Aga Khan Award for
Architecture

SOS Children's Village

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Jordan, Aqaba
 
 

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1991
SOS Children's Village Association of Jordan
Architects: Jafar Tukan & Partners

On the outskirts of Aqaba, Jordan's outlet to the Read Sea, a sensitive new project has fused a modern design vocabulary with a renewal of the local building vernacular to create a haven for orphaned children. Thoughtfully scaled and arranged and environmentally friendly, the SOS Children's Village succeeds in providing a place, where children can feel at home. 

Designed by Jafar Tukan and completed in 1991, the Aqaba SOS complex creates conditions for orphaned children that are as close as possible to those of normal family life. Houses accommodate 9 children each, 72 in all, minded by a woman, who becomes a surrogate mother figure. The children are provided with private meals and tutoring and have a sibling-like relationship with other children in the unit. Father figures include the "village father" (the director of the village, who lives on the premises with his real family), his assistant or deputy, and other men working in the village, such as the gardener and maintenance man. The village is integrated with the surrounding community through points of public and social interaction: a supermarket and pharmacy, which generate a small income for the village, and a sports center and kindergarten.

Eight family houses, a staff house, an administration building, a guest house and the village director's residence are all planned around a "village square" and connected via pedestrian paths, gardens and alleyways. Because summer temperatures can reach uncomfortable heights, the complex is arranged in clusters and buildings, surrounded by breezy outdoor spaces, animated by lush vegetation and shade trees. Vaulted archways lead to shaded courts, while gardens surround the buildings on all sides. The shared facilities are located on the southern border of the site, close to the main road.

Details that enliven the exterior spaces include solid-wood window frames and mashrabiyyas, or screens, which filter the light of the harsh sun. Traditional ventilation techniques have been implemented and the dwelling enjoy good thermal insulation, so maintenance requirements are minimal. Domestic hot water is provided by solar panels.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the design is its use of a traditional cladding of random granite stones. Drawing on the example of the few remaining traditional buildings in Aqaba's old town, the architect implemented a study of the best way to build with natural stone, found in the nearby mountains. The architect specified that the stone was "not to be mechanically cut or dressed, but (had to) remain completely natural". Having mastered the process, the builder and contractor were able to train others, contributing to a revival of traditional building techniques. At the same time, modern elements were introduced, with wooden structural elements, replaced by pre-cast concrete.

The loss of its traditional buildings has left Aqaba's with little by way of distinctive architectural or urban character. Because the industrial building materials favored by Jordan's construction industry marginalized the input of local communities, Aqaba has few local architects and no professional, trained labor force. The use of stone in this project has created a new precedent for local building. The village's architecture is now being used as a model and has given local authorities an added incentive to upgrade the old town's infrastructure, which they have come to view as the heart of Aqaba's urban public. Private properties must now be built in a style that is defined a mixture of modern and local, using materials from around Aqaba.

Within the village, the sense of security and happiness fostered by the architecture is reflected in the civility, discipline and good manners that can be witnessed among the children. On a border scale, the project has had a great impact on the local environment and proposes a more sensitive approach to design and planning through a careful process of research.

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Aga Khan Award for Architecture
 
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