World Monuments Fund, which launched a programme in 2017 to empower Syrians by teaching them traditional building techniques, speaks about its workshop in Al-Mafraq, Jordan.
Q&A with World Monuments Fund
The team behind World Monuments Fund, a private, international, non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of historic architecture and cultural heritage sites around the world, discusses its stonemasonry programme in Al-Mafraq, Jordan.
What inspired the programme in Al-Mafraq?
This project was created to revive the declining craft of stonemasonry by teaching the skills required for making complicated traditional architectural details that are needed to conserve heritage sites and traditional buildings. This would enable the Syrian trainees, who hope to return to Syria, to help rebuild their destroyed heritage. It would also provide the skills required in the commercial stonemasonry sector that are no longer available due to the modern use of computer aided technology and angle grinders.
Why did you focus on stonemasonry for the training programme?
The focus was on stonemasonry for limestone because it is widely used in Syria and Jordan where there is a great similarity between the architectural features and ornamentation in heritage buildings, such as Muqarnas and Zakhrafah. Integrating these features into projects requires, for example, accurate mitring, tooling and finishing, which can only be achieved through skillful handcraft. Also needed is a solid understanding of geometry and technical drawing, as well as the ability to visualise in 3D. In addition, stonemasonry is a traditional craft that is being lost and we want to help save it. The Greek and Roman historical sites in the region are an essential part of Syrian and Jordanian identity, and this stone heritage provides magnificent examples of a great hand craft skill.
Why did you choose Al-Mafraq for the programme’s location? Do you hope to expand the workshop to other areas with high Syrian populations?
Al-Mafraq has the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, Al-Zaatari, and also a high percentage of Syrian people within the town. Al-Mafraq’s population has at least doubled since the conflict in Syria began. We hope to expand our work to other areas, but limited funding and the continuing war has delayed this development.
How many people have enrolled in the programme so far?
The programme’s phase one ran for one year from 1 October, 2017 until the following October. The schedule featured six-hour work days, five days a week. We split the days into two parts: classroom-based learning and practical instruction in the workshop. We had 45 trainees – 14 of whom were women. 10 were Jordanian and four were Syrian, and of the 31 male trainees, two were Jordanian and 29 were Syrian.
The programme’s phase two, which is now running until the end of October 2019, has 20 trainees. They were selected from phase one based on individual evaluations from the trainers, their assessments by the National Heritage Training Group (a UK based masonry and heritage training organisation) and their general interest and commitment.
How did you launch the programme? And what is the day-to-day experience like for trainees?
The programme was advertised on local social media and through local NGOs. 300 candidates applied and a first sift was made based on the applicants’ general interests and commitment. We interviewed 200 applicants and created a shortlist of 80. From these 80, 30 were originally chosen, but after extra funding was secured, 15 additional trainees joined the programme.
A lot of the trainees have had very little education after age 13, so classroom training started with the basics of geometry and moved into more complicated geometrical drawing required for the setting out of full size architectural features.
On the practical side, we started with making a flat surface. This is the basis for all stonemasonry which is created through the working of ‘drafts’ (a series of straight lines). From this, gradually more complicated designs are created piece by piece.
For setting out, we focused on heritage and traditional architectural features. We developed images into geometrical drawings and drew them full size to create templates to apply to the stone. In addition to this, we taught the basics of conservation and using lime mortars, clay modelling was used for imagining and understanding the ornament structure. Advanced training focused more on advanced masonry and stone carving.
Our students have been featured in a number of television programmes and news articles. Their work, and information about the programme, is currently being shown in two exhibitions in London: one at the British Council and the other at the Imperial War Museum.
What do you have planned for the future of the programme?
The programme finishes at the end of October 2019. We are looking for employment for our students in the commercial stonemasonry sector and we are developing partnerships locally and nationally for possible further training and employment opportunities. We are also looking for ways to involve our students in conservation work within heritage sites.
Dependent on funding we would like to expand the training programme not only to other parts of Jordan, but to other countries in the region as well.
Our Meet the Finalists series is a compilation of interviews with those who have been shortlisted for our awards. The World Monuments Fund is a finalist for Tamayouz’s Middle Eastern Architectural Personality of the Year, also known as the Mohamed Makiya Prize. This architecture award recognizes individuals and organisations that work to advance the field of architecture in the Middle East and North Africa.