-colonial relations that still tie Europe and Africa in a thousands of webs.







Common Assembly: Deterritorializing the Palestinian Parliament

Common Assembly: Deterritorializing the Palestinian Parliament is a long-term project to think through and conceive spaces for political participation, decision and action for all Palestinians. In the next months, the United Nations and several other international organizations will vote on whether to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state and a member of their assemblies. These events are framed by other liberation struggles and civil turmoil throughout south-eastern mediterranean countries. Whatever the vote’s outcome, Palestinians must deal with a significant spatial and political problem: how can political participation and representation be organized for a partially exiled—and therefore, geographically dispersed—constituency?

DAAR has been granted access to the Palestinian Parliament building in Abu Dis. It was constructed with international donations during the Oslo Years, but the project was abandoned before completion. Now the Wall cuts the building off from Jerusalem. Thus, the building stands like a monument to the collapsed peace process. This condition of local impossibility, however, allows for a political imaginary to arise. Thus, the building becomes a starting point to imagine new types of political assembly.

We will use the building both as a site of intervention as well as a site of architectural speculation. Our aim is to work through an understanding of the relationships between territory, population, and political representation. In Palestine, the population cannot be represented by a single parliament building, as it would serve only a people within imposed borders that fragment all those who see themselves as Palestinians. It must therefore operate through disassociations in which the constituency, the building and the territory are categories that constantly move in relation to each other.  Therefore, the project seeks to operate simultaneously in different sites: re-creating and activating what we call “common assemblies” in several locations inside and outside Palestine.


Video of the lecture “Spatial ordering of Exile” New School New York City, Nov. 2014

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal are a team of two extraordinary architects who live permanently at Beit Sahour on the outskirts of Bethelem in Palestine. They have worked since 2007 to revitalize, reconstruct, take apart, and reconceive both the ruins and abandoned spaces that are the remnants of the vast spaces throughout Palestine that have been destroyed, dispossessed, cut into pieces over some sixty years since the Nakba in 1947. Their work is extraordinary because it is unique in every way: from those they call on to work with them (artists, film makers, architects, young people from the refugee camps) to the visions they conceive and the materials and histories on which they draw. Their work is an engagement with what others think as impossible: how to imagine a future made out of ruins that are openings to new possibilities? How to take an abandoned military Israeli military site and reimagine its possibilities for habitation? How to imagine living in the enemy’s house? Refusing to wait for politicians or legal systems to change the terms of the debate, Petti and Hilal are changing those terms in advance and through the new infrastructures they both imagine and make possible. What kind of public space might be envisioned and built (as they have) at the center of a refugee camp while endorsing and making more real the “right of return”? These creative, modest, and brilliant young architects open their home to those from around the world to live and think with them through art, video, architecture, anthropology and history and more. Their two principal projects, “Decolonizing Architecture” and “Campus on Camps” are living archives in formation, of what is needed to think a future even as checkpoints stop their entry, arbitrary roadblocks cut access to villages, even as those who are ready to take up month long residencies in their compound are denied access and stopped at the airport gates.

Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal have no pretention. They are mobilizing the dormant energies around them and around the world to activate acts of political creation — their efforts are not designed to tell us what’s wrong with Israeli policy but to embrace a notion of critique that allies with Foucault’s definition: not to be governed by these people, at this time, in this way. They came to speak to us at the New School on the late afternoon of November 17, 2014. The Orozco room was at full capacity with people camped outside the doors. The anthropologist, Ilana Feldman, who is studying their projects, was there to comment as were Carin Kouni who directs the Vera List Center and myself. Listen closely to their visions, attend to their practices and projects. And if you should find the opportunity, take part in this venture in any way you can! This is engagement and critique oriented to the possible, to the making possible of what is deemed not possible, and to the future tense.

Ann Stoler, Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at the The New School for Social Research in New York City


Visible Evidence, the annual scholarly conference on documentary film, media, culture and politics. Visible Evidence 21, as is traditional, will feature a range of panels, workshops, plenary sessions, screenings and special events around documentary, its practices, histories and theories.

Decolonising Architecture: Interventions in the Field of Vision ‘The Morning After’ with Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti
Saturday, December 13

Venue: School of Arts and Aesthetics Auditorium, Jawaharlal Nehru University Time: 7pm

Using their recent publication, Architecture after Revolution (Sternberg Press, Berlin 2014), as a structuring device for their presentation, Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti will share a set of architectural fables from the unfolding struggle for Palestine. Their proposals are future speculations about the seemingly impossible, the actual transformation of the very structures of domination. At times these involve ‘cinematic’ interventions that organize the field of vision.


