Material Cultural Heritage Lab 

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Launched in December 2021, the Material Cultural Heritage Lab is an outdoor workshop space and visitor centre based at Basrah Museum and on adjacent municipal land.

 

It currently features examples of 5 different types of vernacular buildings made with reeds and palm, and displays of traditional boats and boat models. There is space for further workshops in future: upcoming phases will focus on adobe building techniques, and on material cultural heritage as a resource for climate adaptation and mitigation.

The Material Cultural Heritage Lab was established with grant funding from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund (in partnership with DCMS) and from ALIPH Foundation.

Vernacular architecture as a topic of experiential research

Between December 2021 - March 2022, a total of 16 skilled artisans and 17 architecture students and graduates took part in workshops to build and document a range of vernacular construction techniques, with outputs including a Mudhif (reed meeting-house), boatyard, Sarifa with Sawbat (gabled hut with roof platform), Hadhira (animal feeding hut), palm shelter, palm furniture items, reed bundle boats, reed columns, fencing and shading.

 

The student group from Basra University’s architecture department also contributed to the design and production of our outdoor exhibition, including photographic documentation and graphic analysis of the construction process of each built structure. The project has enabled architecture students to learn directly from traditional builders: an experience that is groundbreaking in Iraqi higher education, both through its engagement with vernacular architecture as a topic and through its hands-on approach.

 

Making material cultural heritage accessible to the public

The Lab has brought the vernacular architecture of southern Iraq to a popular audience in a prominent urban location. The exhibition reached an estimated 5000 members of the public during the course of the first project phase, and is likely to reach hundreds of thousands during the lifetime of the built structures.

 

The project has also enabled Safina Projects to gather outputs of our work,  including boat models and full-sized traditional boats from several workshop phases during the past 7 years, on a single site and make them accessible to visitors.

We have designed the site as a welcoming and engaging place, with palm furniture, rugs and cushions as seating. The open-sided structures are often used for picnics. It's a space for story-telling, sharing knowledge between generations, as the traditional architecture and boats bring back memories. Its location, the presidential palaces compound, was already a popular site for photo-shoots such as graduation and wedding photos. Now the vernacular buildings of the Material Cultural Heritage Lab are often chosen as backgrounds: people still feel a sense of identification with this heritage as part of their local identity, and choose to include it in life events and celebrations.

Project partners

  • Ministry of Culture - Basrah Museum

  • Al-Asima Media Production

  • Iraqi Association for Architectural Heritage Preservation

  • Khawla Bint Alzwar Feminist Association

  • British Institute for the Study of Iraq

  • Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation

  • Additional partners to be announced

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