Getting Ambitious With Clay: Going Back To Their Roots

Categories: Construction Methods

He is confident, however, that they will finish before the winter rains begin.

Since the war on Gaza ended, a number of houses have been built using mud to create simple, square, two or three-room homes. The new Sheikh Zayed police station is one of the larger and more ambitious projects.

An intricate series of thick-walled, deep-arched chambers form what is on the whole a much more artistic rendition of the former square, cement police station bombed during the attacks. When finished, the station will be 550 square metres, including seven 3.5m by 3.5m office rooms and eight long, arched-roofed chambers 3m wide and 8m long. 

In contrast to Gaza’s basic new mud-brick homes, with their cracked-earth finish inside and rough, straw-flecked outer layer, the police station design replicates that of the elegant, traditional Palestinian stone or brick buildings: neatly-packed rows of brick frame windows and doorways in graceful arcs; with surprisingly smooth domes that top off vaulted rooms and corridors. The one-level station, with its multiple rooftop domes, resembles the architecture of Palestinian homes from Nablus to Jerusalem.

The site, just off the coastal road serving Beit Lahia, is open and spacious, with a contrasting backdrop of cement block apartment buildings, built long before the Israeli siege on Gaza, when cement was accessible.

Engineer and site supervisor Sameh Al-Khalout explains the small-scale and hand-crafted construction process.

“The mud bricks take between one and two weeks to cast and dry,” he says, gesturing at the rows of bricks drying in the sun. “Each brick costs roughly one shekel (a quarter of a dollar) to make.” 

Al-Khalout says the clay is brought from a nearby area of Beit Lahia, and the straw comes from local farmers. “We will put plaster on the roof, to seal it and protect it from rain.”

Wood is temporarily used to buffer ceiling arches and windows until the clay mortar hardens. The wood is then removed and used elsewhere in the same manner.

Apart from these wood bracings, conventional and excessively expensive building materials are not used.

Cement smuggled in via the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza is as much as ten times the pre-siege price. A tonne of cement costs 3,400 shekels (850 dollars), compared to the 350 shekels it cost prior to June 2007.

Husam Toubil from the United Nations Development Programme says Gaza requires 50,000 tons of cement to rebuild destroyed homes, and 41,000 tons for public buildings.

Al-Khalout says problems extend beyond lack of availability of materials. “For most of our workers, this is their first experience building with mud bricks. 

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