arch-peace editorials

09 August 2006

Architectural theory and war

Architectural theory and war
August 2006

Architectural and urban theory questions, disputes, analyses and critiques so that we might improve the state of things. In recent years its influence has seemed to decline as theory and practice move apart. The sharp edge of practising architecture has been more concerned with formalism, icons, and sustainability than fractals, string theory, and event cities. Are academics losing their audience? It appears not, but the audience has shifted.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s The French Situationists sought to rediscover the playfulness of the pre-modern city, staging dérives (or ‘drifts’) through cities. These were game-like events using arbitrary rules that could lead to random discoveries. They resisted logical and predictability in their traversals of the city.

A recent essay(1) by daring Israeli architect Eyal Weizman describes the conflict 4 years ago in Nablus, Gaza. The Israeli incursion created havoc within the city, yet to the photographer on the street, there wasn’t a lot to shoot. These stealthy manoeuvres took place off the streets, behind closed doors. The invading army splintered into small cells, avoiding a classical linear progression through dangerous streets. Instead they entered through the sides of buildings and progressed in a violent ‘fractal’ manner through internal walls, ceilings and floors. Using heat sensors, they would plot their course as they went along - they were “swarming” independently rather than referring to a central command. Internal rooms became ‘streets’ while exposed external streets became ‘walls’. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) stormed through half the buildings in the casbah of Nablus, but from the outside this violence to the private domain wasn’t apparent.

“Imagine it - you’re sitting in your living room that you know so well, this is the room where the family watches TV together after the evening meal, that sofa is worn, but it’s too comfy to get rid of, this is your chair, that’s your partner’s, on that wall the same old pictures have been hanging for years on end.

And suddenly, that wall disappears with a deafening roar, the room fills with dust and debris and through the wall pours one soldier after the other, screaming orders, you have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to somewhere else, the children are screaming, panicking.” Sune Segal, November 2002

The military’s Operational Theory Research Institute openly admitted that they were interpreting the texts of Deleuze and Guattari, Debord and Tschumi, even Christopher Alexander. All for, “the pursuit and development of knowledge necessary for military commanders to think critically, systemically and methodologically about war fighting.”(3) If there are Architects for Peace, then there are also Architects for War. “Operational architects” within OTRI to be specific. OTRI’s former head, Shimon Naveh, explains: “We were looking for new modes of thinking that could be suitable to military strategy… The Americans were looking for technological solutions; we wanted to understand the whole depth of the problem. It struck us that architecture could be a very helpful metaphor." Weizman speculates that the city is no longer just the site for urban warfare, it is the medium. There is much evidence of defensive strategies for building in the city, but what form will offensive architecture take? Ines Weizman recently spoke of an, “architectural arms race”, in which cities would race one another to achieve mental and physical supremacy in built form.(4)

OTRI has lost influence in the IDF in the last few months, but their work lives on. In June The Jerusalem Post noted that the U.S. is showing keen interest. “The US Marine Corps has commissioned a study of design that will result in a Marine Corps Concept of Design that is based heavily on Shimon [Naveh]'s [work]. One can hardly attend a military conference in the US without a discussion of Shimon or [OTRI's] System of Operational Design.”(5) Weizman (and others) describe a “shadow-world” of military academics, with a reading list not dissimilar to architecture post-grads.

Lebanon 2006

If 2002 in Gaza saw the deployment of force in a hidden, fractal manner, this last month’s war in Lebanon appears hot-headed. It looks dangerously imprecise and disproportionate to the crime. The San Francisco Chronicle revealed last week(6) that the IDF’s attack on Southern Lebanon has been fully planned since 2004. The kidnapped soldiers were a trigger for a war that both sides were waiting for. It is worse that it was considered - that this level of infrastructural destruction has been planned for years. According to the report, the IDF bargained on three weeks of attacks to do what they had to - remove Hezbollah and “set Lebanon back 20 years”.(7) The IDF has had to extend the three weeks. Already, southern Lebanon is without major road links, power or airports. Almost a thousand are dead on both sides of the border. 800,000 Lebanese are without homes, impoverished and alienated.

What could be the theory driving this? Surely much blunter ideas drive aerial bombardments. Whatever the lineage of this operational design, one intended result appears to be the emptying of one end of southern Lebanon. In the last few days the nature of the damage shows that cluster bombs have been used by the IDF (and ball bearing bombs by Hezbollah in Northern Israel).(8) Cluster bombs contain smaller bombs, commonly called sub munitions, bomblets, grenades, or mines. Cluster bombs, and ball bearing bombs should never be lobbed into civilian areas - they are too indiscriminate and they leave unexploded ordnance in the fields. Unfortunately the civilians remaining in Southern Lebanon are the ones least able to leave. The International Laws of War state that civilians should not be targeted or used as ‘human shields’(9) but, as Robert Fisk writes, “extraordinary precedents are being set in this Lebanon war.”(10)

The blurring of the enemy and the civilian population is complete, to the point that traditional words of habitation are being exchanged for more loaded terminology. “These places are not villages. They are military bases in which Hezbollah people are hiding and from which they are operating,” said Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon the other day.(11) As in Gaza in 2002, the private domestic domain is the victim as everywhere becomes militarised. Soon homes may not even exist in southern Lebanon, if we read between the lines of Haim Ramon: “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah.”

At a distance, it is hard to know where the truth lies - if there is a truth. What we could do is watch it all like hawks, to debate, to defend those forced out of homes, and to become at least as educated in the urban theories of the military as they are familiar with our own.

Peter Johns

1. Log, Issue 7 2006, p53-77. “Lethal Theory” by Eyal Weizman. A short version is available online here:
2. June Segal, Palestine Monitor, November 2002
3. Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Jun 8th 2006
4. Ines Weizman, video footage, June 2, 2006 “Dictionary of War is a collaborative platform for creating 100 concepts on the issue of war, to be invented, arranged and presented by scientists, artists, theorists and activists at four public, two-day [in 2006/2007]. The aim is to create key concepts that either play a significant role in current discussions of war, have so far been neglected, or have yet to be created.”
5. Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Jun 8th 2006
6.San Francisco Chronicle, July 21st, 2006
7.2o years quote: Maj. Gen. [res.] Yaacov Amidror talking to Kenneth R. Timmerman,, Aug. 4, 2006
8. Human Rights Watch, 05.08.06
10. The Independent August 5th, 2006
11. Globe and Mail July 28th, 2006


beatriz + the arch-peace team said...
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beatriz + the arch-peace team said...

Now comes news that the cluster bombing reached its peak in the 72 hours prior to the UN ceasefire coming into effect. There are an estimated 100,000 bomblets scattered through the hills and fields and towns of Southern Lebanon.

UN Relief Web 30th August

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