© Yahya Arhab/Picture alliance/dpa

Reconstruction Priorities

Reconstruction Priorities

Another important planning task is to identify the priorities for reconstruction and to translate them into concerted action based on detailed plans. Priorities can be defined by referencing the agreed vision and objectives, and the reconstruction directory.

In addition to laying the foundations for physical works, planning at this stage also needs to formulate strategies and proposals for rebuilding the social and economic fabric, and addressing the rights and claims of local residents and businesses, including those who are returning after being displaced.

Conflicting priorities require careful assessment according to local needs and circumstances.

Physical survival priorities

  • Initiate rapid infrastructure repair, clearing of debris and re-opening of street network.
  • Assist with emergency repair of viable houses.
  • Assist with emergency repair of main souks.
  • Initiate stabilisation of historic structures at risk, and salvage valuable materials.

Social priorities

  • Develop modes and procedures to help needy residents with materials.
  • Organise communities and interest groups to act collectively and assume responsibility for reconstruction.
  • Train volunteers and provide jobs in reconstruction.
  • Provide temporary housing for former residents and immigrants.

Planning priorities

  • Progressively develop the reconstruction directory.
  • Define priority reconstruction areas.
  • Develop and promote an intervention matrix as a tool for identifying appropriate modes of reconstruction.
  • Define guidelines for modes of reconstruction, such as conservation, typological repair, infill and redevelopment.
  • Define areas where intervention is to be prohibited until appropriate conservation or redevelopment projects are initiated.

Institutional priorities

  • Establish and empower a special task force to serve as a dedicated coordinating and reconstruction agency.
  • Train new staff with the help of international organisations and donors.
  • Create mechanisms and platforms for involving local communities and absent residents (internally displaced or in diaspora).
  • Pro-actively establish contacts with donors and investors.
  • Create and implement the special legal mechanisms needed to deal with exceptional emergency situations.

Reconstruction priorities should not be imposed from above by a rigid planning policy, but emerge from the interaction of several bottom-up factors, including:

  • The importance and unique nature of the architectural heritage (both individual monuments and the urban fabric as a whole) and its exposure to risk.
  • The social needs of resident communities, NGOs and local associations, and their ability to unite and articulate these needs collectively or through chosen representatives.
  • The willingness of stakeholders to engage in a concerted reconstruction effort that reflects a shared vision.
  • Available government and donor resources and the opportunity to channel them towards priority activities.
  • The local institutional capacity to support and implement the vision and its objectives and procedures, and to prevent contrary, detrimental development trends.


Although high priority is generally attached to restoring outstanding monuments, it may be preferable initially to restrict works to preliminary stabilisation activities and to defer comprehensive conservation until later. Exceptions can often be made for monuments that play a key social role in the life of the city concerned. The same holds true for major redevelopment projects in ruined areas, the function and architectural design of which has to be properly investigated.

The consistent rehabilitation of traditional residential areas represents the most vital (and demanding) challenge for urban reconstruction, and should be given the highest priority by the authorities. Reconstruction efforts in this context can be guided and accelerated by preparing advance models (simulations) of the various types of intervention to be applied for a typical range of housing – from the conservation of important historic mansions to the repair of more modest residential units and the substitution (infill) of dilapidated houses on virtually empty plots. Residents can be engaged and encouraged if the options are presented visually alongside the necessary guidelines and manuals.

Approaches and instruments

Public safety and security

© Jwannah Qudsi

The early post-conflict period is generally characterised by chaos and confusion. In order to facilitate orderly reconstruction efforts, it is important to restore law and order in daily life. In the transitional period, special emergency powers, statutory instruments and control mechanisms may be needed in order to prevent plundering, looting, the illegal occupation of properties, and irregular, incoherent building activities.

A special effort has to be made at the same time to ensure safety in all public spaces, prevent the resumption of hostilities, and rule out acts of revenge.

Collective engagement in physical reconstruction can help to re-establish peace and social cohesion.

Return of former residents – verification of claims and rights

© Muhmmad Al-Najjar/Picture alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com

Civil war can trigger radical demographic changes that affect the life of a city. Such changes often jeopardize the sense of sentimental connection and the feeling of ownership and cultural identity, which are key factors in embedding the population in its traditional environment. Legal instruments concerning property registration must ensure that the ownership rights of returning residents are protected.

Although the temporary (illegal) occupation of empty houses by refugees and immigrants may be tolerated for a brief transitional period, the practice must not be allowed to legitimise ownership claims.

Houses that appear to have been abandoned cannot be seized and allocated to new occupants for ideological or political reasons, or in order to impose demographic change.

In certain cases, if their rightful owners have not been identified within a defined period, empty houses can be sold by a caretaker institution to be created for this purpose, in order to allow restoration to proceed. The sales proceeds are to be held by a special trust tasked with actively tracing former owners or their heirs, so that they can be reimbursed. Funds that are not redistributed in this way must be invested in the urban restoration process, e.g. through small grants and loans to residents who are willing to repair their houses.

