Arab architecture has a precious lesson for us. You appreciate it on foot, walking. Only on foot, in movement, can you see the developing articulation of the architecture. It's the opposite principle to that of Baroque architecture, which is conceived on paper, from a theoretical standpoint. I prefer the lesson of Arab architecture.
1. Nomadic Architecture
Let's start, then, with the Arabs. Except here they aren't real Arabs, they're fictional, photomontaged out of place. An infamous postcard distributed by the Nazis of Stuttgart in 1934 depicts the Weissenhof Siedlung , at that time the most famous single statement of Modernist architecture, as a destination for another kind of tourism--the picturesque postcard urbanism of a North African Casbah. Using that most Modernist of techniques, Montage, the anonymous Nazi designer fills the frame with camels, women in veils, etc - designating Modernism as not just un-German, not just Semitic, but also Arabic. This was common on both sides of an ideological and aesthetic divide. Le Corbusier evidently approved of a certain idea of 'Arab' aesthetics, and pointedly retained the Casbah in his fantasy plan for Algiers, irrespective of what he described as 'bad boys' at large. Meanwhile, conservative German architects like Paul Schultze-Naumburg considered flat roofs and all they represented as a middle-eastern imposition, deriving eventually from the Jewish roots of Modernism, seemingly as some kind of folk memory.
Nazi 'Arab village' postcard.
Any German reader in the early 1930s would have known exactly who Schultze-Naumburg was talking about when he wrote of the 'face' of Nordic art and architecture being defaced by those with 'a different spiritual principle and probably different physical ones as well' and would have known exactly who the nomads were when he wrote of 'nomadic' architecture. Perhaps more innocently, inter-war Modernist developments were frequently given North African nicknames by those who lived nearby--workers' estates like Le Corbusier's in Pessac and J.J.P Oud's at the Hook of Holland were, according to Paul Overy's Light, Air and Openness , dubbed the 'casbah' and 'the Moroccan district'. In Berlin, one could see the nomadic architecture and the Volkish literally facing off against each other--the Modernist siedlungen of Bruno Taut & Martin Wagner, designed for working-class clients, usually elicited immediate pitched-roofed responses from conservative architects and the white-collar unions they built for.
Photomontage . Published around 1932 by S. Adler, Haifa. Source: Purin, Bernhard, Die Welt der jüdischen Postkarten, Wien 2001. Location: Jewish Museum Vienna, Inv.-Nr. 12.377
If this remained at the level of a semiotic slanging match it would have been fairly harmless. It can't be stressed enough that it did not. Pentagram's new Forgotten Architects pamphlet, based on researches by the late Myra Warhaftig, is a stark reminder of just how serious this was. It profiles 43 Jewish Modernists at work in Germany before 1933, and their subsequent fate. The photographs, all black and white, with even the recent ones having the haunting clarity of photograuvre, depict not so much the famous monuments of the Neue Sachlichkeit as many more low-key blocks of flats, schools, private homes and shops by those who didn't get the chance to make up the post-war Modernist canon of Corbusier-Gropius-Mies. After 1933, these architects were incrementally stopped from legally practising. Some would emigrate to the US or UK, and many others, though by no means the majority--Alexander Klein, Wilhelm Haller, Leopold Lustig, Kurt Pick--would set up practice in Palestine. Not all of the architects who left Central Europe for the Middle East were exactly kitted out for the change. Harry Rosenthal, for instance, 'suffered from the sub-tropical climate' and opted for London instead. Bruno Ahrends, co-designer of Berlin's 'Weisse Stadt' Siedlung would eventually find himself in some more literal white cities, working in South Africa.
All were at least lucky enough not to become one of the many listed in this booklet as 'his fate is unknown', or to have ended their lives in places like Theresienstadt , , the final destination of Alexander Beer; or like Mortiz Hadda--to have been 'deported to an unknown location'.
