SSM’s Sustainable Mission in the Middle East

It is not unusual for us to explore areas on the fringes of architecture to widen our perspective and expertise. We are always enthusiastic about opportunities to grow and improve whether it is through a community engagement project, cooperation with Higher Education institutions or exploring innovative technologies.

Over 2018 and 2019 we had a unique opportunity to collaborate with Edinburgh World Heritage on an unusual conservation project near the south-eastern border of Turkey in Mardin. The project developed in the shadow of the conflict in Syria and the destruction of ancient monuments there and in Iraq by Islamic State.

Mardin is an ancient city located on the plains of Mesopotamia in south-eastern Turkey, currently on the tentative list to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. A partnership between Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) and Kültürel Mirası Koruma Derneği (KMKD) resulted in SSM being commissioned to address the issue of sustainability in heritage sites, through an exemplar restoration of a traditional stone townhouse in the historic core of Mardin. The project aimed to promote by example repopulation of the partially abandoned old town. Conservation and re-use of the buildings in this case has two purposes – it secures the social and cultural capital of the historical built environment and retains and makes best use of carbon embodied in existing structures.

These stone houses, although charming, do not adequately address cold desert winter and the extreme heat of summer. As a result, the refurbishment needed to meet not only the strict conservation standards of an aspiring World Heritage site but also to incorporate state-of-the-art energy efficiency design. Local conservation and statutory restrictions and the sometimes challenging availability of materials, systems and skills played an important role in the process.

Our role, as Energy Efficiency Advisor, was to analyse the building’s construction and its siting in the context of local and international practices and to provide energy efficiency strategy recommendations. The detailed design was developed by local architects.

A key objective of the project was capacity building. The project developed and grew over time to include more organisations and individuals. As a result we have delivered a series of lectures, training sessions and workshops on sustainability of heritage sites, energy efficiency in conservation and the circular economy, in Istanbul, Antakya and Edinburgh. We had a chance to engage with groups of people of different ages and levels of expertise ranging from students, craftsmen and local residents to planners, architects and decision makers.
For us, the project has been a most exciting and inspiring opportunity to work with experts from Turkish conservation organisations, local authorities and Mardin museum as well as Historic Environment Scotland and EWH.

We are, amongst over 1000 other architectural practices, one of the signatories of Architects Declare. This project fully addresses two of the Declaration’s statements: the importance on retrofit and upgrading the existing building stock as aspects of circular economy and knowledge sharing.

You can learn more about the project on the Edinburgh World Heritage website: 

The significance of the project has been recognised by Urban Realm, which published an impressive six-page feature on the project in its 2019 spring issue entitled Middle East: War Bonds

Photos by Kültürel Mirası Koruma Derneği (KMKD), curtesy of Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH)