Preserving Threatened Historic Districts

The Old City of Damascus became a development target as the Syrian economy began to open up in the 1990s. While the area is now a popular tourist destination, its historic architecture remains threatened. In 2002 and again in 2008, the World Monuments Fund put Old Damascus on its Watch List of heritage sites “threatened by neglect, demolition, or disaster.” In some cases, old buildings were razed to make way for newly constructed establishments. Others involved the hasty restoration and conversion of historic courtyard houses. With a lack of technical expertise, cheap concrete has replaced stone and mud brick. 

The Aga Khan Development Network, the organization that promotes the preservation of Islamic heritage, is hoping to demonstrate a new development model for the area. The group is in the midst of slowly and judiciously restoring three of the Old City’s most splendid late-Ottoman houses. All three will reopen collectively as a luxury hotel.

The dwellings date to the mid-18th to late 19th centuries and once housed affluent merchant families and, in later years, the first European consuls to Damascus. They are mansions really, with sprawling courtyards, ornate receiving rooms, and the traditional, environmentally adaptive layout of traditional Damascene architecture. The high, open alcove, or liwan, off the courtyard stays shady throughout hot summer days, while interior and upstairs rooms receive sunlight through the winter, warming the mud brick and stone walls.

Begun in 2008, the AKDN project is slated to be finished in 2012. Galleries, cafés, and “showrooms” to Damascene architecture will fill the traditional greeting rooms on the ground floors of the two-story houses. Unlike some conversions that use concrete, the AKDN’s hotel will feature traditional building materials installed by skilled craftsmen.

Parking for businesses and tourists in historic districts is a major challenge for architects and developers. No one wants to see an ugly concrete parking structure that is totally out of character for the area. This is where Robotic Parking Systems can help. An automated parking structure can store twice as many cars in half the space so the footprint required for the parking facility can be much smaller. Additionally, the facade can be completely customized to fit the architecture of the area.

Via: Architectural Record

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