Palestine Museum review – a beacon of optimism on a West Bank hilltop

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Palestine Museum review – a beacon of optimism on a West Bank hilltop
© Oliver Wainwright
Palestine Museum review – a beacon of optimism on a West Bank hilltop
© Oliver Wainwright

With gardens of native species in lieu of a perimeter wall, this bright limestone hangar is a powerful and positive presence – even without any contents

A sharp white crown rises from a hilltop in the West Bank, looking out across sun-scorched terraces of olive trees and sage bushes to the waters of the Mediterranean – a distant prospect that most Palestinians will never be able to reach. Seen from the valley below, this monolithic hangar could be the latest Israeli fortification, casting its beady eye over the surrounding Arab villages from the angular black windows slashed across its facade. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

This faceted box is the new Palestinian Museum, a $24m (£16.6m) container for celebrating the history, culture and society of the oppressed nation, finally inaugurated on Wednesday after a 20-year gestation – with nothing inside it.

“We thought it was better to celebrate the collective achievement of completing the building than delay any longer,” says Omar Al-Qattan of the Welfare Association (Taawon), an NGO backed mainly by Palestinian exiles, which funded the project. “Positive energy is important in our current climate of cynicism and indecision, in a country that’s under occupation, where there’s little self-value or self-confidence. We wanted to make a statement that we’re here to stay.”

Designed by Dublin-based architects Heneghan Peng, who won the project in an international competition in 2011, the building emerges from the landscape like a stealthy bunker, zig-zagging along the contours of the rocky site in precisely hewn planes of bright white Bethlehem limestone. Set at the top of a four-hectare plot, donated by the neighbouring Birzeit University, the angular form casts ripples into the surrounding land, giving on to a sunken amphitheatre and a garden of snaking terraces, planted with a cornucopia of native species that reads like a horticultural history of Palestine. […]

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