2. White Mythologies
It's with these two points in mind--the fetish for a certain 'middle eastern' approach to elevations and planning in Modernism, and the stylistic and physical obliteration of Modernism and Modernists in Nazi Germany - that one should try and appraise Nahoum Cohen's gazetteer Bauhaus Tel Aviv , published recently by Batsford. This is the most complete profile in English (though not elsewhere) of the 'White City' period of (proto) Israeli architecture, at least in this city. The amount of people taking the aliyah , the journey from Europe to Palestine, then run as a colonial 'mandate' by the UK, had unsurprisingly increased in the 1930s. In that decade, Tel Aviv, a settler appendage to the Arab port of Jaffa, grew exponentially in what was an impressively bold and Modernist form. Here, the style that was being rejected as 'nomadic', racially impure and alien to the Volk , was putting down roots and becoming something close to an orthodoxy. According to Cohen it never quite formed an architectural majority, but nonetheless a statement was being made here of unashamed modernity and cosmopolitanism in the face of a Europe that was determinedly returning to barbarism. Tel Aviv has thousands of what it (imprecisely) terms 'Bauhaus buildings', the largest concentration in the world, something acknowledged by a UNESCO World Heritage listing. It bears repeating that in so doing it didn't warp people's consciousness, didn't create a technocratic dystopia--in fact it comes across in Cohen's book as looking decidedly idyllic, if a tad shabby. The scuffed and battered buildings have a certain charm, although the archive photographs of urban setpieces like Dizengof Square have rather more fidelity to the ex nihilo ethos. This circular plaza, planned and mostly executed by Genia Averbuch, had the distinction of being one of the largest, and most impressive works by a female architect at that date.
Photomontage . Anonymous, 1934. Source: Donner, Batia. To Live with the Dream (Exhibition-Catalogue, Tel Aviv Museum of Art). Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1989.
Yet this carries more than an undercurrent of one of the most ambiguous elements of the Modernist and Zionist projects, the desire to set up a tabula rasa --a starting from scratch as if nobody else inhabited the spot you're building on. Tel Aviv, and Mandate Palestine in general, was treated as a test-bed, a laboratory, for ideas that would be employed on a much larger scale elsewhere. In particular, the town planning ideas that would become prominent after World War II were rehearsed in this disputed colony, especially for the adherents of the urban Fabianism of the Garden Cities . Patrick Geddes planned Tel Aviv in a manner which limited congestion and provided space and air, and at the same time deliberately cut it off from the Palestinian city of Jaffa; while Patrick Abercrombie's qualifications for planning a new London in the 1940s derived in part from his experience of planning new areas of Haifa. The problem with this is that a tabula rasa rarely exists--and it certainly didn't exist in the case of these cities. Jaffa and Haifa were thousands of years old and very well established, not the nondescript farmlands on which the garden cities had been built in the UK. Regardless, this wouldn't be the first or last time that this tiny area took on a significance belying its size.
Kikar Dizengoff. Image source : LeVitte Harten, Doreet, and Yigal Zalmona, Ed. Die neuen Hebräer - 100 Jahre Kunst in Israel. Berlin: Nicolai, 2005.
There was much debate over whether local references should be allowed to creep into Modernism as applied in Palestine. In Jerusalem the 'local stone' was made compulsory, but not in Tel Aviv. Nahoum Cohen's book details quite extensively how particular motifs were transformed to fit with the far from Central European climate. Erich Mendelsohn-style ribbon windows were in many cases referenced, rather than replicated, by long, curved balconies; large areas of glass were generally left out, replaced by screens and brise-soleil, although many of the buildings had glazed 'thermometer' staircases, as if to make clear that there was still some sort of allegiance to 'the new glass culture', as Paul Scheerbart called it.
