Since the commencement of the civil war in Syria in 2011, there has been a mass destruction where 5,00,000 people have died, many have been displaced and fled from the country. The cultural heritage of Syria has been ravaged with about 290 heritage sites affected by the war of which 104 have been damaged while 24 have been completely destroyed. The people are fighting for their lives and their homes with notions of identity and genius loci of the country in constant question and deliberation. A resident of Homs in Syria describes the city today as follows:
“We basically don’t have a cityscape anymore, each neighbourhood is surrounded by piles of collapsed buildings”
A war not only snatches away the infrastructure and lives of people but leaves behind only the remnants of histories, identities and cultures. The country and the inhabitants themselves become in conflict within due to the loss of the sense of belonging. One doesn’t just associate with a place by its physicality but the layers of constant evolution and changing identities where the people too grow up and grow in with the cities. Thus its necessary to envisage post – war architectural development in Syria through a lens beyond materiality and built form taking into account the lost and forgotten memories and identities because that is what ties one to the place which they call their home which has been completely upturned today. Architect and author Marwa al-Sabouni ( a resident of Syria) writes in her book, “The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria” what the reconstruction process must achieve as follows:
“Our need is for a shared home, and this home must be ours, built from our sense of who we are as citizens of this place, and from our wish to restore it, to embellish it, to make it our own, and to hand it on as a gift.
If we do not take responsibility for this place, or try to understand how meaning, beauty and a sense of the sacred can be inscribed once again on our land, then we will not build a home for our descendants. And they will be doomed to destroy what they find, and to destroy themselves along with it, all over again.”
With a mass destruction which has already taken place and is ongoing, half of the Syrian population is living in refugee camps or fleeing to other countries. The reconstruction process hence shouldn’t start post war but during the war. The reconstruction process cannot envisage design under the utopian circumstances that the war will completely stop one day and the reconstruction can then begin the next day.
The reconstruction needs to take on the current informalities and temporalities that have developed and stem from that as a generator of design with a stance between the past and the contemporary with a decentralized approach. At a recent lecture at Venice University the following was said:
“Who has the right to come back to cities? You as an architect and designers sometimes draw beautiful drawings, but every line you put on your drawing will decide who gets to come back to the city and who doesn’t get to come back. “
Hence designers play an important and decisive role in forming spaces which people can come back to or call their home especially after a war. With the daily lives of the people being unsettling and full of conflict, the redevelopment should provide for a place to be comforted where one can reminisce over what was and yet be able to live or transition comfortably in spaces of what shapes their future.
Reparametrize Studio are conducting an ongoing research titled “Re-coding Post-War Syria ” which was also exhibited in 8th Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture in Shenzhen. It aims to collect data by mapping the destroyed cities by the means of 3D scanning and cloud map technology. The data can help in redevelopment which stems from the existing urban fabric and hence being more sustainable and cost effective rather than complete demolition. Also the data is multi-faceted as it also collects data considering or acknowledging the ‘human factor’ in the form of questioning refugees and local citizens about their memories and expectations for future developments which makes the process participatory.
Thus Artificial Intelligence can play a huge role in post war reconstruction as it recreates spaces and allows for mapping beyond just its physicality which further allows for a design that is built upon collective memory.
“It is not re-develop it is re-coding or re-generate!! The difference between these words is big. We don’t want just to bring the city into its previous condition. We want to use this disaster as a positive opportunity to bring better life for the future citizens.” – Ziwar Al Nouri, Founder Reparametrize Studio
The Riga Charter defines reconstruction as “evocation, interpretation, restoration or replication of a previous form”, yet the post war reconstruction process doesn’t have any set guidelines. Thus the process calls for understanding the thriving interrelationships between people, memories, identities, technologies, cities and their urban fabric. The design needs to take an inclusive rather than exclusive approach that focuses on a single approach. It requires one to understand the requirements of the city in terms of its physicality due to loss of infrastructure but at the same time take in consideration other sensorial attributes of the lost and forgotten identities, people and past memories.
The post war architectural development for reconstructing Syria needs to be adaptable enough to respond to the existing context and histories to address what was there previously and is currently destroyed as well as flexible enough to allow the people to rebuild themselves along with the city. It should be rooted in the past but yet allow for change and correspond to the contemporary needs of the society and its plurality.
“Reconstruction projects and strategies often focus on the physical dimension of reconstruction and inevitably ignore and even further marginalize the city’s devastated identity, and particularly its spatial and socio-cultural dimensions” – Nurhan Abu-Jidi
“Contemporary conflicts are fully integrated with the terrain, as the ultimate stakeholders and primary actors are the local populations”, – Mitchell Sipus , Smart Cities dive