GDE720 – Week 6 – 8: The City of Limestone

For week’s 6 to 8, I’m foregoing the typical journal entries in order to save time, but since I do prefer for there to be some sort of record of my work process, this entry will include three major elements of for Project Brief 1: (1) my nearly 3000-word article (2) my inspiration mood board and design process for the cover as well as some of the inside pages/spreads (3) how I’ll be promoting/funding this publication.

The city of limestone
مدينة الحجر الجيري

To the untrained eye, Amman is a visually homogenous city, with its various districts all more or less resembling each other. However, one of roughly 4 million inhabitants, the city comprises various ethnicities, including Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, and Chechens. Unfortunately, the Ammani street-view hides this diversity quite well.

Amman is known for its white brick facades, composed mainly of limestone, a common building material used for practicality and aesthetics. It’s almost as if buildings hide the true identity of their origins through their dressings. However, with a close look at the shapes and patterns of their bricks, another story can be told.

In this essay, I will be exploring the city’s hidden diversity through its architectural facades to uncover any patterns that might have arisen throughout its pockets of communities.

The City of Immigrants: a brief history of Amman

After it had been devoid of any inhabitants since the 14th century, the Amman we know today had only been repopulated from the start of the late 1880s. It was estimated that Bedouins constituted the majority of the population. It was also speculated that Bedouins, who the Ottomans persecuted for their nomadic lifestyle, occupied roughly 2,450 tents in Wadi al-Sir at that time. (Hanania, 2018) 

By 1908, Amman was made up of three distinct neighborhoods of Circassian immigrants, Shapsugh, Kabartay, and Abzakh, and other immigrants to the area included Kurds. The latter formed their neighborhood called al-Akrad. (Hanania, 2018) 

In 1914, the Ottoman Empire officially declared the village of Amman a refugee settlement. (Hamed-Troyansky, 2017) The first homes built in the Village of Amman were constructed of stones sourced from the Roman Amphitheatre. Thus, the first Circassian quarter was founded near the Amman springs, giving way to this district’s name today: Ras el Ain. (Hamed-Troyansky, 2017)

The expansion of the Hijazi Railways into Amman helped it grow from a village into a small town, bringing about its expansion into several districts built by the Circassian community, including Jabal al-Qal’a, Wadi al-Sir, and Jabal Amman. (Hanania, 2018) 

Between 1920 and 1953, Amman’s diversity was exemplified by the first seven governors of the Governate of Amman who came from various backgrounds, including Circassian, Syrian, Hijazi, Palestinian, and Transjordanian (East Bank Jordanian). 

Amongst the migrant communities that made Amman their home were Damascene Syrians, who came to Amman after fleeing French rule. Although they came to the city without ample funds, they were soon able to thrive as merchants. Around the 1920s, Christian families migrated from nearby Madaba to Amman. Palestinian merchants from Salt had also made their way to set up shop in Amman’s thriving markets, as did Armenian merchants before the Armenian Genocide. (Hanania, 2018) 

The Jordanian identity did not exist at that time as the Emir Abdullah did not support the idea of a distinctively Jordanian realm. Instead, Transjordan and Amman were formed as migrant communities of professionally specialized, diverse groups with fluid ties to the outside. (Hanania, 2018)

Switch to present-day Amman, where these ideals no longer exist. Instead, the city prefers a stronger homogenous identity, a distinct Jordanian one that has erased the cultural nuances of its hidden diversity. The city, clad in white stone, visually represents this newfound spirit, while the nooks and crannies of these limestone brick facades might be able to tell an entirely different story.

The City of Limestone, a brief Architectural history

Stone is a staple of construction in Jordan, but more specifically in Amman. While this construction practice dates to pre-historic times, almost none of the structures of modern Amman predate the twentieth century. (CSBE, 2000) Buildings in Amman pre-1950s were mostly vernacular, often designed by those who constructed them rather than architects, and it wasn’t until the Jordanian Engineers Association was founded that architects became a vital part of the construction process. (CSBE, 2000) 

The stones most commonly used in Amman are limestone, sourced from various quarries, including the Jama’in Quarry in Nablus, Palestine, and other quarries in Ma’an, ‘Ajlun, Irbid, Al-Azraq, and Salt. Each quarry produces different quality stones ranging in color from white to red and even yellow or black. (CSBE, 2000) 

Below is a guide by the Center for the Built Environment on the different ways in which stone surfaces are found on building facades and some of their Arabic terms:

