Conflict zones around the world are characterized by pre and post-destruction architecture. Sensitive areas, mainly country borders, are under constant threat of invasions and encroachments. The civilians and military are dependent on each other for protection and shelter. Architecture in conflict zones varies with their construction techniques, sustainability, and resilience from place to place. Cultural heritage and vernacular architecture play a crucial role in shaping the fabric of the regions. 

Architecture to prevent the destruction of lives:

Dissecting the case of the famous Switzerland bunkers,

Switzerland stands amongst the most aesthetic countries, housing mesmerizing landscapes and dolled-up houses. Observing the catastrophic annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after facing the horrendous nuclear bombs, underneath the outside of this little focal European nation are secret dugouts, and military strongholds stowed away underground and in emptied-out mountains. The country hasn’t been engaged in military conflict for the last 150 years, adhering to its neutral stand. Roughly 20,000 military bunkers and 300,000 private and public fallout shelters exist owing to the protection policy rolled out after the Cold War by their government. Today, a significant number of them are thrilling vacation spots with well-equipped hospitality and luxury resources.

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Entry gate outside one of the Swiss bunkers_©MOUNT10 via

The bunkers were constructed in the basements of all private houses to ensure every Swiss citizen’s protection. Some abodes were converted into weapon and supervision equipment storehouses, altering their indoors. The same was done by excavating tunnels and hiding chambers in the cliffs with camouflaged doors, window voids, secret shooting, and surveillance spots. The Swiss bunkers are reused for alternative uses and housing migrants for now, based on the intricacy and hierarchy of their designs. Following the war between Ukraine and Russia, some Ukrainians have resorted to staying in bunkers to protect themselves from bomb shellings and shootings.  

Architecture as a partition between communities:

The long-term conflict between Israel and Palestine has given rise to massive long walls along the suburban borders of Palestine’s West Bank. The walls protected with barbed wires have nodes that intersect at certain points. The Israeli settlements with a common housing typology sit on the crown of the adjoining hill covered in contours. According to the Israelis, the construction of these declared illegal walls brought a sense of relief and security. The Palestinians stand on the point of being robbed of their land. 

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The Israeli barrier at the Palestinian town of Abu Dis in the Israeli-occupied West Bank east of Jerusalem_©Ammar Awad/Reuters via

Role of architecture in post-conflict societies:

  1. Cultural significance- During conflicts, concentrated attacks often harm community architecture, such as religious buildings, vernacular structures, and heritage buildings. Architects play a pivotal role in restoring the identity of the affected place as it reflects the people’s sentiments. 
  2. Sustainable and resilient designs- Taking lessons from the destruction that occurred due to certain tactics incorporated by the enemies, an effort is made to avoid past design mistakes and come up with intricate solutions that tend to the architecture as well as the infrastructure of the affected regions, experimenting with materials and design strategies. Introducing electricity, water, and food conservation systems that help tackle a recurring political disaster. 
  3. Strategic architecture- Designing adequate and strategic circulation points is key to securing as many lives as possible during uninvited conflicts. These circulation points also provide extra moving space for the military during fumbling encounters while protecting civilians.
  4. Modular and flexible structures- Areas facing unending and unprecedented conflicts can lead to displacement and rehabilitation on a large scale. Temporary homes with sturdy materials help civilians relocate quickly and clear land for military operations, ensuring people stay protected and have a roof when moved safely.
  5. Legal and Ethical Considerations: Architects need to navigate legal and ethical challenges that include issues related to land ownership, property rights, and the potential for land and infrastructure development. It’s essential to work within the framework of international law and adhere to ethical standards while rebuilding and rewriting the stories of the places.
  6. International Guidelines: International organizations such as the United Nations and the Red Cross have developed guidelines for humanitarian architecture in conflict zones. Architects and organizations in these areas practice architecture adhering to these guidelines to ensure the best outcomes and safe environments.
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Shigeru Ban and VAN Install Paper Partition Systems in Emergency Shelters for Ukrainian Refugees_ ©Serhii Kostianyi via ArchDaily

Architecture in conflict areas is a complicated and multifaceted effort that requires an in-depth understanding of the local context, the capability to balance immediate needs, taking into consideration long-term sustainability, and a dedication to promoting the well-being and resilience of affected communities. It often involves collaboration among architects, urban designers and planners, humanitarian organizations, and local stakeholders to develop effective and culturally sensitive solutions. In particular, there is a need for intensive research on the bridge between the social role of architects in crisis management and the field of peace-building and postwar, post-conflict reconstruction. Architecture and urban planning can radically positively impact peace-building processes through the transformative potential of design, planning, and construction processes in strengthening interpersonal relationships and the affinities of people with their built environment

  1. Articles

Citations for Newspaper Articles – Print or Online: 

  • Schanen, N. (2023). These Ukrainian villagers live in Cold War nuclear bunkers — and plan to stay. Washington Post. [online] 3 Mar. Available at: [Accessed 23 Sep. 2023].
  1. Online sources

Citations for websites:

  • FERRO, S. (2014). Architecture Needs a Bigger Role in Conflict Zones How Design Can Help Heal cities. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Sep. 2023].
  • (2023). Bunkers in Switzerland: Why Are There So Many? – SwitzerLanding. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Sep. 2023].
  1. Images/visual mediums

Citations for YouTube videos:

  • Vox (2016). Why Israeli Settlements Don’t Feel like a Conflict Zone | Settlements Part II. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Sep. 2023].
  • Al Jazeera English (2014). Rebel Architecture – the Architecture of Violence – YouTube. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Sep. 2023].
  • Harris, J. (2022). Why Switzerland Has 374,142 Bunkers (and likely more). [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Sep. 2023].

Citations for images/photographs – Print or Online:

  • (2020). Highest level of data protection offered by Swiss alpine bunkers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Sep. 2023].
  • (2020). In Pictures: Israel’s illegal separation wall still divides. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Sep. 2023].
  • Stouhi, D. (2022). 6 Months of War in Ukraine: Preservation Initiatives, Temporary Shelters, and Fears of Nuclear Accidents. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: [Accessed 22 Sep. 2023].
  1. Other source types

Citations for dissertations:

Last name of author, first initial. (Year). Title of dissertation. Level. Official name of university.

  • Lepere, S. (2020). The Contributions of Architects to Post-Conflict (Re)Construction: Social Processes Towards Building Peace. Masters level. Uppsala University [Pdf] p.37. Available at: [Accessed 23 Sep. 2023].

Rutuja is an inquisitive architect and a sustainability enthusiast; she loves to decipher the languages of built spaces and takes an interest in storytelling through photographs and poetries.