Architectural Violence: A closer look at the West Bank
By Lizzie Kendal
As part of this year’s Summer Season exploring walls, barriers and borders today, the Frontline Club hosted a preview screening of The Architecture of Violence on Wednesday 13 August. It was followed by a Q&A with director Ana Naomi de Sousa and protagonist, architect and activist Eyal Weizman, moderated by filmmaker Olly Lambert. The film is part of Rebel Architecture, a six-part Al Jazeera English documentary series profiling architects who are using design as a form of activism and resistance to tackle the world’s urban, environmental and social crises.
The film focusses on the architectural infrastructure of the West Bank, and the idea that architecture can be used as a form of violence, which at first, may not be obvious, as Weizman said:
“If you think about human rights violations, you think about soldiers, you think about politicians. You don’t really think about architects. If you want to make architects liable to violations of interntional law, the proof is in the drawing. . . . You see a settlements like Ariel . . . and you see it built as a wedge and you start understanding that the way it was designed was to cut a whole kind of north–south axis along the West Bank. The design, [the] line that was drawn on the plan of the architect, is where the crime is . . . because there is a conscious attempt or intent to produce material damage through architectural form.”
The film also explores Weizman‘s latest project, Forensic Architecture, which aims to use architectural knowledge as evidence in the investigation of war crimes and human rights violations.
“It is essential now to use architecture as a form of evidence [in court], at a time when most wars are happening in cities, where in fact not only most wars are happening in cities, [but] most people that die are dying inside buildings.”
Responding to a question about whether there are Palestinian attempts to counter the invasive effects of settlements, de Sousa replied:
“There are interesting stories and very interesting Palestinian architects like Naseer Arafat [featured in the film]. . . . Sandy Halal . . . also has [done] some very interesting work in the refugee camps all across the West Bank, which is about involving people who live in the camps in thinking about and imagining and acting out urbanisation of the camps, which is very interesting because the refugee camps are perceived to be temporary spaces and that temporariness is linked to the claim to the right to return. And so there is a sort of cultural resistance to the urbanisation of camps.”
However, as Weizman explains in the film, the undercurrent of architectural violence has often gone unnoticed:
“When you are travelling through the West Bank everything looks very banal and mundane and that’s its power. . . . [The wall] draws like a moth towards a flame all the photographers to work with that because it’s so visually obvious. But when you see a settlement, it looks like a suburb; the road, it looks like any road. When you see infrastructure systems – the same. This is where decoding is important, this is where you have to denaturalise processes that seem very natural.”
Talking about the wider implications of these ideas, de Sousa added:
“This idea that the built environment is a slow kind of violence, I think, is something that you see everywhere.”
Premiering on Monday 18 August 2014, Rebel Architecture features inspiring architects that are using design to tackle the world’s urban, environmental and social crises.
For further reading on the subject, see:
Carranza, L E. 2010. Architecture as Revolution: Episodes in the History of Modern Mexico.
Forensic Architecture, ed. 2014. Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth.
Segal R, Tartakover D and Weizman, E, eds. 2003. A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture.
Weizman, E. 2007. Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation.
Weizman, E. 2011. The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza.
Weizman, E. 2012. Forensic Architecture: Notes from Fields and Forums.