Schematic design for Sharif Hussein Museum in Aqaba, Jordan
Architect Zaid Masannat did a full museum schematic design for The Sharif Hussein Museum in Aqaba, Jordan while working for the USAID Jordan tourism project Building Economic Sustainability Through Tourism Project (BEST). The work included a full architectural, interior, interpretation, exhibit, landscape and branding design for this landmark museum in Aqaba. The project is still in progress and is construction is expected to be completed in 2021.
The Museum in Context
The Sharif Hussein House was built in 1918 and was one of the first official building in Jordan which originally served as a customs toll house. It was renovated in the 1980’s and housed the Aqaba Archaeological Museum until 2016, when it was decided to dedicate it fully to tell the story of Sharif Hussein and his role in the Great Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule in 1916.
The house itself was built right at the edge of the seafront adjacent to the historic 14th century Mamluk Fort. In recent decades Aqaba witnessed a transformation and the Great Arab Revolt plaza was added in front of the house with a massive memorial revolt flag in its center. The plaza is the living heart of Aqaba and its historic district. The museum design celebrates both its formal central location in the plaza and its humble original domestic building state.
Exhibit Design and Storyline
The South Wing
The main exhibit hall is located in the south wing. The exhibit starts by telling the story of the Hashemite dynasty, the life and lineage of Sharif Hussein dating back to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The story goes on to describe the turbulent times of the revolt era during World War I and the growing discontent with the harsh Ottoman rule, relationships with the British and his aspirations for establishing a Pan-Arab state. The exhibit features famous quotations by the Sharif advocating pan Arab unity, inter-religious tolerance and his dream of a united Arab world of equality and independence.
The following hall is dedicated to telling the detailed events of the Great Arab Revolt and its battles. It features the “Qibla” newspaper which was the mouthpiece of the revolt and in which the Sharif wrote occasionally to spread the word to followers across the Arab world. The hall also features prominently the arms used by the Bedouin tribes to fight the Turks.
Next, is The Hejaz Railway room. The railway was built by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hameed II in 1909 to connect Istanbul to Mecca for religious hajj pilgrimage and to provide supplies to his troops across the empire. The railway became a strategic target to the Arab Revolt to disrupt enemy supplies which played a pivotal role in its success.
The final room in this wing is called the “Legacy Room” which highlights the accomplishments of the revolt, the short lived ‘Arab Kingdom’ established by the Sharif, its constitution and the establishment of the Arab Army. The victory of the Arab revolt was short lived as the winning allies carved up the region under colonial rule right after World War I.
The North Wing
The north wing is dedicated to two exhibits: the first one tells the story of the house itself and showcases objects of daily life found in its store. These objects echo what life was like a century ago. The second exhibit is dedicated to tell the story of Aqaba itself, from the early dawn of civilization to its current unique bustling Red-Sea culture that is different from other Jordanian cities, its port, fishing, and very special relationship with the late Sharif Hussein.
The courtyard has a quaint atmosphere, and the design reinforces that by reintroducing the lost pergola in its western half. The floors were carefully designed to reflect both its formal character yet in a humane down-to-earth domestic scale. A canon from the war era was introduced in the middle of the courtyard, pointing symbolically to the iconic very high Arab Revolt Flag in the plaza outside, which is the main landmark in the Aqaba skyline. Special designs were developed to drain the subterranean high water table that caused wall decay in the house due to its close proximity to the sea. The landscape was carefully crafted to retain the character of the building and its environment.
Stakeholders and Scope of Work
This project had a very complex set of variables and inputs from several stakeholders, namely: USAID (BEST) Project, The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, The Department of Antiquities, The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority ASEZA, Ministry of Housing and Public Affairs and The Directorate of Heritage at the Hashemite Royal Court.
The role of the designer Zaid Masannat through USAID, was to design a fully detailed schematic design, which was later handed on to Bitar Architects and Consultants to complete the tender documents. The project is still under construction and is expected to be completed in 2021.