Apparently, [Erich] Mendelsohn himself was decidedly unimpressed by what his former students and disciples had created when he settled in Palestine in the mid-30s, and his own architecture for the colony used a formal vocabulary which referenced the Arab architecture all-around, using domes and stone while avoiding the stylised chic of the 'Bauhaus style'. In amongst this is a strange political paradox. Mendelsohn, a 'spiritual' rather than socialist Zionist, was at pains to make clear the need to unite with, or at the very least live peacefully beside, the local Arab population as fellow 'Semites'. Conversely, the Leftist Modernists of the Tel Aviv 'Chug' ('Circle') had no interest whatsoever in making any such concessions, with Julius Posener writing in their house journal that 'here, there is no past or experience'. In another context this might seem a purely aesthetic preference for not replicating or patronising an idealised past, but in this environment--especially with the Arab revolt that began in 1936--it took on a rather more colonialist character. One of the most photogenic of Modernist buildings of the period is the Talpyoth Market in Haifa, designed by Moshe Gerstel in 1937 to replace the earlier multiracial market after tensions between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish settlers had spilled over into violence. One archive photograph shows its spectacular flowing lines towering above a block of 'indigenous' stone built dwellings. More straightforwardly, many 'tower and stockade' villages were designed after 1936 as semi-military outposts.
Kikar Dizengoff. Location : Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Matson Photograph Collection, MATPC 03590.
Nahoum Cohen writes in Bauhaus Tel Aviv that these buildings often look like stage sets or models, ‘too good to be true'. The cleanness and austere geometry are difficult to maintain in the local climate, yet the restoration programmes established since the area was declared a World Heritage Site seem determined to wipe away the grime of history. Tel Aviv, he writes, 'is a showcase of the way town planning is an expression of beliefs and social practices', and this principle extends into his own book. Within this collection of images and plans are two buildings not designed for the new settlements, in Jaffa itself. One of them is stone built, and is favourably contrasted with the staginess of 'Bauhaus style', enabling 'integration' into an existing urban fabric; and another, more impressive, with an ornamental motif that recalls Oskar Schlemmer, was designed by one Ahmed Damiaty ('not the only Arab architect to adopt the style, but very little is known of these architects as a group'). Although Damiaty's block, with its alignment of stylisation and sachlichkeit, is very close in appearance to his counterparts to the north in Tel Aviv, Cohen's language becomes rather loaded: 'it has to be remembered that oriental architecture is more decorative by nature than that of the west', a statement that both Le Corbusier and the Nazi designers of satirical postcards would have disagreed with. Jaffa, he notes, was 'deserted by most of its inhabitants in 1948', which is a rather polite way of describing the results of what many historians have considered a systematic policy of expulsion (or 'transfer').
The architect Sharon Rotbard has written prolifically about the myths of the 'White City' of Tel Aviv, as occlusions of the 'black city' to its south. And as he points out, the very idea of a 'Bauhaus style' is an oxymoron, and the only major Bauhaus-trained architect to have worked in Palestine was the Chug's Arieh Sharon (though three less illustrious students were at large), who had worked closely with the Bauhaus' most controversial director, the committed Marxist Hannes Meyer. Sharon's work appears to have been one of the few real outgrowths of Meyer's teaching, with its emphasis on collectivity and lack of interest in pure aesthetics. In particular, Sharon was, as the title of his autobiography Kibbutz & Bauhaus suggests, keen to employ these ideas for the purpose of the collectivist, workerist forms of living developed by 'Labour Zionism', the socialist movements which largely supplanted the religious or straightforwardly colonial Zionism of Theodor Herzl. Arieh Sharon masterplanned Kibbutzim like the Kibbutz Ein Hashofet of 1938; and with a series of four collective housing blocks in Tel Aviv these principles were transferred to an urban environment. Meanwhile, the first Moshav Ovdim, or workers' collective farm, was planned by Richard Kauffmann, who would become known in the '30s as a Modernist architect in his own right.
