28 December 2021

Lorraine Abu Azizeh : when architecture and restoration are combined in the Middle East


The Terra Sancta Museum is proud to include in its teams several international experts who have been working for more than five years on it. They include Lorraine Abu Azizeh, a French architect who has been working on heritage sites in France and the Middle East for more than 15 years.

Can you tell us about yourself briefly?

My name is Lorraine Abu Azizeh, I am an architect and I have been working since August 2020 for the Technical Department of the Custody of the Holy Land. We are responsible for the different sites on the properties of the Franciscans, including of course the Terra Sancta Museum, where I work with Vincenzo Zuppardo, the architect in charge of the museum project.

I graduated as an architect in France in 2007 and I also have a Master’s degree in the History of Architecture. The heritage is a field which I have always been very interested in. During my studies, I was able to spend one year in Italy where I took courses in history and plans [1] and restoration projects which are not usually offered on architecture courses in France. I then continued in Germany where I worked for 6 months in Mainz in an institute of plans. I knew when I finished my studies that I did not want to work in a classic architectural firm.

How and when did you start to work on sites in the Middle East ?

During my History Master, I met the director of the French archaeological mission in Mari, in Syria.  He offered me the chance to work as an architect on this Mesopotamian site. I did not know that field at all, I went every year for three years to make plans of the excavations, which allowed me to gain great awareness f the issues of preservation and conservation of archaeological sites. In parallel, I was working in Paris for a firm of architects that worked on projects of restoration for private clients (castles, farms etc.).

Then I was lucky enough to obtain a post for four years as head of research as an architect at the Ifpo [Institut français du Proche-Orient], in Amman, in Jordan. I worked in particular on the end of the programme of restoration of the temple of Zeus in Jerash, a major archaeological site. I managed a team of 10 Arabic-speaking workers, including some stone-cutters.

How did you get to know the Custody of the Holy Land?

From 2016, I worked in a firm of architects in Lyon  [Agence Archipat, France] directed by six architects specialized in heritage, It was a very rich experience and I was able to direct several large projects of restoration of historic monuments (Château de Ray-sur-Saône, Forges de Baignes, Château de Ripaille in Thonon-les-Bains).

I then moved to Jerusalem for family reasons and I found this job with the Custody, in a slightly unexpected way. The fact of working in the Old City of Jerusalem is fascinating and I discovered work in a religious environment, in the very heart of a convent, which never ceases to amaze me ! It is also the opportunity for me to rediscover these places and realize the luck I have to work on projects here in the Old City of Jerusalem or in Nazareth for example.

The Technical Department is a small team but the environment is super and I love in particular the fact that we are all working in a multilingual contest: we speak Italian, English, Arabic and sometimes even in French all at the same time !

How do you put your expertise at the service of the Terra Sancta Museum ?

I have been working for 15 years now in heritage, in France and abroad and the context of Jerusalem recalls my experience in Jordan. There are real differences with France, in particular on the organization of work, the hierarchy, the fact of being a woman or not, of speaking Arabic or not… But there is one common point on all restoration sites: in heritage, we always work with highly qualified  firms and skilled workers, They are people who know their job and who have very good knowledge of the traditional techniques :I always have an enormous amount of things to learn from them. What I find particularly interesting with the Custody’s workers is the daily relationship with them, which is necessarily different from a relationship with a worker of an external company. Bonds are created and there is also a real exchange in local techniques and materials (and in particular the stones here).

How could you explain the professional interest that the project of the Terra Sancta Museum (TSM) represents for you?

For me, one of the greatest interests of the TSM project, beyond the dimension of the heritage, is the composition of a multidisciplinary group, with architects, a set designer, engineers, skilled workers etc. The presence of a scientific committee is a rare element in private projects and gives this project very particular credit.

On the other hand, the presentation of the collections interests me a lot,  I have never worked on a museographic project of this extent and with such technical problems. On the one hand, the problems are linked to overcoming the environmental conditions in this space which had not been conceived as a museum. On the other hand, it is a question of the complexity to take into consideration to present and preserve the works which will be on display in the museum. In my opinion, the work we will be doing on the issues that are at the interface between museography and the architectural project of the TSM will be fascinating!

[1] A plan in architecture is a graphic representation of an existing building. Its aim is to reconstitute the technical documentation of a building (plan, sections, facades, details) when it does not exist.

(Translated from french by Joan Rundo)

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