Tubzeh: This is a roughly dressed surface of the stone. It is done by having a relatively thick stone protrusion of about 5cm from the surface. Small pieces are then split or chipped out from the surface with a pitching tool (Tumbor). (CSBE, 2000) 

Mufajjar: This is a dressing of medium roughness. It is done with a point chisel (Shawkah) hammered on the stone surface with single strokes, creating a speckled surface. (CSBE, 2000) 

Mufajjar Matari: This is a dressing of parallel lines created with a point chisel and is done by following a line on the stone with the chisel held at a 45-degree angle and without lifting it from the surface. (CSBE, 2000) 

Musamsam: This is a dressing of a series of short, fine parallel lines done with a tooth chisel. (CSBE, 2000) 

Mattabeh: This is a finely speckled surface dressed with a bush-hammer, also called a Mattabeh. Nowadays, a mechanical version of the bush hammer is also used. (CSBE, 2000) 

This guide will be relevant later on when we explore further into the architecture of Amman, primarily its residential buildings, as they give a deeper look into the city’s diversity. Residential buildings in Amman primarily consist of these Architectural styles: rural Arab houses, Circassian houses, Bilad al-Sham townhouses, and three-bay type houses, amongst other influences. (Shawash, 2003)

The Bilad al-Sham Town House

This type of house, commonly seen now in Syrian films and series, boasts an open indoor courtyard surrounded by rooms on all sides. This hybrid residential/commercial building typology was brought to Jordan by Syrian, Palestinian, and Lebanese merchants who migrated to Madaba and Salt. While the interior architecture of these buildings is difficult to notice from its exterior, it can be recognized by its distinct facade with symmetrical arrangements of arched windows framed by Salti ornamental stone and ironwork. (Shawash, 2003)

The Circassian House

A building typology that belonged to the archetype of the gallery house, the Circassian house was typically long with a stretching porch which all rooms opened onto. Structurally, the Circassian House was vastly different than local building types as Circassian migrants brought with them a vernacular that originated from the Caucus. Ceilings were carried on large wooden beams, and walls were made of sun-dried mud-brick. Later on, Circassian houses evolved to include stone facades, a technique that they had learned from the Arabs. (Shawash, 2003)

Arab Rural House

Derived from the same principles as the Palestinian rural house, this house type featured a basic typology of interior arrangements, with a single, all-purpose space divided in elevation with a lowered mud area. This house type is not as developed as its Palestinian counterpart due to the insecurity of resources farmers faced during Ottoman rule, which encouraged them to live a less sedentary lifestyle and thus build less permanent types of shelters. Its exterior walls usually consist of course stones, set without precision or evens as they were gathered locally. Today, these types of buildings can be seen throughout the older parts of Amman as a testament to its transition from a village into a city. (Shawash, 2003)

The Three-Bay Type House

This house type, which defied other architectural types in Jordan, featured wide apertures and open balconies. Their exterior design reflected their interior arrangements and the wealth of their owners. The origins of the form of this house are still unclear, but there are hints of a European influence, and it was said to have evolved in Mount Lebanon. This house type was popular in rural Lebanon and urban Palestine for quite some time. Finally, it had arrived in Amman after centuries of evolution.

The triple-arch motif of this building’s elevation developed a local character by country. Amman still displayed various models, including the original Lebanese, the Palestinian, and the European or Ottoman style influences. Pre-1920s, builders of these houses departed their traditions onto the arches, such as the Lebanese Druze, whose distinguishing constructions feature pointed arches.

However, The Palestinian motifs of the Three-Bay Type house were more common as they were more straightforward for masons to construct and often featured protruding porticos and abstracted ornaments. (Shawash, 2003)

Downtown Amman, Jabal Amman, and Jabal al L’weibdeh: an exploration of three city districts

Amman’s central districts are a place of preservation for some of its oldest buildings. In this section, I will be exploring each district by some of its most notable architecture, mainly focusing on residential typologies and building upon the guide mentioned above and history of architecture in this city.

Downtown Amman – The Duke’s Diwan

Downtown Amman is home to King Faisal Street, also known as Faisal Square, which geographically represents the city’s historic heart. It marks the start of the Hashemite rule over the city, and its architecture served as an administrative center and a place of convergence and celebration. 