Apartment block "Engel House" Architect: Ze'ev Rechter, 1933 Photo: Itzhak Kalter
Michael Sorkin wrote that Labour Zionism was remarkably appropriate for the aims of Left Modernism, not only in providing the ideal light, airy, whitewashed setting, but also because its 'workers housing co-operatives, kibbutz dining halls, and hospitals represented the kind of programme modern architecture always wanted for itself'. Labour Zionism developed its own specific aesthetic of noble labour and modernity, something which can be seen in the graphic design of the 1930s and 40s as a less kitschy variant on Socialist Realism. A concrete statue originally erected in 1934 as part of an international exhibition--the 'Hebrew Worker', designed by Arieh El Hanani--would become the iconic, Constructivist emblem of early, socialist, 'Central European' Zionism, a nostalgia for which, according to Rotbard, lies behind the mythology of the 'White City': an Ashkenazi elite's desire to Europeanise its far from Western (even in the Israeli context) environment. As socialists, these architects should have been sensitive to the implications of treating an existing country as if it were virgin territory, yet in its confidence Modernism might have provided a visual alibi for an effacement of the majority of the population. The perception of the 'Bauhaus' and its outgrowths as a colonial imposition would be a major influence on perhaps the most famous architect to have come out of Israel, Moshe Safdie.
3. Systems for Refugees
Expo 67 , held in Montreal, became best known for an enormous structure called 'Habitat '. This complex was made up of a tangle of boxes--'houses', according to the architect--interconnected by walkways. This description might sound like any other post-CIAM, International Style plan, but anyone who has seen a photograph of Habitat could attest that this is the diametric opposite of the windswept plazas and platonic towers of the Miesian, Functionalist city. In fact, Habitat resembles a 1920s Siedlung smashed to pieces and then piled up on top of itself. Meanwhile, an order of some description apparently resided in the complex: these boxes all had their own gardens.
Habitat 67. Architect: Moshe Safdie Photo: Nora Vass Stitch: Gergely Vass
Moshe Safdie's Habitat 'system' was terribly famous for the first few years of its history, finding its way onto the covers of children's textbooks on architecture in the UK, for instance, and by participating in that advance guess at the future, the international expo, it appeared on stamps and on all kinds of ephemera. It now perhaps best exemplifies what Peter Eisenman and Oppositions in the 1970s dismissed as 'Revisionist Functionalism'--the attempt to hold what had become a 'Bauhaus style' to its original promises of a socially engaged, technologically advanced, mass produced anti-style. 'The reaction (against Modernism) occurred not because the basis of Functionalism was wrong, but because it didn't go far enough'. Habitat tried to have it both ways--to provide the 'identity', irregularity and individuality that CIAM orthodoxy denied, but at the same time create 'homes from factories'. Like Weissenhof , Habitat would prove very photogenic, a building more frequently identified than visited, and almost bombastically futuristic. This wasn't just architecture, which is what Eisenman and his group were intent on returning to--but a model of an ideal social structure, one of a fundamental unity and equality coexisting with an anti-Platonic messiness. It tried to pioneer a new kind of social space with extreme levels of density and collectivity, or at the very least attempted a prototype for such a space. It's no surprise that the New Left held Safdie's work in high esteem, with his system being proposed for student housing by some of the campus radicals of the late 1960s--perhaps, as with the old Viennese 'workers fortresses', as a means of defence, an urban environment that the police wouldn't know how to explore.
In 1970, after Habitat's success, and its elaboration into further projects for Puerto Rico and New York, Safdie published a book entitled Beyond Habitat , which provided biographical and political detail to point to how exactly this image, and this structure, had come about. At the start of the book we find the young Safdie as the son of a small Jewish businessman in Haifa, recalling the jubilation in the streets that accompanied David Ben-Gurion's declaration of the State of Israel on the 14th May 1948, and the excitement at being caught up in an experiment: 'there was an air of being part of something unique'. The opening chapter centres on the two elements of Israeli life that the likes of Arieh Sharon had based their lives around: 'Kibbutz' and 'Bauhaus'. Growing up in one of the few environments with a 'stylistically consistent architecture of the International Style circa 1930', Safdie also felt the pull of the socialist settlements in the countryside--this was after all perhaps the only country in the world where people actually chose to form collective farms. The architect was full of praise for the Israeli variant on Socialism: 'I still believe that socialism in its co-operative form in Israel is the highest social development reached anywhere in our century...this is not bureaucratic socialism--it's a much more humane interpretation of Marxism'. Yet the roots of Habitat were based in Israel's bad conscience as much as in its experiments with collective living.
