Kultur Ensemble Ramallah

Founded: rare social gem

June 8, 2022

Freely accessible places where anyone can go “spontaneously” are unfortunately still rare in Palestine. This makes the recent opening of a new Third Place in Ramallah extra significant. “Kultur Ensemble” houses a library, a cultural café, a makerspace and a stage. This French-German Cultural Institute warmly welcomes locals with a rich cultural program, from language courses to theater.

The French-German Cultural Center in Ramallah is an association of the Goethe-Institut Palestinian Territories and the Institut français Jerusalem. Both institutes have shared a building in Ramallah since 2004. Next to offering both German and French language courses to residents, the center presented joint projects on a broad cultural level: film, visual arts, music, theater and dance, conferences, architecture and science. Becoming a Third Place, the French-German Cultural Center has officially transformed into the French-German Cultural Institute Ramallah with a new joint brand name: Kultur Ensemble.

Mona Kriegler, Director of the Goethe-Institut Palestinian Territories (2017-2021) describes: “Creating a Third Place in our cultural center in Ramallah leads us to anticipate a diverse and integrative culture. We want to be welcoming to all people, in an atmosphere that is marked by local connection, belonging, warmth and safety. We hope that the reconceptualized French-German cooperation will break down boundaries, lower thresholds and become even more of a trusted partner for the community. Our aim is to actively practice politics of recognition and listening by inviting everybody to help us program their 3rd4all, a Third Place for All.”

Cultivating a social-cultural role

Palestine’s geopolitical circumstances and challenges lead to a restricted private domain for the residents. However, cultural institutions have made first attempts to bridge this gap. Community spaces, like the Third Place in Ramallah, are still rare in Palestinian areas, but highly sought after.

Today, the renovated institute continues to fulfill its socio-cultural role even more. Its interior design triggers the curiosity of the public to explore the center, its rich cultural program and allows for more engaging communication. The design of the Third Place is a co-creation of includi (concept, workshop, design, art direction) and the Ramallah-based Saed Obaid Architectural & Interior Design (final design, engineering) in collaboration with local agency Topaz interiors (furniture and decoration).

We want to be welcoming to all people, in an atmosphere that is marked by local connection, belonging, warmth and safety

Mona Kriegler Mona Kriegler Director of the Goethe-Institut Palestinian Territories (2017-2021)

“Our collective goal was to create a welcoming, safe and inspirational public place in Ramallah that feels like home and caters to multicultural experiences, events and encounters. A place for ‘time well spent’”, summarizes Aat Vos, Creative Director at includi, about the first includi project outside the “global North”. 

Real-Life-Meetings and remote sessions 

The kick-off took place in October 2019, when members of the includi team visited Ramallah. Aat Vos describes: “Our team visited various cultural centers and also the Qalandia refugee camp which made a big impression on all of us. It showed us how people know how to use their creativity even in the most challenging circumstances, and how they made the most of the smallest space in the camp. Immensely inspiring.” The impressions were taken into a workshop with the French-German team. 

Other elements of the development process were surveys with the includi card games (Arabic translation) led by the French-German team and conducted with partners, students, pupils, learners of German and French of all ages, evaluated and documented by includi in the Netherlands. The includi design workshop planned for March 2020 had to give way to a remote, four-day workshop due to the pandemic. All these activities led to the presentation of a brand-new concept for a Third Place in Ramallah to stimulate casual encounters and more interpersonal connections.

A compilation of culture

The new public areas of Kultur Ensemble in Ramallah are located at the ground floor and first floor of the building. The ground floor hosts an informal, welcoming café, but also a multipurpose seminar room, giving teaching a visible role in the public space. On the first floor, visitors find the library, a makerspace, a kids’ corner, and a stage for low-threshold local cultural events, such as movie nights, concerts, conferences etc. It also houses an office and a ‘cocoon’ that offers a space for public, yet more intimate encounters, such as informative meetings for people interested in studying in France or Germany. 

The overall look and feel is warm, welcoming and fresh. A warm foundation welcomes visitors with yellow on the walls, a brown ceiling for a cozier atmosphere and local references for a friendly and familiar feel, such as side tables with colorful tiles, a wallpaper in the “Cocoon” with typical Palestinian motifs, hand-crocheted elements for the bar stools in the café and a large carpet in the children’s corner made locally. A dash of freshness is provided by blue accents.

Accessible above all

Hélène IJsselstijn, Interior Architect at includi describes: “Finding the right materials, chairs and upholstery was a challenge. We had to deal with long delivery times and limited stocks due to the pandemic. Thanks to the intense cooperation with our local ‘building partners’ Saed Obaid and Topaz – who found the right interior elements with great care and attention – we added a beautiful, local identity to this project. This makes the accessible and inclusive atmosphere a reality. On the ground floor, the new entrance has become more inviting as well, thanks to placing people behind the window, at work stations with lights above them and a variety of seating in the hall and café area. A large community table on the ground floor invites you to take a seat, setting the tone upon entry. ‘Deinstitutionalization’ is also visible in the signage, for example through cheeky signs saying ‘Please disturb us’.”

Thanks to intense cooperation with our local ‘building partners’ we added a beautiful, local identity to this project, making the accessible and inclusive atmosphere a reality.

Hélène IJsselstijn Hélène IJsselstijn Interior Architect at includi

This cultural institute is a genuine Third Place that, thanks to an inclusive interior concept, will be more accessible to visit and hopefully experienced as a ‘home away from home’ by publics of all ages and backgrounds… A cultural house, anchored in an evolving local context, where – apart from everything there is to learn and experience – you will definitely happily linger, either alone or with others.

Project credits

Client: Goethe-Institut Palestinian Territories
includi: concept, workshop, design, art direction (team: Aat Vos, Hélène IJsselstijn, Eunice Ma, Jasper Poortvliet, Pepijn Vos)
Saed Obaid Architectural & Interior Design: final design, engineering
DeMore by Design & More: general contractor
Topaz interiors: furniture and decoration
Photography: Marco Heyda