Deconstructing the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared: The curse of Artozia (2)

This post is the second in a series on the reconstruction of the Palestinian refugees camp of Nahr el-Bared. To check the first post follow this link.
This entry consists of the report i presented on April 29, 2009. While in this report i was contesting the “final” warning letter i received, it also reveals many deficiencies in the reconstruction process led by the UNRWA, on the design level, which were one of the major reasons for the lamentable actual situation of the camp. It also provides a clear picture on the functioning of this inefficient bureaucratic machine, called UNRWA.
The report is divided into 8 segments (8 descriptive narrative related to 8 topics), and 21 addendum. The report is also available as .pdf file (5.8 MB) -follow the link-.
In the coming posts, I’ll shed more lights on issues not dealt with in this report.
Report presented to Charlie Higgins, Project Manager of the Northern Management Unit, UNRWA-Lebanon, April 29, 2009:
Date: 29 April 2009
Ref: Personnel File
To:      Charlie Higgins
           Project Manager
           Northern Management Unit (NMU)
From: Hisham Ashkar
           Design Architect
           Design and Planning Sub-Unit
Dear Charlie Higgins,
As per our conversation and the final warning I received on April 22nd, 2009, I have written and assembled a report with supporting documents, regarding issues of my working relationship with Aditya Kumar, the Head of the Design and Planning Sub-Unit and my alleged refusal to accept the methodology employed in the design process, and 2) the decision to leave the evaluation of my behavior and subsequent decision about my future on the project to the same party.
In my opinion, the few selected examples I have documented here reveal that
1) there have been serious methodological flaws in the data collection, drawing and design process without any functional mechanism for addressing these flaws. On the contrary, any efforts on my behalf or by other architects in the sub-unit to address methodological mistakes have been either ignored or frustrated until much later in the process, thereby significantly complicating our work, without any means for us to redress these grievances. My attempts at remedial measures have largely not been addressed in a timely manner and at times I have been asked to cover up mistakes that I had earlier requested be corrected.
2) the Head of the Design and Planning Sub-Unit and Ismael Sheikh Hassan (from the NBRC) have requested that I and other architects perform duties both outside of our employment agreement with UNRWA (see 1stpoint in the attached report) and our function as architects, some of which would ethically compromise our duties as architects, tarnish the reputation of UNRWA amongst the Nahr el Bared residents, and significantly increase the time of our project delivery, which would be both exceedingly costly and place an unnecessary burden on the camp residents who are eager to return to their homes and livelihoods.
3) the Head of the Design and Planning Sub-Unit has further undermined our working relations as a sub-unit with punitive measures and divide-and-rule tactics, designed to stem any existing and future discontent with his policies.
 I have documented (elaborately, you might find) the process that led to the deterioration of my working relationship with Aditya Kumar. In good faith, it is my conviction that I could continue to be an asset to the sub-unit as an architect and that my attitude would not prove a problem if the major issues I have raised here could be addressed and treated in future with some oversight.
Respectfully yours,
Hisham Ashkar
Design Architect, Design and Planning Sub-Unit
*        *        *
I started interviews with people for package 3 on the 4th of March, finishing most of them by the 12th. For 7 buildings, residents filed objections and I had to wait for the NBRC decisions before carrying on with the design. While 5 were objections to incorrect data noted for the old plot areas, the other 2 cases involved:
Building number N16.6: two buildings were registered as one.
Building number N16.9: two buildings were registered as one, shop missing (there was a shop in the data sheet, but with the sum of areas in the ground floor wrong, I checked the file of the building and adopted the final decision of NBRC (see add. 1)), wrong number of apartments, mixing 2 households together, wrong number of people/apartment, wrong area for apartments (see add.2).
All these factors influenced the new area and the new total built area.
I mentioned to Ismael SHEIKH HASSAN that mainly for the last 2 requests, data should be reviewed and corrected, especially that , in case the people were right, the changes to the new plot area would be significant.
Example for case 1 (area 120):  
1 building: old plot area 120 square meter=> new plot area 79.4
2 buildings (60 each): old plot area 60 => new plot area 50.2 => 2×50.2=100.4
21 sq.m difference (26.4 % increase) 
For the other case, most factors that decide the new area are wrong, and the difference will be more important.
I also mentioned, it would be nice if I could get any amendments before the end of the month.
Meanwhile I had other work to do, so I wasn’t waiting in vain (I was working on the model, drawing the buildings I already designed and working on a report (see 4- )).
On the 2nd of April, I met with Ismael and Aditya KUMAR.  Ismael told me the 7 cases had been resolved, that there were no necessary changes to the old data, and that I should carry on with interviews. I then mentioned the two cases in detail. Ismael told me that I should go to the camp to meet the people and correct the data. I explained to him that it’s the NBRC’s responsibility to review and correct the data then provide it to the design unit, and I insisted that it’s not my job as an architect to interfere with the old data.  And in case I accept what he’s asking me to do, I have to go to the camp, meet the people  to correct the data, then go back to Tripoli to amend the plans based on the new data, only to return to the camp to make the design, which is neither  reasonable nor in my job description. 