Habitat 67. Architect: Moshe Safdie Photo: AlainV
One thing Habitat is not is suburban, any more than it's a Miesian grid. The massing creates peaks, hills, valleys and corners that seem to be more geological than architectural. Beyond Habitat is at pains to stress that Habitat is 'Mediterranean', and inspired by the hills of Haifa, the close-knit communities that the International Style had aimed to create but had lost in its pursuit of purism and skyscrapers. This was a return, in a singularly strange form, to the Arab village. After moving to the Americas and training as an architect under Louis Kahn , Safdie devised various projects for 'systems' as opposed to buildings. One of them was a hypothetical scheme to rehouse the Palestinians who had been dispossessed and made homeless by the war accompanying the formation of the State of Israel: this became the 'Giza Plan', so-called because Safdie would ideally have wanted it to neighbour the Pyramids. This 'model city, an ideal community' was intended to circumvent the possible accusation of mere charity: 'the political idea was that the refugees, who are in camps and have compensation money coming to them' would be offered material incentives to move to the site, and given the materials and resources to set up their own town. They would not, however, be encouraged to return to the cities and villages they had been exiled from not so long ago.
Tel Aviv Street Scene. Source : Rosner, Jakob. A Palestine Picture Book. New York: Schocken, 1947.
Nonetheless, the original ideas of circulation (this was, like Corbusier's 'Arab' aesthetics, to be appreciated through walking) and the 'image of a utopian city' that would coalesce into Habitat are all there in the Giza Plan. With the touching geopolitical naivete occasionally common among the Leftist architect, Safdie saw an opportunity for the plan's partial realisation after the Six-Day War, after which Israel found itself occupying the entirety of the former Mandate Palestine and more (as well as a chunk of Egypt that was later returned), which it continues to dominate 40 years later. Now that the areas containing most Palestinian refugee camps were in Israeli hands, he hypothesised, then surely they could be properly rehoused in one of his systems--structures which would be nearer in essence, if not in superficial appearance, to their own architecture rather than that of the settlers. Safdie would not be the last Israeli architect to declare that 'the Arabs build so much better than we do', as he recalls telling an IDF soldier. He seems horrified by the Modernist architecture imposed on the landscape--blocks which 'do violence to the mountain. They are foreign, as if imported from some rainy, cool European suburb'--and here we have here the direct reversal of the Nazi fear of a Middle Eastern 'Nomadic' Modernism imposing itself on that same European suburb.
Beyond Habitat exhibited a faith in the power of architecture to change lives as much as change space that shouldn't be dismissed too glibly. Safdie places his hope in the idea that the future 'life of harmony' between Israeli and Palestinian can be brought about through building and living together, if at all possible building and living in one of his gigantic concrete modules. His 1967 plan, for the resettlement of the refugees after the Six-Day War , was entitled 'For and By the Refugees'. What, though, if the Refugees wanted their own homes back? And what if this instrumentalisation of architecture and urban space could be appropriated by power?
4. Simulating and Militarising the Arab Village
Safdie's idea for Israeli-Arab reconciliation via concrete megastructures and collective labour fairly obviously failed to came about. Indeed, the architect has long refused to work in the occupied West Bank, or take any part in designing the settlements which encroach on Palestinian territory. He has, however, been working in Jerusalem since the early 70s. Jerusalem was originally designated a UN protectorate in the 1947 Partition Plan , then partitioned between Israel and Jordan, and since 1967 has been occupied by Israel. After 1967 Jerusalem became an experimental site for postmodernism, where unlike earlier experiments in this territory the aim was to blend in as much as possible with the existing landscape, by cladding all new developments in 'Jerusalem stone'. At the same time as this return to contextualism, there was still a place for Futurism's destructive side: Ha'aretz recently claimed that Safdie had a hand in the design of the Merkava tank in the early 1970s.