Incontro con Peter Schneider, Alessandro Petti e Seba Kurtis al MAXXI di Roma


Open Museum, Open City
29 November, 17.30

MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts
Via Guido Reni 4A – 00196 Rome

L’approccio speculativo dello scrittore, quello operativo dell’architetto, quello intimo del fotografo sono punti di vista per guardare al fenomeno prolificante della crescita di muri – fisici, emotivi, politici, sociali – che segnano e disegnano i confini del mondo in cui viviamo.

A testimonianza di un muro caduto lo scrittore tedesco Peter Schneider, autore di romanzi come Il saltatore del Muro (1982), del saggio Dopo il muro: i volti della nuova Germania(1992) e del più recente Berlin Now: The City After the Wall (2014), che ha indagato i cambiamenti della città di Berlino dal punto di vista sociale, politico e artistico negli ultimi decenni.

Di luoghi dilaniati da contrasti e muri di incomunicabilità parlerà anche Alessandro Petti, Direttore dello studio DAAR Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency con sede in Palestina che opera in Medioriente con progetti che nascono dalla lettura e dalla “decolonizzazione” dei luoghi, spesso macerie, duramente colpiti dai conflitti.

Peter Schneider, Alessandro Petti e Seba Kurtis
Modera Francesca Fabiani


Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal at the New School, NYC – Nov 17th at 6pm



Public square, Fawwar Refugee Camp, Hebron, West Bank. Photo by Adam Ferguson

The Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility hosts a lecture by Alessandro Petti and Sandi Hilal entitled “Spatial Ordering of Exile: The Architecture of Palestinian Refugee Camps.”

The lecture is followed by a roundtable discussion with Ilana Feldman (Associate Professor of Anthropology, History and International Affairs at George Washington University), Carin Kuoni (Director of Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School for Public Engagement) and Ann Stoler (Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research).

The event is part of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility 2014-15 Lecture Series “Rethinking Refugee Spaces: Architecture, Design, and Politics” and is co-sponsored by the Global Studies Program, The New School for Social Research, Vera List Center for Art and Politic and Bard College.

Monday November 17th 2014 at 6pm
Orozco Room (A712)
66 West 12th street New York NY

OPEN CALL: DAAR residency 2014/15


Winter Residency – (01 November 2014 – 31 January 2015)
Spring Residency – (01 March 2015 – 31 May 2015)

DAAR is glad to announce an open call for architects, artists and cultural practitioners interested in exploring the intersection between space and politics in one of the world’s most conflict-charged areas. By joining the DAAR team this year, the participant will be invited to explore the concept of “exile”. Rather than seeing exile as a state of postponements – delaying actions until a particular time is fulfilled ¬– it will be considered as an operational tool for actions taking place in the present are and able to transgress borders and forced dislocation. DAAR/studio in exile seeks to mobilize exile as an architectural and political concept. Architecture is produced by the interaction of three basic elements: site, social context and the architect. Exile – the forced distance between communities, architects, and buildings – is a prevalent condition within rapidly transforming contemporary Southeastern Mediterranean countries and is challenging this triangle of local relations.

The resident should be able to work in extreme and difficult situations and with limited resources, handle frustration linked to a military occupation, have team spirit while being able to work alone with a high degree of self-initiative. Good proficiency in both written and spoken English is necessary, Arabic is an asset as are familiarity with the Palestinian context and contemporary discourses on Palestinian refugees, high motivation and personal identification with DAAR’s projects and approach.

The resident will be offered a studio and residency at DAAR in Beit Sahour (Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories) for a period of 3 months (beginning November 1st or February 1st). Working days: from Monday to Friday (10am to 6pm). The resident will enjoy weekly lectures and seminars, walks, field trips and collective meals.

Interested candidates are invited to submit a CV and cover letter, both in English, explaining their motivation in wishing to join DAAR residencies. Please forward the application and CV as soon as possible to before the beginning of the Winter Residency – (01 November 2014 – 31 January 2015) or before the beginning of the Spring Residency – (01 March 2015 – 31 May 2015).

In collaboration with Foundation for Art Initiatives, British Council, Delfina Foundation

DAAR/studio in exile: 01 PRESENT RETURNS

London, Delfina Foundation
Wednesday 2 July 2014, 10.00 – 12.00

Participants: Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, Eyal Weizman, Ismail Shek Hassan, Muhammed Jabali, Shourideh Molavi, Gautam Bhan, Ruba Saleh, Umar al-Ghubari.

Return is a political act that is both practiced at present and projected as an image into an uncertain future. But return cannot be understood only as the suspended politics of an ideological projection, but also as a varied form of politics constantly practiced, grounding a future ideal in present day material realities. This represents a varied set of practices and spatial interventions that we would like to call “present returns”. The concept of present returns grounds the right of return in daily material practices. Traditionally, the return is understood as a coming back to one’s places of origin and one’s property. However, during the sixty-six years of exile, conditions have changed not only in the cities, towns, and villages that were cleansed but also in the places of refuge, where a new political culture has gradually started to articulate itself. The return poses both a challenge and a promise that are far in excess of the mere reversal of time. It is the most necessary move in the implementation of decolonization because the notion of returns demands the complete reorganization of modes of property ownership and the relation between multiple polities and territory.

