Architecture as Weaponry: Devastation by Design

The documentary, Rebel Architecture — The Architecture of Violence, by journalist and filmmaker Ana Naomi de Sousa features Israeli architect Eyal Weizman who describes how architecture and urban planning are deployed as an instruments of violence and control. By examining how Israel divides land; installs roads, highways, walls, and fences; commands hilltops, and strategically designs homes and its settlements, we see how architecture and urban planning are used to enact ongoing and effective engulfing of the Occupied Territories and enacting chaos among Palestinian residents.


Using Jerusalem as an example, we are shown new wall-like buildings, largely concrete with stone veneer facades incorporating cultural motifs of the destroyed structures that existed before. Their double-purpose design — aesthetic continuity plus fortress-like protection — is meant to visually compliment adjacent Old Jerusalem while camouflaging separation of Israelis and Palestinians.

Noting that open areas are easier to manage militarily, a substantial challenge for Israel is to control close quarters within urban spaces, and if you have seen any images of Jerusalem or other centuries-old cities, streets and buildings are close and generally connected to a series of small and large public squares. You can see this arrangement streets-squares in Venice, Cairo, Istanbul, Beirut, London, and Paris to name a few. Thus, the Israeli military transforms buildings, streets and homes from their original layouts into places for inspection and expulsion by boring openings in walls or tearing them down altogether while public areas are expanded to serve as open strongholds for military presence.

The bulldozer, usually a construction vehicle, is used in partnership with the armored tank, and the former precedes the latter to demolish structures to create expanses for armored tanks and military personnel, thus eliminating hiding places and enacting chaos for the target Palestinians.

If architecture can perform the role of aggressor, once destroyed, so can it be the evidence of violence done to it. Case in point is the city of Jenin, which suffered extensive damage and loss of human life during the Battle of Jenin. What was once there is gone. What exists now wipes out evidence of the people who called it home while appropriating select styles and motifs of the Palestinians’ culture.

Ruined cities and villages are the physical aftermath of aggression, and Weizman states that when violence is performed on architecture, it is architecture that must rise to resist it, and to do this it “must find tools within its own toolbox.”

Al Jazeera

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