While we wait

“While We Wait” is an installation by Bethlehem-based architects Elias and Yousef Anastas which illustrates the cultural claim over nature in the “Cremisan Valley”. Being commissioned by the “Victoria and Albert Museum” in London, the architects created a structure made of over five hundred specifically developed brick modules.

01_x_Elias and Yousef Anastas
The art of “stereotomy” is a central element of the installation’s architectural language. © Elias and Yousef Anastas

A walk through the “Cremisan Valley” near Bethlehem feels like an escape from the confusion of the reality that surrounds this extraordinary place. It is a place where the conflict between Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages becomes spatially visible. When walking through this valley surrounded by hills and inhaling the fresh air, it immediately becomes obvious why this place is so important for the inhabitants of the area: “Cremisan Valley” remains one of the last green spaces near Bethlehem.

Tower-like stone installation

Dry stone walls from the Roman period wind their way through the hilly topography of the valley. Distributed across the landscape, several ruins of former stone castles structure the surroundings. Material, structure and orientation become one with the landscape. Suddenly the gaze turns towards an old monastery which blends into the topography in a very natural way. Since the 19th century it has been home to a community of monks. Not far from the monastery, a four meters tall tower-like stone installation appears, placed on top of a small platform between dry olive trees and fertile vineyards.

Tactile relationship

“While We Wait” combines a tangible design with a discrete choice of material – brick – and therefore creates an atmospheric relation between itself and the surrounding stone walls. The architects designed the soil-coloured bricks with the help of computational design software. Computer-controlled machines translated the digital model into the actual product. Local artisans refined the bricks into their particular shape. By combining local masonry techniques with contemporary technology, the architects define the art of “stereotomy” as a central element of the installation’s architectural language. The concept of cutting three-dimensional solids into particular shapes enabled the construction of a self-supporting structure. Once the individual stones are interlocked with neighbouring elements, they can no longer be separated. The resulting gaps between the bricks create a tactile and visible relationship between the viewer and the natural environment.

Vulnerable landscape

“Cremisan Valley” is under severe threat by the complex political and spatial situation in the West Bank. The installation is directly adjacent to the recently built concrete separation wall between the Israeli and Palestinian territories. For this reason, “While We Wait” functions as a witness of the landscape that still exists to this day. It illustrates the valuable relationship between architecture and nature in a contested landscape. At the same time, it shows us in frightening ways how vulnerable landscape and nature are in uncertain times of conflict.