Israeli Engineers in Tul Qarem Refugee Camp. Photo: Nir Kafri, 2003. Source: Lethal Theory | pdf
This act of 'petrifying the holy city' is one of the 'layers' of occupation charted in Eyal Weizman's Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation , a stunning, comprehensive and disturbing study of the deliberately complex and contradictory ways in which the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967 have been translated into space. The petrification of Jerusalem as an aesthetic tactic dates from the period of the British Mandate, and local Modernist developments in the 1930s (such as Mendelsohn's) were clad in a yellow stone which today usually comes from within the West Bank. Weizman's book outlines how the Arab quarters of the city were subject to expulsions after 1967, then to a programme of urban redesign that was at pains to stress continuity with the existing city, itself an enormously complex palimpsest (something which Weizman explores to absurd effect, in a discussion of 'vertical schizophrenia' around the Temple Mount: the fight over territorial rights to earth and thin air). This coincided perfectly with an incoming theoretical orthodoxy: Modernism had effaced the traces of the past, and those traces should be both excavated and extended. The postmodernists at work in Jerusalem were creating a style where 'the disciplines of archaeology and architecture merged', and 'the upper storeys of new homes would become literal extensions of their archaeological footprints, while other buildings would be built using older stones for the lower floors and newer stones at higher levels: others were simply built to appear old.' Among the new developments was Safdie's 'David's Village', a grouping of little cubic houses and domes, shying away from the grandiose futurism of Habitat. 'To build in Jerusalem', wrote the architect, 'is almost an act of arrogance'.
Behind much of this was the belief that 'they build better than us', something reinforced by Bernard Rudofsky's MOMA exhibition and book Architecture without Architects --a study of the hill towns, Casbahs and Arab villages which Modernists from Corbusier to Safdie saw as a dense, angular and ornament-free alternative to sterility and eclecticism. The employment of these faintly patronising, Orientalist eulogies to the unchanging Arab vernacular would specifically lead to the continued immiseration of the Palestinians themselves, who were expelled from their picturesque habitats. Weizman details how the influence of this MOMA project supplanted that of their earlier The International Style , to the point where the most fashionable architecture no longer considered it necessary to distinguish itself from its surroundings. In the process it formed perhaps a regression to a previous mode of colonial style--that of Lutyens' New Delhi and its contemporaries under British rule, where a version of the architecture of the subject peoples is developed into the architecture of the settler and ruler. Needless to say, this hasn't brought about a new affinity between the two groups, although one irony is that some Palestinian districts of Jerusalem started to resemble a bastard version of 1930s Tel Aviv, with low-rise concrete Modernist blocks raised on piloti contrasting with the idealised Arabism of the Israeli settlements that - literally, given that settlements are deliberately built on high ground - overlook them. Nonetheless, the majority of settlements in the West Bank, at least outside Jerusalem, prefer the instant identification provided by a suburban red pitched roof to a chameleonic postmodernism.