It would be difficult to mention Downtown Amman without an honorable mention of one of its most famous and oldest buildings: The Duke’s Diwan, a well-preserved historical arts and culture house atop shops and restaurants. Located on King Faisal Street, it was first built as a post office in 1924 and has served as the building for the Ministry of Finance and a hotel. It was later purchased by Jordanian heritage conservationist and businessman Mamdouh Bisharat, nicknamed the Duke of Mukhaibeh. (Bicer, 2019) The house’s architecture can be described under the Bilad al-Sham archetype, with a central hall and surrounding rooms. The architect of this building, Abdul Rahman Madi, was an Arab who accompanied the Emir Abdullah on his journey from Aqaba to Amman in 1921. (Shawash, 2003) As this mixed-use building closely follows a Damascene style of architecture, its exterior is a tell-tale sign of its Syrian roots that can be distinguished by its Salti detailing of the iron and stone. (Shawash, 2003) The masonry features a Tubzeh style of stone carving in its aging limestone facade, a detail more commonly found in older buildings.

Jabal Amman – Al-Mufti House

Jabal Amman, a mixed residential/commercial area, became home to many affluent families when Amman was announced as the capital of Jordan. It is marked geographically by its prominent roundabout, the 1st Circle, and the stretching, sloped Rainbow Street.

Al-Mufti House can be found along Rainbow Street, with its distinct blue porch peeking from behind a Tubzeh-style stone wall. In the late 1920s, the house was designed by Umar Hikmat, a prominent Circassian, and was sold to Circassian politician Sa’id al-Mufti. (Halasa, 2016) The house follows the typical Circassian style of building, with a flat concrete roof and an extended porch spanning the width of the house. This house, in particular, was especially significant as it was offered to Emir Abdullah at the beginning of the Hashemite rule and was considered the start of a tribal alliance between the Hashemites and the Circassian community. (Halasa, 2016) The porch walls have been painted light blue, unusual for Ammani architecture. At the same time, the protruding roof is covered in a rose-colored, Musammam-style stone that had perhaps been sourced from the queries of Irbid, where this color stone can be typically found. (CSBE, 2000) 

Jabal al L’weibdeh – Darat Al Funun

Jabal al L’weibdeh is a neighborhood that started being settled in the 1930s and became a home to many influential artists, poets, and political thinkers. Their names have been even immortalized in the street names of this district. It was dubbed the “Nationalists’ Mountain” in the 1950s due to its pivotal role in housing numerous political organizations, such as the Communist Workers Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. (Dilworth, 2017)

This district is also home to the infamous Darat Al Funun, a contemporary Arab art gallery in a series of renovated 20th-century buildings. The main building of Darat was first constructed by the mayor of Salt as the official residence of the British commander of the Arab Legion, Colonel F.G. Peake, in 1938. It was later converted to a private school and then abandoned until its restoration by architect Ammar Khammash in 1992. (The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, 1997)

“[The approach to the renovation was one of] minimum intervention… The stone elevations of the houses… were left untouched. As a result, they retain the marks of tools once held in the hands of strength and skill. In these elevations resides a handwritten text, the footprints, and chisels that once rang under the impact of the hammer and the identity of an individual stonemason.” – Ammar Khammash.

The main building was constructed in a typical three-bay plan, maintained by Khammash alongside its Tubzeh-style stone facade. Its front facade is also decorated by an extended portico, connected by two symmetrical staircases on either side that lead to the entrance of this building. (The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, 1997)

The Blue House, a smaller building within the quarters of the galleries and, serves as a cafe, was initially built by workers from Jordan’s Circassian community for Ismail Haqqi Abdo, a former governor of Akka in Palestine. Khammash added a Circassian-style porch during the renovation and kept the facade free from any stone but instead painted it a soft shade of beige. (The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, 1997)

Conclusion

The city is founded on the diversity of its immigrant communities. While there had been pockets of specific communities in the past, it was only a matter of time until the brotherly attitudes of its inhabitants brought these communities together. At first glance, there seems to be a homogeneity or a unified Jordanian identity in the city, which can be attributed to racial markers no longer being a reason for segregation. However, the architecture of Amman subtly hints at its history and humble beginnings, one that saw migrants of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds construct a home from this one deserted land. The stones of its buildings tell a story about its origins.

Design Process

The process for this design was a little more straightforward than I would have liked to admit. I started off with a mood board to set the tone for the style and well… mood! The general idea was to experiment with an overprint effect with bleeding inks and blurred photography. There are elements of handmade designs in these pieces of inspiration which I really valued for my own project.

When I think of Amman’s facades, I can almost feel the sand of the stone scraping my skin, leaving small shiny particles of limestone behind. I wanted to capture this through a heavily textured finish.

The fonts selected for the titles, Meek by Ryan Bugden and Akeed by Hey Porter! were given a similar treatment, blurring their edges with a gaussian blur for a bleeding ink effect.

