Skyscrapers are an unmissable characteristic of contemporary settlements. From São Paolo to New York, from Seoul to Dubai – these towering structures are a ubiquitous part of the urban fabric. The conventional image one has of these structures is of curtain-walled facades, but in Yemen – an ancient example goes against this trend. Central Yemen is home to the city of Shibam, surrounded by a fortified wall. It’s also home to a dazzling example of architectural ingenuity – tower houses that date back to the 16th century, stretching up to seven stories high.
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Yemen’s Ancient High-Rises: How Conflict Erases Heritage
The Great Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo: from Historic Islamic Monument to War Battlefield
Islam, other than describing a religious belief, is a word that identifies a unique type of architecture that dates back thousands of years. It has been formed by a civilization that transformed the qualities of this belief into visible and tangible material, building structures with a striking focus on details and experiences within enclosed spaces.
Islamic architecture is an architecture that does not change its form easily. In fact, its principles have been more or less the same since thousands of years ago, with minor changes based on functional adaptations. To this day, hundreds of buildings still stand as a representation of the history of Islamic architecture and are still used just as they have been in the past.
War, however, has no religion or cultural nostalgia, and even the holiest, most historically-significant sites are threatened with complete destruction. The Great Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, originally built by the first imperial Islamic dynasty and currently situated within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stood yet again as a battlefield during the recent Syrian War, but this time, lost its most significant and resilient element, an 11th-century Seljuk Minaret.
How Cities have Rebuilt from the Ashes
Every city has a story. Throughout history, many natural and man-made changes have altered the way cities were originally laid out. For some, the urban form developed as a result of political disputes, religious separations, or class divides. For others, a more mixed approach has allowed for uniquely mixed cultural atmospheres. And while development of cities is typically slow, occasionally cities experience dramatic and immediate changes to the urban fabric - the results of natural disaster, military conflict, or industrial catastrophe.
What happens next - if anything - can reveal a great deal about not just the city itself, but the local culture. Do cities rebuild exactly as they were? Or do they use disaster as an opportunity to reinvent themselves? The following is a roundup of cities that have moved past catastrophe to be reborn from the ashes.
Malkit Shoshan on How the City is a Shared Ground for the Instruments of War and Peace
Can architects have a truly active role in pressing social problems? Malkit Shoshan, the curator of the Dutch Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale, thinks so. Her career is evidence of this: advocating for the incorporation of a fourth 'D' in the criteria of the UN (Defence, Diplomacy and Development) in its peacekeeping missions around the world, Shoshan has sat at the same table as military engineers and policy makers to analyze the urban impact peacekeepers have left around the world.
For the Dutch Pavilion, Shoshan has focused on the case of the joint mission of the Netherlands and the UN in Gao (Mali). In 2012, Gao was declared capital of the Independent State of Azawad, a nation not recognized by the international authorities, following Mali's Tuareg rebellion. "Although [these peacekeeping missions] occupy large plots of land in hundreds of different cities around the world, it is rarely discussed or addressed by our profession," says Soshan in the following interview.
We spoke with the curator of the Dutch pavilion after her recent visit to Mali to discuss the principles of the Netherlands in the next Venice Biennale; the impact of military drones in public spaces and why, according Shoshan, there is a close relationship between architecture, public policy and ideology. "[With design,] we can make resources available to communities that are exhausted by militarized conflicts, long periods of drought, famine and disease," she says.
Are Monuments And Memorials Intrinsically Introverted?
The Observer's Rowan Moore "accidentally got swept into a tide of humanity at the weekend, or to put it another way, couldn’t move for crowds." In memorial of the start of the centenary of World War One, of which today marks the anniversary of the armistice (11.11.1918), the Tower of London have installed a sea of 888,246 ceramic poppies in the former moat. The artwork, created by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, and entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, "has caught the national imagination." For Moore, however, "it is deeply disturbing that a hundred years on from 1914, [the UK] can only mark this terrible war as a national tragedy." He argues that "the spectacle of all these red poppies is emptier than that. [...] It is a deeply aestheticised, prettified and toothless war memorial." Read the article in full here.