It requires a rollout of the imagination to envision among Gaza’s ruins a five star hotel, especially one that is made with adobe brick. Designed by the Palestinian architect Rashid Abdelhamid, who was born and trained in Algeria, the 22 room Aldeira Hotel features domed ceilings and arches and a resplendent earth-toned facade.
Located astride the Mediterranean Sea amid the remains of a longstanding political face-off, Gaza’s only five star hotel is less a model of conspicuous consumption than it is a monument to the kind of normality that puts within reach at least a nibble of luxury.
Currently based in Amman, Abdelhamid recently talked to Brownbook about the hotel that was built in 2000. He told the magazine that people were skeptical about the project given that it was built just after the Oslo agreements.
“I will make Gaza the new Singapore,” you know, a horizon of skyscrapers,’ said Abdelhamid.
Facilities include wireless internet, a coffee shop and restaurant, as well as a bookshop that stocks important Middle Eastern titles that are unavailable elsewhere in Gaza.
Of course, that didn’t happen but the hotel still stands proud. Mostly foreign journalists and a small selection of wealthy Gazan families congregate at the boutique hotel, especially just before sunset.
Although this kind of luxury is unattainable to the great majority of residents, both the initial construction project and the continued success of the hotel has benefitted the local community.
In addition to teaching workers how to make adobe bricks out of a sand and clay mixture that then bake in the sun, Abdelhamid worked with furniture craftsmen and women to design a great deal of the handcrafted furnishings that give the hotel its distinctive style.
‘I believe design can be used to honour, develop and enact principles of environmental, economic and cultural sustainability,’ he told Brownbook.
Adobe construction is particularly well-suited to hot climates since the thick earthen walls help to regulate interior temperatures. It is a common construction material in other desert countries as well, including the southwestern part of the United States.
Also involved with Gaza’s green school project, which has received support from across the globe, Abdelhamid has become a powerful voice of sustainable design in the region.
Meanwhile, the iconic Aldeira Hotel continues to hover above the rubble – both physically and metaphorically – instilling a stubborn sense pride among a people long beleaguered by decades of stale politics.