Architects Foundation’s McAslan Fellows partner with Turquoise Mountain to support Umm Qais Heritage Site

Following COVID-related delays, the recipients of the 2021 Architects Foundation 2021 AF/McAslan Fellowship have finally launched critical research projects in partnership with Turquoise Mountain related to the organization’s Ottoman-era Umm Qais site in Jordan.

Melissa Smith, a graduate of the University of Kansas and now an architectural designer at LRK in New Orleans, and Michael (Mike) Lidwin, currently a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, will conduct research to benefit this historic site at the crossroads of conflict-affected heritage. In early January, Melissa spent two weeks in Amman and Umm Qais documenting conditions related to both Fellows’ research initiatives. Michael will perform virtual research.

“Spending two weeks in Jordan for the Architects Foundation/McAslan fellowship was a remarkable experience,” said Smith. “Not only did I get to study ancient water systems in Umm Qais in hopes of learning from the past to tackle today’s water scarcity issue, but I also got to know the fascinating history and culture of Jordan through working alongside the Turquoise Mountain team.”

In Jordan, Turquoise Mountain has worked since 2018 to protect heritage and communities at risk, provide training in traditional crafts and business skills, conduct heritage education classes for children and support local artisans. At the archaeological site of Umm Qais, the organization works in several locations dating from the Roman through the Ottoman eras to protect and/or restore structures, preserve traditional building techniques, and to train and employ members of the local community in endangered skills related to construction and preservation.

“Umm Qais looks out across the Middle East and carries traces of almost every single layer of the region’s shared past,” said Harry Wardill, Managing Director for Turquoise Mountain. “Having the AF/McAslan Fellows help us study the site’s water system and document the morphology of the site will provide fundamental support for local educational and economic development.”

Melissa’s research is focused on the past, present and future of water management at the Umm Qais archaeological site. Historically, the collection, storage and distribution of water was a complex engineering feat the ancient Jordanians mastered. With contemporary infrastructure, Jordan is one of the most water-poor countries in the world. Melissa’s work, focused on Umm Qais, will be the first step in understanding and revitalizing these traditional processes.

Mike’s work will develop a 3D plan for part of the Hara Fouga or Old Village atop the ancient acropolis of the Umm Qais Archaeological Site. The work will be based on collecting and working from the past and present plans of the morphology of the old village. Mike’s work will capture what survives, a moment in time, that will allow the team to develop plans for wider scale restoration.

“Our fellowships exist to support architectural students, graduates and newly-qualified architects to address community and environmental issues in economically and socially deprived areas in the UK and abroad,” said John McAslan, RIBA, Hon. FAIA, founder of the Fellowship. “I am so pleased Melissa’s and Mike’s architectural education and experience will be enhanced by this exciting work on such a culturally rich project.”

This is the third year the Architects Foundation/McAslan Fellowship is being offered. The scholarship supports travel experiences for two top graduating students to engage with John McAslan + Partners.

About Turquoise Mountain and Umm Qais
Turquoise Mountain is a charitable organization established in 2006 by HRH The Prince of Wales and now working in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Over the last 15 years, Turquoise Mountain has restored over 150 historic buildings worldwide, employed and trained thousands of artisans and builders, built over 50 small businesses and supported over $17 million in sales of traditional crafts to international markets.

About John McAslan + Partners
John McAslan + Partners is a leading London-based architecture practice with studios in Edinburgh, Sydney and New York. The practice has worked internationally across the continents and across sectors with widely recognized expertise in urban design, conservation and regeneration as well as landscape architecture.