Then Ismael wanted me to convince people to accept the old incorrect data without amendments, and insisted that I was good at convincing people and that I had already done it before. My response was yes, I’m good at convincing people and yes I did it before because you told me to, but I’m not willing to do it anymore, because I consider it dishonest and indecent to manipulate data related to our clients. This conversation continued for half an hour. Aditya was silent for most of the time, and whenever he spoke, it was to back up Ismael.
I also mentioned to Ismael and Aditya that I would be in the camp during the middle of the following week to carry on with interviews, after I finish redrawing my block (see 2- )and that I was in the process of designing it to adapt any increase for those 2 buildings. I also said that if he didn’t provide me the necessary corrections to the old data that were obviously incorrect, I’d have to follow my moral and ethical obligations as an architect by adopting the residents’ point of view, or that perhaps another architect should be asked to design those two buildings.
The conversation remained deadlocked, with Ismael insisting that I convince people and Aditya supporting him from time to time. At the end, I excused myself and went back to my desk in order to finish the internal report (see 4- ).
On the 6th april Aditya sent me an email (see add.3), asking me to return to the camp and resolve the issue with the families, again without providing corrected data. I replied again that I would not manipulate the data in my dealings with the residents; Aditya did not reply to my e-mail.
On the 7th of April I met with Aditya, and tried to explain to him, again, how the data changes based on the residents’ testimony would affect the new plot area and new total built area, and started explaining all the formulas we were using (and there are plenty of mathematical formulas that define the new data). The same day I received from Ismael amended data. On the 9th of April, I was in the camp conducting interviews.
We are always facing data problems, and we only raise critical cases.
Couple of times I asked Aditya if he can attend interviews with people, so he can have a better idea of the problems we’re facing, and he would understand why we were refusing lot of Ismael’s requests. Finally, I included it in the 9th of April email (see add.4)
Interviews for the 3rd package started 4thMarch; the first time he attended interviews was the 14th of April.
On the 7th of April at 7:38 PM, Aditya sent us an email asking for a meeting the next day at 9:00 AM.
I don’t check my UNRWA mail at night.
I knew of the meeting when he called me while I was still in the bus (I commute daily between Beirut and Tripoli). I asked him to wait half an hour until my arrival to proceed with the meeting.
The meeting nevertheless took place before I arrived, with Aditya mentioning to the rest of the assembled team that I had raised some issues with him and that he had discussed my views with “certain people” who had declared them wrong. He didn’t mention what the issues were, or why they were wrong, leaving the rest of architects to believe that he was talking about the report (see 4- ), while in fact he was referring to our meeting on the 7th April (see add.5).
During the 7th April meeting with Aditya KUMAR, I also raised several issues. One of them was the lingering problem of the master plan. The master plan was mainly designed by Ismael SHEIKH HASSAN* and Muna BUDEIRI, and was drawn by Rana HASSAN.
When I started working on this project (May 2008), I mentioned to Muna and Ismael that the masterplan was missing a lot of technical details and that it was not drawn properly, which would cause a problem in the block design. I suggested that I could work on it in order to improve it based on my previous experience (see add.7). Their response was that I should not work on it, and that it was still in the process of evolution and amendments.
Well the master plan evolved since then, but only regarding the size of blocks in order to fit the required number and size of buildings. But nothing was done until now to improve the shape of blocks, which is necessary to assure a shape that could contain the needed buildings (see add.5); nor was anything done to improve inconsistent curves in the road design, or how to resolve corners (some unfeasible shapes had resulted from this. More on the levels in point 3). While the master plan depicts blocks in an organic shape, we are designing the buildings inside the blocks according to a grid. My point was that if we don’t take the shapes into consideration, this will complicate the design and create anomalies in buildings and open spaces.
I first raised the issue of the master plan with Aditya in January 2009, that at least we should try to define and fix the shape of blocks, the corners of blocks and the curves of the roads based on our experience in package 1 and 2, in order to solve those recurring problems and have a more efficient and time saving approach. Aditya’s answer was, well you know, master plans are not always static, and we can’t fix them definitively.
While this is certainly true in some cases, the nature of this project, which proceeds at a fast pace from the design level to the execution phase, does require to fix certain things while taking into consideration the possibility of later amendments.
In early March, during a meeting to discuss and improve the blocks’ design in package 3, Marie-Josée ANJOUL mentioned that she might have problems incorporating buildings in her block (N15). I proposed to reshape her block. Aditya‘s answer was: the master plan is already fixed and we can’t change it. 
By the end of March, Marie-Josée was still having problems with her block, and Aditya was trying to help her with the design. He then asked me to try to help her, too, which I did, but still we couldn’t find a proper solution, because of the block’s shape.
A couple days later, Ismael –with the agreement of Aditya– asked me to adjust and increase Marie-Josée’s block, which would require also altering the shape of my adjacent block. I did it, redesigning my block (N16) even though I was nearly done with the interviews and was working on a design based on the residents’ interviews, which – in some cases—had to be amended as a result.