Special institutional requirements

In view of the urgency and multitude of tasks and needs, the reconstruction of war-affected historic cities calls for exceptional, custom-made planning tools.

Both a rapid assessment of short-term priorities and an evaluation of long-term dangers, risks and opportunities are essential. The outcome – an urban sensitivity analysis – can help stakeholders to pinpoint the areas of intervention that are most urgent and likely to succeed. But effective legal and institutional support is needed if flexible planning procedures are to be implemented and in order to control erratic, undesirable development trends.

The most important legal instrument in this context is a temporary building moratorium, which can be used to defer decisions on strategic development matters in sensitive areas until the dust has settled and informed decisions can be taken. While a moratorium is active, archaeological research can take place, decisions can be made about the conservation and re-use of architectural heritage, and modern urban redevelopment projects in devastated areas can be properly defined.

Among the other institutional tools to be developed and adapted to the specific situation are instruments to resolve pending land ownership issues. These will facilitate the rehabilitation of abandoned houses and collective redevelopment projects in areas where large expanses of the urban fabric have been irremediably destroyed.

Identification of heritage buildings and key public sector facilities

© Mohammed Mohammed/Picture alliance/photoshot

The historic buildings to be restored most urgently are those with a relevant social function, such as mosques, souks and caravanserais. They are essential for both re-establishing a normal daily life and sustaining the specific local identity. They need to be listed, recorded and evaluated, paying particular attention to their architectural/historic value and the state of physical deterioration.

A list of restorable priority monuments should be created as quickly as possible, and preliminary feasibility studies and cost estimates should be produced so that the schemes can be ‘marketed’ to potential donors.

A similar procedure should be followed for important public facilities, such as schools, hospitals, hammams, souks and caravanserais, irrespective of their historic value.

Identification of priority reconstruction areas

© Franziska Laue

The purpose of priority reconstruction areas where spatially and/or thematically related projects can be undertaken is to achieve an overall benefit that exceeds the sum of the individual components.

Such priority reconstruction areas can cut across historic, functional and architectural divisions and produce synergies that address complex rehabilitation problems and generate momentum for rapid and sustained urban recovery.

Priority reconstruction areas can:

  • respond to particular urgencies and opportunities in the local environment,
  • help to resolve possible conflicts between temporary emergency action and long-term rehabilitation strategies,
  • mitigate the risk of harmful or speculative redevelopment in critical urban zones and on devastated or abandoned plots,
  • provide a framework for pilot reconstruction projects,
  • combine and integrate various types of intervention, such as monument conservation, upgrading of housing clusters, new infill, infrastructure repairs, and comprehensive (or plot-by-plot) redevelopment in devastated zones,
  • facilitate the exemplary adaptive reconstruction of damaged or ruined modern enclaves that were inconsistent with the morphology of the historic fabric,
  • stimulate interaction between local communities and public administration during the planning and implementation process,
  • provide donors and investors with prompt, useful and viable funding proposals for area-wide reconstruction and upgrading activities that shift the focus away from isolated monuments, and
  • facilitate joint funding by government, international organisations, donors and local and foreign investors.

Mobilisation of private reconstruction activities

© Jwannah Qudsi

The rehabilitation of historic residential areas (which often constitute the largest part of the pre-existing traditional urban fabric) depends to a large extent on the initiative, labour and financial resources of private house owners. It is therefore essential to mobilise and reinforce these resources by way of various measures, such as:

  • Subsidies in kind, such as appropriate building materials for free or at reduced cost.
  • Small grants or micro-credits issued by donors and linked to quality control.
  • Tax relief schemes linked to private investment.
  • Free assistance in the form of specialist skills, volunteers from the community, free use of machinery and equipment, etc..
  • Manuals and guidelines on prototypical restoration issues.
  • Training courses in self-help repair and restoration techniques.

Archaeological protection zones

© T. Grandin

War damage creates unforeseen opportunities for archaeological research in devastated areas and for seeing a city’s history in a fresh light. Archaeological excavation can also give rise to conflicts, however, between the local population’s vital needs and the desire of the archaeologists to block extensive urban areas for an indefinite period while they conduct their research. In such cases, a sensible balance needs to be struck.

Essential and justified archaeological campaigns can be discussed and agreed in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, and the affected areas can be reserved and protected by legal decree for a limited period. Depending on the importance of the findings, the sites can either remain exposed to exhibit the urban history, or be closed and re-used after proper scientific documentation.

As a general rule, sensitive zones where archaeological findings are to be expected should be earmarked in advance, and the responsible authorities should allow archaeologists to oversee earthworks for the foundations of important new buildings in sensitive areas.

Date: 27. September 2018 | Last modified: 16. August 2019

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