Marwa Al-Sabouni: How Can The Architecture Of A City Play A Role In War?

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The architect is unsentimental about the city’s past. She is not seeking to restore it to some misremembered former glory.

“It’s hard to miss things from Homs’s recent past, because the same problems that the city had been struggling with were exacerbated by the war: Namely, the absence of a responsible municipality, the dirty streets, the systemic attack on its lovely nature and beautiful heritage, all of which were evident before the war,” she says. “The vandalism of the city’s memory was a vandalism of the city’s social fabric and unraveling of its communities.” Indeed, in her book she notes that these factors all contributed to Syria’s ongoing civil war.

Architect Marwa Al-Sabouni says French colonial design segregated Syria’s cities and laid the groundwork for division and civil war. The future of the country may depend on how it decides to rebuild.

About Marwa Al-Sabouni:

Marwa Al-Sabouni is a Syrian architect and writer. She is the author of The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria. Her book draws on her personal experience living and working in war-torn Syria, and the role architecture plays in whether a community crumbles or comes together.

In 2021, she will release a new book, Building for Hope, which analyzes how cities scarred by conflict and crisis can be healed through design and urban mindfulness. She and her husband also run the news site “Arabic Gate For Architectural News.”

She obtained her Ph.D. in Islamic Architecture and Philosophy of Architecture from Al-Baath University in Homs, Syria.

 

She submitted a proposal based on that belief to the Amsterdam-based Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, and was named among the Prince Claus Award winners for 2018. Her plan — a blueprint for the rebuilding of the Baba Amr district of Homs — was praised by the committee for its “profound analysis … showing through lived experience how modern architectural and town-planning conventions contribute to the fragmentation of society and conflict,” for its “daring resilience in … reminding us that war does not erase humanity, culture, pride or hope,” and for “inspiring Middle-Eastern architects with ideas that counter both the European-centered paradigm and stereotyped Islamic architecture.”

“I chose Baba Amr because it suffered from double trouble as an informal settlement and a mass destroyed locality in a city raging with war,” Al-Sabouni says. “Baba Amr is still an area of rubble standing in the midst of destruction. The official response is a plan of thrown-together tower blocks. There is not a single design principle adopted in that plan — so it’s kind of good news that nothing has been implemented as yet.”

Her own plan was hailed by the Prince Claus Awards committee as “ground-breaking” and “the opposite of current government plans,” drawing as it does on “older Syrian spatial arrangements” that “reintroduce the traditional connections linking public and private spaces, and the buildings are designed to grow organically, like trees.”

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