Returns will have a simultaneous material effect in both the sites of origin and the sites of displacement. The result might be a reciprocal extraterritoriality that connects the two sites into a single dislocated site. This project seeks thus to chart out and intervene within a wider field of possible political, social and cultural practices of returns.

The right of return is the right to the urban, to a condition of heterogeneity and multiplicity that may already distinguish the sites of origin. Furthermore, the right of return challenges the structure of property rights and means that new forms of co-habitation will need to be developed. But the returns of Palestinian refugees will not only demand a radical change in and to Israel/Palestine, they will also affect the transformation of cities across the entire region. There are millions of refugees across the region already undergoing revolts and massive transformations, mainly on the outskirts of the now burning conurbations of Aleppo, Damascus, Beirut, and Amman. The emergence of refugees as a diffused polity might help us to rethink today’s struggles not from the point of view of national liberation, but from that of a continued profanation and decolonization of state borders.

DAAR/studio in exile (2014/15)


A year ago, we gave to ourselves to chance to take a sabbatical year to mark out the 7 years of our collaboration and DAAR production. Thanks to the support from the Foundation for Art Initiatives, we finally had the chance to systematize scattered texts written in occasion of exhibitions in a coherent structure of a book. This gave us a sense of conclusion and a new possible beginning.

At the moment that “Architecture after Revolution” will leave its on life, we are preparing ourselves for a new beginning. One central characteristic of DAAR has been the possibility to create a group formed by people that “can not be together”. We profaned national borders and religious affiliations. In the coming years we want to continue and accelerate this “profane collaborations”. For this reason we decide to set up a studio in exile, that will work as a twin with the architectural studio and art residency in Beit Sahour. By having a studio in exile we will have the possibility to work and gather people that could not otherwise be together due the political situation in Palestine. The work will be organized around two winters residency (in Beit Sahour) and a summer residency (in London and other locations).


DAAR/studio in exile aims at creating an intellectual and physical space that allowed architects, artists and researchers from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Libya to undertake common projects in sites inaccessible to some of the group’s members. Providing a network of relations and sites throughout the South-eastern Mediterranean, the “studio in exile” will undo the local relation between architect and site, between social communities and building, and between a building and its context. This will be articulated by looking at and working with diasporic communities, Palestinian and others, in establishing a remote set of relations.

Architecture is produced by the interaction of three basic elements: site, social context and the architect. DAAR/studio in exile seeks to challenge this triangle of local relations by mobilizing “exile” as an architectural and political concept. Exile – that is forced distance between communities, architects, and buildings — is a prevalent condition within fast transforming contemporary South-eastern Mediterranean countries, where an increased number of people are forced to live far from their social, cultural and political context. In DAAR/studio in exile we consider exile, rather than being a state of postponements –delaying actions until a particular time is fulfilled — we consider it as an operational tool for actions that take place into the present able to transgress borders and forced dislocation.

The model for turning exile into an operation context come from DAAR’s long term relation and work with displaced and dispersed Palestinian refugee communities. These communities have no access to the site most important to their political identity – the site of their origins – and are further dispersed between different countries with no immediate access between them. The architecture in exile built in refugee camps was always thought as a bridge to site. In DAARs projects – we used exile as a political concept to connect between refugee groups, themselves and between them and the inaccessible site. Other models for political action at a distance are grounded in DAAR’s long-term analysis of parliaments in exile, and its experience with working remotely in an architectural studio.


One of the location of the studio in exile will take place in London (the place where many governments in exile took place), because it is a neutral ground for people coming from Palestine and elsewhere. During summers – we plan to organize a summer school — as already experimented with in DAAR/Beit Sahour. During two months in July and August it will include lectures, seminars and workshop. The pilot projects for this year and for only two weeks will include architects from Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Libya.
After the initiation of project during the summer, two winter programs – located in Beit Sahour– will implements ideas discussed and proposed during the summer. A yearlong program will culminate back in London with a public forum and an exhibition.

Summer residency at Delfina in London

(24 of June – 7 of July)
Participants: Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, Eyal Weizman, Ismae’l Sheikh Hassan, Muhammed Jabali, Umar al-Ghubari, Shourideh Molavi, Gautam Bham, Ruba Saleh.

Winter Residencies – Studio based program in Beit Sahour

(1 November 2014 – 15 June 2015)

Two winters programs open to ten artists and architects (1 November 2014 – 1 Feb 2015; 1 Feb- 15 June-2015) Open call for the residencies will be published soon.

Summer residency at Delfina in London and other locations

(1 July – 31 August – 2015)

End of the first year cycle and beginning of new investigations.

In collaboration with Foundation for Art Initiatives, British Council, Delfina Foundation