Jafar Tukan (1938-20014)

~~I read today that Jafar Toukan, the eminent Palestinian-Jordanian architect, has died in Amman, the Jordanian capital.  Toukan’s vision was modernist; his commitment was to local culture and building materials.  He was a man of immense cultural knowledge, humility, and grace.  He was also a family friend, across the decades–first as a professional colleague of my father (who was also an architect), and then, with his wife Ihsan Toukan, as a friend of my mother.  Whenever I visited Amman, I would see Ihsan and Jafar, and we would while away the afternoon over lunch and coffee, in good conversation.

SOS Children's Village. Photo:archnet

SOS Children’s Village. Jordan.  Photo:archnet

Born into a prominent Palestinian family of poets (Ibrahim Toukan was his father; Fadwa Toukan was his aunt), Jafar Toukan was an architect of local education (a graduate of the American University of Beirut) and practice, and open to the world.  His buildings stretched across the entire Arab Middle East, from Libya to Palestine; included government, cultural, educational, financial, commemorative and residential structures; and reflected some of the distinctive characteristics of their designer–clear, uncluttered lines and self-consciously restrained forms, but most of all an esthetic that was devoid of ostentation, excess, and aggressive visibility.

Jubilee School. Photo:archnet

Jubilee School. Amman, Jordan. Photo:archnet

Today, Amman is a hodgepodge of many rather ugly building, their opulence bordering on the obscene, sustained no doubt by the wishes of the affluent who fled the two Gulf Wars.  Yet the clutter and excess coexist with another category of structures, harking back to those years when architects, among them  Jafar Toukan, and earlier my father, stamped the city with a honeycomb of buildings which draw attention to themselves for their marriage of the local with the international.  They arrest you in your tracks, these buildings, for all they show of stone and texture and perspective and contrast– the blue sky against the white limestone, the esthetic principle against the local materials, the grand design against everyday functionality.

The earth, light on Jafar Toukan, a great architect and humanist.~~

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About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
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5 Responses to Jafar Tukan (1938-20014)

  1. Yaansoon says:

    May he rest in peace! He once gave me a cassette (back in the day when cassettes existed) of a choir singing in a church – it was an experience listening to this kind of music, very humbling. Toukan was a creative force and he left his mark everywhere!

    • He was a locally trained architect. He was not enamored with ostentation (as were many architects in Jordan whose buildings in the more affluent parts of Amman are in a class of their own for gaudiness and bad design) nor was he an imitator of everything and anything western. He embodied the best of the era–secularism, nationalism, erudition. Above all, he was a modest man, modest beyond belief for all that he had achieved, and the marks he leaves behind.

      • Yaansoon says:

        He was very modest in deed and a true Jordanian pillar.
        I echo your thoughts regarding the bad taste buildings that have mushroomed around the affluent parts of Amman… that’s why I prefer the humbler Jabal Amman area, where 1930 buildings are a reminder of simplicity and beauty – that’s where my atelier is located, as well as the shop that sells my handmade stuff.

      • I grew up in Jebel Amman, on Rainbow Street, and the daily walk to the Ahliyyah School is a memory I cherish. The quarters of ugly buildings are really grotesque, aren’t they?
        Toukan’s architectural esthetic was of a different order. What a great human being!

      • Yaansoon says:

        Ah, Jabal Amman is the place and Ahhliyya school is the heart of the Rainbow Street 🙂 I agree, the old quarters are lovelier than the abrupt newer areas… and Toukan’s mark is something for new architects to learn from. May he rest in peace…

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