A project in the form of a group excercise devoted to the 1963 Hilton Carlton in Ramallah, stemming from the Al Quds Bard College seminar “Documentary Theory and Practice”. The course took the very building that housed it as a point of departure; AQU’s Institute for Modern Media - which was previously the Hilton itself. A 1959 modernist structure designed by Fouad Al Sayegh for Mohammad Jowdat Ghosheh, originally as a two-facing hospital.  Al Sayegh, a fresh graduate from Cairo, was as “ahistorical” as possible in his final design: starkly cut reinforced concrete with stone, curtain glass windows, clean geometric lines. The buildings provenance and oral history was, on the contrary, anything but geometrically straight. Petula Clark performed on the first ever ‘piste’ in town, dancers toured from the Casino Du Liban, Israeli soldiers confiscated its ‘Hilton’ sign, and then its modernist furniture, only to use it as an Israeli military base for three years. The site was also a back street deal for a settlement land grab, a women’s dormitory for AQU’s nursing school, a community-led television station, the production house of the one and only Sesame Street, and a more recent late night visit by Israeli soldiers who irreversibly confiscated IMMs transmitter.

We commenced the course by revisiting Robert J. Flaherty’s 1922 silent film “Nanook of the North”, which documented the life of an Inuk family in the Arctic. While Flaherty was trying to represent life around an igloo, his camera wouldn’t fit into the inside of one. And when a larger one was built for him, the dome kept collapsing. In the end, the subject of the film, Nanook and his family, built a three-walled structure that recreated the original igloo interior for Flaherty’s camera. Our own process of documenting the IMM building was not all that different. Any attempt at seamlessly narrating its story would repeatedly collapse at the very moment of attempting to officially represent it.

And so the building, to us, became a site for non-linearity, the fictional and the official, the politics of truth and representability in the face of architectural memory, family secrets, and, above all, the curious case of Palestinian modernism. It has been argued that the very moment Cairo and Beirut were experimenting with modernist hotels, towns in the West Bank held on to identities pertaining to Islamic and Ottoman ornamentation as a reaction to the modernist project of zionism. So modern jewels such as these are indeed limited in Ramallah. And that is precisely why we set out to roam the site as a living ruin.