Map of The Separation Barrier in the West Bank, 2008. Source: B'Tselem
Hollow Land is full of examples of the tortuous intricacy of the borders, crossing points and obstructions that the occupation impose on this small territory. Weizman's diagrams include one of the 'Separation Wall ' as it makes its way through a massively expanded Jerusalem. Rem Koolhaas once quipped that the Berlin Wall, with its blunt monumentality and bizarre, snaking contours, was the most remarkable built structure in that city. The Separation Wall, as can be seen even in the magnified Jerusalem segment, takes this to bizarre lengths--curving, starting, stopping, transforming from wall to checkpoint to barrier along the way, becoming almost fractal in its illogicality. Rather than a line of straight demarcation, the wall is 'more redolent of Scandinavian coastlines, where fjords, islands and lakes make an inconclusive separation between water and land.' The parts of Hollow Land that have, quite rightly, made it into an architectural talking point in the last year centre on the use of another wave of architectural and urbanist theory, quite distinct from the Heideggerian heimat of the 1970s' planners. After the start of the second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, a wing of the Israeli Defence Forces have taken an interest in the work of a remarkable list of theorists and architects. Specifically, the syllabus of their Operational Theory Research Group featured such architecture school favourites as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Bernard Tschumi, Paul Virilio and Manuel De Landa alongside lectures on 'the generalship of Ariel Sharon'.
Here we are back with another conception of 'nomadic architecture', with the identity of the 'nomads' switching again. Deleuze and Guattari's 'nomadic thought' developed from an interest in the possible forms of organisation that might be more effectively able to resist power, a kind of philosophical Guerilla strategy. Study of this then provided the IDF with what it thought was an insight into the organisation of urban space thrown up by the Intifada, where the small armed groups would expect the larger army to use overwhelming brute force. To upset this expectation, the OTRF, under its directors Shimon Naveh and Dov Tamari, encouraged the IDF to think of itself as a non-state, nomadic force, and to attack Palestinian refugee camps and towns by dividing itself into small, decentralised, 'deterritorialised' entities. One of their strategies was to 'walk through walls', by blowing holes through civilian dwellings and avoiding whenever possible the actual street plan. This was the method used in the attack on Jenin in 2002, under the command of Avi Kochavi, where 'most fighting took place in private homes'. This could be applied to the asymmetric street-patterns so admired by generations of architects: after a battle in the Nablus Casbah, a Palestinian architect surveying the area found that 'more than half the buildings had routes forced through them'. Although it was severely tested in the Lebanon war of 2006, where it was found ineffective against the more sophisticated military machine of Hezbollah, this 'becoming-nomadic' of military strategy has apparently had some influence on the practice of the US Army in Iraq.
Blowup map of The Separation Barrier through Jerusalem, 2008. Source: B'Tselem
Perhaps the last word in the tortured affair with the vernacular of Arab Palestine is a city constructed in the Negev desert at the Tze'elim military base. Known as 'Chicago', this city was first designed in the mid-1980s as a simulation of a Lebanese village. Weizman writes of it expanding to the point where it can 'simulate all different types of Palestinian environment', with its own historic Casbah, a refugee camp and so forth. It can morph itself into any kind of structure that the Israeli army might be operating, and was even able to mutate part of itself into a Jewish settlement in preparation for the expulsion of settlers from Gaza. Finally, Israel managed to design its own Arab village, with details replicated not for the purpose of urban edification, for pan-Semitic reconciliation or even for the production of urban continuity, but for war games, with the Arabs being similarly impersonated and simulated. Now Arab architecture could best be appreciated by walking--or blasting--through its walls.
While one wing of 'radical' architecture designs fantasy cities in the United Arab Emirates, its ideas form part of an apparatus of control and collective punishment at the other side of the Middle East. In the process, the promise of Modernist architecture that it might, by itself, innocent of politics, bridge an idealised vernacular past and a technological, collectivist future, has never looked so much like a desert mirage.
Ir-Shay, Pesach . 1950 (?) 92,3 x 62,5 cm Lithograph. Source: LeVitte Harten, Doreet, and Yigal Zalmona, Ed. Die neuen Hebräer - 100 Jahre Kunst in Israel. Berlin: Nicolai, 2005. Location: Collection David Tartakover , Tel Aviv
A special thank you goes out to Philipp Messner whose lovely photographic collection on flickr (isotype75's photostream ) has allowed for many of the great images to appear in this feature.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License .
/Creative Commons License
John Jourden is an (a)rchitect and pathological thinker living in New York.