I wanted to also try something new I had seen online weeks prior, a method that used the scanner to distort and warp text. This method really took me out of my comfort zone as whatever movement I made with the paper on the scanner yielded a surprise result. Once I had made dozens of attempts, I settled on my favorite piece which reminded me of the texture of a limestone facade, etched or scratched.

Majd Hijjawi, 2020

Photography of Amman’s buildings is vital to my publication, as the visual aspect can’t otherwise be accurately described. Majd Hijjawi, a talented photographer from Jordan, allowed me to use her photograph, which I manipulated (above) in several ways: the color channels in RGB were split, and then transformed to bitmap, at varying angles per channel. Each channel then had its white removed to give it the transparency it needed to be overlayed above the next. Once combined, I gave each layer a red, blue, or yellow hue to reveal this screen-printed style photograph.

The final touch, which I must admit is a little lame, is the faded lime pop of color to bring everything together. And thus, the cover design was born:

Elements like the blocked-out sections using lines seem to be a mainstay of my designs recently, and I’m happy with that. It helps make layout design decisions a little less intimidating.

Another visual feature of the book is a series of elevations and plans that I was able to source from one of the references I used. These were helpful in the 2nd chapter of the book, to bridge a house type to its elevation typology. This lame faded lime-green color also came in handy to somehow please the eye and break the monotony of text.

Another idea was to overlay a map printed on tracing paper over chapter openers. This is to give a geographical context to the buildings that were featured. Look at how dense that area is! And mind you, it’s located in the valley of a bunch of hills.

And finally, I wanted this publication to act as an en educational resource as well as a piece of thought. On this page, I feature CSBE’s research from 2000 on stone dressings. The photographs are given the same treatment as Hijjawi’s photo, as well as numerous other photos used in the design of the publication. Color is not as important as texture in this case, and this finishing seems to bring out texture quite nicely.

Promotion / Funding

To fund, promote, and launch this publication, I would first attempt to narrow down my target audience. While this may be considered an architectural publication, it may also intrigue anthropological crowds, specifically those interested in Middle East studies.

With this in mind, I would reach out to the Columbia Global Center or the Center of the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) to inquire if they are interested in publishing this project. With their engagement, the project can be vetted for accuracy and expanded to include a broader range of information relevant to the narrative.

Once the project is published through one of these organizations, promoting it through small one-off events at the Duke’s Diwan and Darat al Funun, both of which are featured in the book.

View the full PDF here:

Reference list

Bicer, A. (2019). Guard of Jordan’s historic, cultural legacy: Mamdouh Bisharat. [online] http://www.aa.com.tr. Available at: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/guard-of-jordans-historic-cultural-legacy-mamdouh-bisharat/1684113.

CSBE (2000). Stone as Wallpaper II. [online] Center for the Study of the Built Environment. Available at: https://www.csbe.org/stone-as-wallpaper-ii.

Dilworth, G. (2017). Jabal al-weibdeh: a counter-memory of amman a case study in the resistance of memory. [online] Available at: https://digitalcollections.sit.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3685&context=isp_collection.

Halasa, H. (2016). The Jordanian Family House as a Bourgeois Manifesto: An Evolution of Architecture, by Hazem Halasa. http://www.academia.edu. [online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/28836278/The_Jordanian_Family_House_as_a_Bourgeois_Manifesto_An_Evolution_of_Architecture_by_Hazem_Halasa?email_work_card=view-paper.

Hamed-Troyansky, V. (2017). CIRCASSIAN REFUGEES AND THE MAKING OF AMMAN, 1878–1914. International Journal of Middle East Studies, [online] 49(4), p.605. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/34975593/Circassian_Refugees_and_the_Making_of_Amman_1878_1914.

Hanania, M.D. (2018). From Colony to Capital: Reconsidering the Socio-Economic and Political History of Amman, 1878–1928. Middle Eastern Studies, [online] 55(1), p.1. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/42845125/From_Colony_to_Capital_Reconsidering_the_Socio_Economic_and_Political_History_of_Amman_1878_1928.

Shawash, J. (2003). Architecture in Amman during the Emirate period. [online] http://www.academia.edu. University of Jordan. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/1815438/Architecture_in_Amman_during_the_Emirate_period.

The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation (1997). Darat al Funun: Art, Architecture, Archaeology | Darat al Funun. [online] daratalfunun.org. Available at: https://daratalfunun.org/?publication=darat-al-funun-art-architecture-archaeology-1997.

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