With passion and dedication, Jala Makhzoumi has sought to bridge the gap between academia and practice throughout her career in teaching and conducting projects across the Middle East.
“I love teaching, and seeing my students excel is such a great reward,” said Makhzoumi, an adjunct professor of architecture and design at the American University of Beirut. “Working on the ground nurtures you. An architect needs both.”
As a project consultant, Makhzoumi has visited places across the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, helping to put in place master plans for city development and establish green belts, and to preserve heritage in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, among other countries.
In 2009, she served as a lead consultant for the Erbil Inner Green Belt project. The economic crisis and the war against the Islamic State put the project aside, but Makhzoumi and a team from the American University of Beirut recently revived and completed it as a rural heritage recovery and post-conflict development.
“In the region, green belts mean only reforesting; this is a mono-cultural landscape,” said Makhzoumi. “We completely changed this by rediscovering 23 forgotten villages with amazing agricultural landscape around Erbil.”
Keeping the Desert at Bay
The team persuaded the Municipality of Erbil to focus on impoverished rural communities and invest in capacity-building.
“Our vision was to include fruit orchards and support agriculture to provide a livelihood to families and displaced communities,” she said. They also trained architects and archaeologists from Erbil’s Salahaddin University to work on developing “solutions with the community rather than using the parachute solutions brought by foreigners.”
Deserts are bewitching and inspirational places to Makhzoumi, but she does not want them to encroach on other landscapes. “I love to go out and see them, not have them visiting me,” she said.
Desert encroachment due to abandoned agriculture is just one of the serious environmental challenges facing Iraq, Makhzoumi said. Other issues include debris from shells made of depleted uranium that were used during the Gulf war. (See a related article, “An Iraqi Scientist Speaks Out on the Lingering Effects of Radioactive Weapons.”)
A Pioneering Program at Yale
Makhzoumi’s love of architecture and archaeology began as a child growing up in the vibrant Baghdad of the 1960s. This led her to enroll in Baghdad University’s College of Engineering.