An interview with Architect Ayman Zuaiter about Raghadan Bus Terminal

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      The Raghadan Tourist Terminal in the heart of Amman’s bustling downtown was built in 2005 with a vision to become a revived node of transportation and a focal point of touristic movement in the capital. With a design that encompassed a commercial center, it was meant to be a hub where traditional handicrafts, cafes and restaurants would thrive attracting tourists and locals alike.

     However, the project funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) remained uninhabited for nearly a decade as a result of differences on how it should be managed. The unique terminal only came back to life for a short duration last year as part of Amman Design Week. The space was transformed into a Crafts District, curated and designed by architect Dina Haddadin. The Crafts District brought together a diverse group of initiatives, institutions, individual makers, and designers who highlighted current global and local needs, skills, and traditions.

The event was particularly emotional for architect Ayman Zuaiter, who, with architect Khaled Jadallah, designed the terminal to blend it with its surrounding and to “stitch some loose ends in downtown Amman”, what he refers to as Urban Stitching.

We sat with Arch. Ayman Zuaiter to discuss the Raghadan Bus Terminal and to learn more about his involvement in the development of the project.

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

  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 urban design. 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. We were enthusiastic 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. Raghadan Tourist Terminal was meant to facilitate traffic movement and become a more accessible and comfortable tourist attraction. The vision was that it would become a stop where one could take busses around Jordan or the region.

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.

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 of Amman – 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.

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

Since the Raghadan Bus 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, it really isn’t in my control 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 fill it up.

Do you think the project was successful?

Since its been idle for years it’s hard to say if it was successful from a design perspective. It’s a socioeconomic loss for the city as a whole that it has been stopped. Although I was very happy to see Amman Design Week’s re-activation of the space last year. What it did was testing 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 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.