6-14 October 2017

Interview: Ayman Zuaiter, Architect of Raghadan Tourist Terminal

By Céline Alkhaldi
On Tuesday, August 01, 2017

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After nearly a decade of being idle, the Raghadan Tourist Terminal in the heart of Amman’s downtown bustled with people during last year’s edition of Amman Design Week. The terminal, designed by architect Ayman Zuaiter along with architect Khaled Jadallah, was transformed into a Crafts District ­– a hub which brought together a diverse group of initiatives, institutions, individual makers, and designers, who highlighted current global and local needs, skills, and traditions.

 The Raghadan Tourist Terminal was built in 2005 to become a revived node of transportation that would also incorporate a commercial center where traditional handicrafts, cafes and restaurants would thrive. However, the project funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) remained inactive for eight years as a result of differences on how it should be managed.

Amman Design Week’s re-activation last year, under the hands of architect Dina Haddadin, the designer and curator of Amman Design Week 2016's pop-up Crafts District, was particularly emotional for architect Ayman Zuaiter. Zuaiter’s vision was to blend the space with its surrounding and to “stitch some loose ends in downtown Amman”, in a process he describes as “urban stitching”.

The Crafts District, designed and curated by Dina Haddadin at the Raghadan Tourist Terminal - Amman Design Week 2016

Regarding this experience, we sat with architect Ayman Zuaiter, who discussed in both pride and disappointment his involvement in the development of the project; proud to have been chosen by JICA to implement the project’s design but disappointed it has been idle for all these years.

Tell us more about your practice and vision as an architect – urban designer.

I believe it’s hard to really separate the practice of an urban designer from my practice as an architect. Urban designers, who come first in my opinion, determine and shape an urban space to make it functional and attractive. Architects design individual buildings, which are without a doubt the most pronounced elements of the urban scene. In this way, they are able to articulate a given space by forming the city’s street walls. It is the oftentimes the case though, that these buildings are isolated from their environment. I like working on projects that relate to the city as a whole –  a city, being the result of its inhabitants and the sum of their interactions, behavioral patterns and forms of transportation. Throughout my work over the years, I’ve tried to involve myself in the place and the spirit of the place I’m working in. When I get the chance to work on a project that is vaster than an individual building, I see it as an opportunity to be involved in designing a city experience – a chance to shape a scene in Amman.

How did you get involved in the project?

To facilitate the “Tourism Sector Development Project”, JICA had cooperated with a sub-technical consultant, Pacific Consultants International (PCI), to search for local consultants to work on recreating and replacing the existing Raghadan Terminal located in downtown Amman. We were interviewed amongst other firms and were excited to have been chosen to work on the project. 

What was the objective behind the development of the Raghadan Tourist Terminal?

The objective of this collaborative project was to develop tourism infrastructure in the capital city of Amman and tourist attractions in the surrounding area. It was expected to increase the number of tourists as well as investors who would bring foreign currency into the country. The Raghadan Tourist Terminal was meant to facilitate traffic movement and become a more accessible tourist attraction. The vision was that it would become a stop where one could link with the surrounding historic context.

The Raghadan Tourist Terminal, designed by Architects Ayman Zuaiter and Khaled Jadallah

Were there any particular influences in the design of Raghadan Tourist Terminal?

I was definitely influenced by local elements. For instance, the stone and fair-face concrete I incorporated in the building. There is also a touch of local architecture which can be seen in the vocabulary used in the facades. Since the plot of land was very linear and long in nature, it was a challenge to create a building that does not feel like one long corridor. I introduced segmentation and plazas that broke up the linearity and created spaces of gathering. The overall design gives off an impression of incompleteness. I like this feature because it leaves room for additions and different re-activations, which in the case of Amman Design Week was a great success.

Arches within the Raghadan Tourist Terminal, designed by Architects Ayman Zuaiter and Khaled Jadallah

The Raghadan Bus Terminal, designed by Architects Ayman Zuaiter and Khaled Jadallah

What do you believe was the role of your vision as the architect of Raghadan?

I wanted to stitch the loose ends in downtown Amman, or at least parts of it. No one can repair an entire city, but it is possible to address particular elements. For example, there is a bridge in Raghadan, which crosses the street and meets an old urban staircase on the hill across the street. It was a challenging detail to stitch the new bridge and stair to merge into the old urban stair and the topography of the hill. I call this “urban stitching”, a process which I’ve come to learn, must be tackled sensitively. I learned that it’s not always the case that adding an element to a city can be advantageous. Sometimes, you remove an element that is not needed and it can be equally beneficial. My team and I conducted research with regards to spatial organization and the connection between an individual structure and its local surroundings. We walked in the streets and learned a lot about the components that make up the city – what it is and what is can be. We took the city’s public nature into consideration, how it can be enhanced and how the space we were about to create can enliven the experience of being in Amman.

Raghadan Tourist Terminal- Floor Plan

People of the area feel a lot of ownership over the space, what in your opinion went wrong?

Since the Raghadan Tourist Terminal project was not activated as a terminal and as a bus and service stop, it drew less traffic to that area. This caused a displacement of merchants who were originally based there. The initial plan was to bring back the exact number of small shops to the location after the design was implemented but that did not happen. Vendors across the street moved away because economic activity and movement was stumped. There were no more customers and paying rent was no longer efficient for them. People would even come to my office complaining about this. As a designer, I neither have the authority to make any of the decisions, nor would I be able to return the jobs they once had! I really believe this was not fair to them. As I said before, the city is first and foremost about the people that inhabit it.

Do you think the project was successful?

Since it has been idle for years it’s hard to say whether it was successful from a design perspective or not. It’s a socioeconomic loss for the city as a whole, although I was very happy to see Amman Design Week’s re-activation of the space last year. What it did was test the space, which I believe was the point. It gave me an impression that the space can be enlivened, and is in fact receptive to different programs and activities. On the second floor, I left parts of the roof open to the sun, allowing future inhabitants to decide how they want to use the space. It was really lovely to see the way Dina Haddadin took advantage of that and introduced canopies and breathed life into the space.

What should be done with the Raghadan Tourist Terminal in your opinion?

Where are the people who were there at Amman Design Week? The people need to say something. Activate it as it is. It needs to be a market and transport hub for both tourists and locals. Shops and cafes should be rented out and things being sold should be accessible to the public, particularly to those living in surrounding neighborhoods.

The Crafts District, Amman Design Week 2016