Until now, the amendments I made have not been implemented on the master plan.
* In a private conversation with Ismael in late March, I asked him if this is the first professional master plan he has worked on (i.e. the first one he works on outside of university), and he confirmed this. He studied urban planning in Leuven (Belgium) but has never before worked on a master plan on a professional level.
The levels in the masterplan have been a recurring problem. Eventually, early in April we were told to adopt the levels according to the Jouzi survey. On the 24th of April I superimposed the levels masterplan onto the one we had been working with. Lots of incoherence appeared (see add.8). It wasn’t really a surprise if you take into account previous maps provided by the consultant. Apparently, they were working with an older version of our masterplan, which resulted in these discrepancies.
Aditya KUMAR was out of the compound. Nada SABBAGH and I informed Aditya on 27th of April of the incoherence between the two plans; he then fixed the corner levels of each block.
While discussing with Hossam JAZZAR the discrepancies issue, I asked him if he could provide me with an infrastructure map. He handed me the waste water network done by the UNRWA team in Gaza dated the 20th of January. From the map I deduced that they were also using an old master plan. We do have a *.dwg file of the new masterplan saved on the 13th of January. Hossam also mentioned that he never received the new version of the masterplan. 
It would seem expedient for the people who are working on the masterplan to continuously provide the latest versions to everyone working on it. Otherwise lot of incoherence will appear and it will make it harder and more time consuming to correct these later.
The communication problem (i.e. updating information and providing it) is also another recurring obstacle. Until today, there is no clear system of communicating between the various working parties. Most of the time, some architects are aware of certain changes and decisions, while the others will only find out after a couple of weeks. There are still no minutes of meetings, and only some written or orally-communicated criteria.

In the meeting held on January 20thin the presence of Muna Budeiri we discussed the design and deduction rules for the main road (see add.9). Muna suggested dealing with shops and apartments as separate entities. Nada Sabbagh talked of certain cases where some voids will appear between buildings in the residential part, Muna conveyed this solution orally:

Most architects disagreed with this solution (Aditya included), but finally it was decided to be adopted as a second approach. Nada implemented it in part of her block. In two pin-ups Nada mentioned this case and there were no comments or objections. 
At the end of March, this issue was raised again when Aditya asked Nada to change her design (one month’s work). Since there was no written criteria to refer to, at the end of a heated discussion, Nada insisted on her approach, and refused to make the changes, because she had followed what Muna had originally recommended.
In January 2009, as a coordinator of package 2, I mentioned to Aditya KUMAR the existence of many basic mistakes that had been made in this package that we couldn’t correct, due to a very tight schedule and a fixed deadline. I proposed to check the design for errors, correct them and send them to the consultant, for 2 reasons:
1-The conditions imposed on the consultant, and the precise maps we provided to the consultant didn’t leave him much space to maneuver and correct major mistakes.
2-The apparent incompetence of the consultant, which at the time started to appear, after we started receiving his drawings from package 1.
Aditya asked me to make a quick error review for the ground floor of all blocks that night at home. I agreed and spent all night at home checking errors of the other architects’ blocks. The next day I asked Rim SABALBAL to correct my block, and I showed him the results of our corrections. He was shocked, but told me two things: we should stop this review, and rather wait for the consultant to provide us with the plans that he would correct; then we could check them again. In the meantime, I should not mention to anyone the mistakes that Jenan DIAB made, because he doesn’t want her to be kicked out.
In March, we started receiving plans from the consultant. Aditya asked me and Rim to correct them.
The consultant didn’t bother to make any amendments. He simply added columns, some of which were designed in a way which would obstruct the functionality of the spaces.
(By the way, we are making designs without drawing where columns should be. One of the basic tasks of an architect’s work is to decide the position of columns (after consulting the civil engineer), but it was Ismael SHEIKH HASSAN and Muna BUDEIRI’s wish not to do so.)
Then on the 25th of March, Aditya asked Rim and I to make a list of common errors (see add.10).
Rim had a lot of work to do, so I checked the maps, wrote the report and showed it to Rim, who added some remarks. I incorporated these remarks into the report, and sent it to Aditya on the 2nd of April with the related corrected maps. The report identified a vast number of basic mistakes in drafting the design, including potential storm water pools, obstructed toilet facilities, doors opening into rooms on the wrong side, et al. (see add.11)
On April 10, our team received an email (see add.12) from Aditya calling for a session to discuss the mistakes Rim and I had identified and in future avoid them, without explaining what would be expected from me in this workshop, even though he wrote that it required my assistance.
On the 14th of April, Aditya asked Hossam JAZZAR, Nada SABBAGH, Rim and I to use this report in order to set some standards to use in future. We met on the 15th of April, started reviewing, discussing and setting standards and rules. We informed Aditya that we would need a couple of days, maybe a week to complete this. We couldn’t meet any more, due to Nada’s taking a 2 days annual leave and the Easter holiday, but mainly because of other work he had asked us to do and the pressing deadline he had fixed to deliver the plans. The next day I notified Aditya of our time constraints, because of the looming deadline for the plans. I did not receive a clear response. 
On April 18th, we received the upcoming week’s schedule, consisting of events and deadlines (see add.13), without any reference to how the workshop on Friday 23rd of April would be carried out, or who would be expected to prepare it.
  On Friday 24thof April, and according to the email Aditya sent the day before (see add.13), the architects met and we decided on our own that Rim should lead the discussion. Most of what Aditya had asked Hossam to provide wasn’t of much help, because his corrections revolved around mistakes related to columns and structure (which is normal, Hossam is a civil engineer) that the consultant had made, while our work as architects should be based on our architectural mistakes (and as mentioned above, we are not even including columns in our design.)
In January 2009, Aditya KUMAR met with us individually, and asked us about working conditions, our views on other people in the unit, the relations in the unit, our suggestions for a better atmosphere, and where we would like to sit.
My answer to the last question was, I didn’t mind where I was seated and who was in the room. All I wanted was to move from the freezing and water dripping corner I was then sitting in.
On the 18th of February, we received an email with the new seat allocations (see add.14).

The situation before

The situation after:
(Red: architects, Blue: data team, *Hanan is a draftswoman assigned to Ghassan)

Some of us didn’t like the new setting, mostly Jihad FARAH who was very upset. 
After a while I learned that Jihad had told Aditya that he preferred to sit next to Rim SABLABL, but not in the same room as Jenan DIAB. Jihad, Rim and Jenan went to university together; he doesn’t like Jenan and usually he and Rim work together.
As for me, I didn’t understand why the data team and architects should mix, and I considered the new layout disruptive to the work-communication within the team. Architects and data team don’t have a daily work-communication; they only interact from time to time.
Architects and data team have different work duties, and different working needs, and our work as architects requires a certain degree of concentration.
Add to this that the data team is noisy, and now I have to listen daily to Abedelkareem MEREI reading the data to Nibal ABEDRAZZAK who writes it down.
I raised the seating issue with Aditya. He told me it was final.
Late in March, I had a very frank conversation with Ismael SHEIKH HASSAN. Among the topics we discussed was the seating issue. I told him about Jihad’s case; he replied that they noticed Jihad and Rim worked well when they were sitting together and wanted to try it on Jihad and Jenan.
During my meeting with Aditya on 7th April I raised the subject, but Aditya refused to answer.

