A imposing hillside citadel concealing gardens and galleries, the AM Qattan Foundation, built under occupation, aims to provide an oasis of calm

... “It is more than just an arts centre,” says Omar Al-Qattan, the Beirut-born, British-educated chairman of the foundation. “We hope it might be a modest microcosm of urban public life, something that Palestinian cities lack.” ....

Opening night … outside the Qattan Foundation cultural centre in Ramallah
Opening night … outside the Qattan Foundation cultural centre in Ramallah © Oliver Wainwright for the Guardian

Look at a map of Ramallah and you will see several intersections deceptively marked as “squares”, which turn out to be traffic-choked roundabouts. Visitors to the new complex will enjoy the rare treat of standing on a car-free limestone plaza, where fountains will soon spurt, with a cafe and views of the rolling valley beyond, all shielded from the street by a long, perforated stone wall. The building’s multilevel terraces teemed with excited families at the public opening on 28 June, when more than 1,500 people showed up to explore the facilities.

It is the work of Seville-based Donaire Arquitectos, who were chosen following an invited competition of small, young practices. They have brought a refined Andalusian sensibility to the arid site.


They struggled with the lack of a skilled workforce – he says the best builders work across the border, where Israeli firms pay double or triple local wages – and endured endless delays, with imported materials held up by Israeli customs. The library shelves were mysteriously detained for three months, while a container of light fixtures a sheet of bulletproof glass needed for the gallery space to be able accept precious loans have yet to arrive.

“We are used to the daily harassment,” says Al-Qattan, who received permission last year to visit his foundation’s Gaza children’s centre, after waiting for a decade, “but this is an absurd abuse of power.”

Considering the constraints, the architects have pulled off an impressive feat and achieved a rare level of precision. There are some bodged details, but the result is far superior to most buildings in ramshackle towns of the West Bank.