April 2017 archive

The Battle for Home: exploring questions of identity and architecture

My latest article on The Nature of Cities highlights and explores some of the questions raised by Marwa al-Sabouni’s thought-provoking book, The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria.

The article does not do justice to Marwa’s book, which is packed with brave questions, observations and challenges to current thinking and practices around architecture, city-planning, and placemaking in Syria.  These apply almost equally to many other countries and cities in the region and around the world, which is what I tried to show.

Excerpts from the article below, I am sure I will be frequently going back to Marwa’s book for inspiration:

Al-Sabouni laments the lack of appreciation for the treasures of the old city and its way of life. Even as a fourth-year architectural student undertaking an urban planning assignment, she writes, she had no appreciation for the old city’s built environment; rather, she saw it as “unimpressive and disorganized” (p.38). Only later did she realize that she simply did not understand it at the time, and that was because no one had taught her any differently. Al-Sabouni and her classmates were asked to develop ideas to “impose a measure of order on the chaos” (p.38); their proposals focused on the use of stereotypical architectural elements (arches, mashrabiya, etc.) that reflected a shallow understanding of the relationships, identities, and intricacies of planning in the old city. What hope do we have of truly preserving the old in our cities, in form and spirit, if the best of our locally trained students are not taught to have a real appreciation of it?

What would have happened if the residential expansion within Homs had been planned differently, with the promotion of social harmony as a main objective? The influx of newcomers was at a previously unprecedented scale, and thus the “large village” could not organically adapt to them How many of our major cities around the world are in fact large villages, entirely unprepared for the scale and type of migration we face today? In such instances, what interventions can be put in place to strengthen both the social and moral fabric of the city, while providing the necessary infrastructure for the newcomers? Providing housing and job opportunities within the city for newcomers is the lesson learnt from Homs. Moreover, public spaces and civic facilities which encourage community interaction and foster a collective sense of identity can play a role in opening up “large villages”.

Full article here