Jafar Tukan: Remembering an Architectural Giant

By Sandra Hiari

Jafar Tukan, the renowned architect who pioneered Jordan’s important modernist era, died in Amman on November 25 after a long illness. He was 76.

Jerusalem-born Tukan graduated from the American University of Beirut in 1960. He worked as an architect with Dar Al Handasah in the Lebanese capital before establishing his own firm, Jafar Tukan & Partners, more than a decade later in Amman. While in 2006, he would continue his career through a merger with the design and engineering firm, Consolidated Consultants (CC).

For more than two decades, Tukan built an unassailed reputation throughout Jordan and beyond as a modernist architect who preferred to work with stone.

Many contemporary architects look up to Tukan as a long-time inspiration and mentor. He set up a library in his office and filled it with the books and magazines he purchased to make them available to students and professionals. Designer Ahmad Humeid wrote a moving testament in that regards. “The pilgrimage to your office library was a must for every architectural student,” he says in a note he once sent to the architect. “That was just another facet of how you were able to affect an entire generation of architects both in their thinking and their practice.”

It wasn’t just students that Tukan’s work touched. A family relative, Oraib Tukan, explained that “he belongs to that select genre of great Arab artists, architects, and literati that have intentionally worked with our wider institutional realities by seizing the opportunity to rethink what objects of statehood governance or neoliberalism could look like.”

He courageously introduced new building techniques that were foreign to Jordan at the time, yet the majority of his buildings managed to blend with their surroundings. “I am from those people who believe that architecture must blend in its context,” he said. Yet the architect held his ground when dealing with clients. “The architect’s relationship with the client must not be at the expense of compromising architectural values just to appease the client,” he said.

While Tukan’s architectural legacy is mostly in stone-clad, low-rise, residential, and institutional buildings, he will perhaps be remembered most for the Jordan Gate towers which dominate Amman’s skyline. A by-product of the last financial boom and yet to be occupied, Tukan still defended his controversial creation. “The case of the Jordan Gate may be unique in the fact that it caught the city without prior forecasting,” he once wrote. He predicted, looking through a dark and realistic lens that the “uniqueness of Jordan Gate is that it may be the first and last high-rise that will occupy such a prominent location on the Amman skyline.”

The recipient of the international Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2001, Tukan was also interested in community development. He designed the SOS Children’s Village in Aqaba. While he built homes for both the wealthy and the orphans, Tukan himself owned a home of his own at a late stage in his career. “The reason for not living in a house that I designed earlier was for economic and architectural reasons … When you design one for yourself you have too many questions,” he explained.

Tukan spent the final years of his life living with his wife in the home he designed himself that overlooked Amman.