In his email dated Saturday 18th April, Aditya KUMAR asked some of us to check errors for the design of package 1 that should be distributed to the residents. On April 21st, I started my review and  noticed that it was an older version where some stairs were placed within the space allocated for the 4.5m and 6 m roads (check below). I notified Aditya (Hossam JAZZAR was present) and asked for the latest version. He responded that the latest correction made on package 1 had been sent to the consultant and that we didn’t have a copy. I mentioned that in some cases there was a change in the design. He insisted that I continue reviewing the old plans, so I continued reviewing the errors of a nearly obsolete version of the plan (see add.15). 


While I was checking for errors (see 4- ), I noticed a design in the “square” behind the mosque. I asked Jenan DIAB to explain to me what it is (she had worked on the landscaping). 

She told me it’s a place for worshippers to perform a ritual cleansing before prayer, and that the figure adjacent to the semi-circle is a 2 meter high wall to shield the view of the area from the road. I asked her why we should have a washing area in a public space.  She replied, why not? I asked her who made the design. Her answer was Aditya KUMAR, Ismael SHEIKH HASSAN, Abdelnasser AYI and her.

The wall in front of some buildings will block the view only from the ground floor of the apartments across the street. Washing in a public space will create hygienic problems in a place where there’s no municipal or other kind of social structure to provide a continuous maintenance and cleaning. In addition, the wall will only partially cover the worshipping men.
I don’t know if they took into consideration the community’s opinion, but usually the cleansing space is inside of the mosque (in the mosque design created by Abdelnasser, there’s already a place for worshippers to clean themselves,) or in the interior court, or the adjacent square attached to the mosque, but not in a public space.
When I raised the subject with the other designers (i.e. Aditya, Ismael and Abdelnasser, I only got a response from Ismael, that we could turn it into a fountain.
Finally, the design is made as if the ground is flat while in fact we have a slope.
On the 1st of April, Aditya KUMAR asked me to continue drawing Jihad FARAH’s block (N18). I refused based on the amount of work that I already had. He proposed then that a draftsman from the data team could do the job while I supervise him. I also refused, arguing that it would be time consuming for me to go through all what Jihad had designed and check what would be drawn, though I did assemble the ground floor in N18. Later he asked Nada SABBAGH to assemble the rest of the floors, and she delivered it the same day.
On the 3rd of April he sent her an email stating that he “assumed” she was working on Jihad’s block (see add.16) Nada, reminded Aditya that she had done what he initially requested and had handed him the assembled plots, and was now working on finishing her assigned block.
At that time the deadline was set for the 7th April (by oral instruction). The next working day, Aditya asked Nada to send him a daily update of her work progress (see add.17) As far as I know, he didn’t ask other architects for a daily update and Nada viewed this as a punitive measure. She was stressed and under pressure to complete her own assignment, but she was the only architect to respect the deadline. She presented her design on April 9th. Another deadline was set for the rest of the team for the 26th of April, except for Marie Josee ANJOUL (see add.13).
I finished my block on the 24th of April (without levels and windows (usually windows are drawn based on elevations,)) and sent it to Nada.
The rest of the team didn’t present on the 27thof April, and Aditya tasked Nada with monitoring the time needed for every architect in order to finish (see add.18).
*        *        *
Index of Appendices
(Click on any photo for a larger view)
Add.1: قرار لجنة الاعتراضات و التحكيم B4.11.9 (N16.9)

Add.2: Data sheet B4.11.9 (N16.9)


Add.3: Emails (April 6th9:21 AM, April 6th 2:49 PM, April 6th 4:53 PM, April 7th9:56 AM)

Add.4: Email (April 9th9:05 AM)

Add.5: Email (April 7th2:40 PM)

Add.6: Emails (April 7th7:38 PM, April 8th 12:00 PM)

Add.7:  Curriculum Vitae

Add.8: Superimposed master plans

Add.9: Email (January 21st11:17 AM)

Add.10: Email (March 25th8:28 PM)

Add.11: Internal report on mistakes

Add.12: Email (April 10th9:56 AM)

Add.13: Emails (April 18th7:13 PM, April 23rd 9:41 AM, April 23rd 7:47 PM)

Add.14: Email (February 18th7:21 PM)

Add.15: Sample of correcting an obsolete plan

Add.16: Emails (April 3rd7:01 AM, April 3rd 10:04 AM)

Add.17: Emails (April 6th4:05 PM, April 7th 3:32 PM, April 8th 8:34 AM, April 9th4:13 PM)

Add.18: Email (April 27th11:16 AM)

Add.19: Final Warning Letter

Add.20: Reply to Final Warning Letter

Add.21: Email (April 23rd11:21)


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