Sunday, May 07, 2006

Congrats to Eyal Weizman

Subtopia would like to extend a big congratulations to architect and educator Eyal Weizman who was recently selected as the winner of the 2006–07 James Stirling Memorial Lectures on the City Competition for his proposal: Destruction by Design: Military Strategy as Urban Planning. Weizman, to say the least, has spent years pioneering research on the ‘military urbanism’ of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has not always been supported, sadly to say. But his work has forced a new critique of what occupation means in an architectural and urban sense, where space is inherently political and "the frontier" of occupied territory is constructed as much by military generals as it is by planners and intellectuals. The result is a new hyper-dimensional form of spatial warfare designed to negate the progress of a Palestinian State from virtually every angle; an urban space remade strictly for the purposes of exerting military control over a neighboring population.

In 2002, he and fellow architect Rafi Segal won an architectural competition sponsored by the IAUA (the Israel Association of United Architects), who were then asked to present an exhibition on Israeli architecture at the World Congress of Architecture in Berlin. The two proposed an in-depth examination of Israeli architecture as a civilian weapon in the Middle East conflict, which was quickly banned by the IAUA. Facing suppression, the exhibition was called off ‘under the pretext of a low budget’, and in the wake of sudden controversy, thousands of copies of their project which had already been printed were tossed, money wasted, and the sensitive architectural world of the IAUA backpedaled reeling with disassociation from their project. The two eventually found another publisher and released a series of essays and graphics in a powerful book called “A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture”.

Eyal Weizman has continued to develop this theme further in an ongoing project he calls "The Politics of Verticality" (listen to this audio-recorded lecture), a brilliant documentation and analysis of how Israeli military strategists and urban planners have collaborated to enact a long term strategy of using settlement occupation and the policy of a militarized ‘border urbanism’ (see Ariel Sharon and the Geometry of Occupation, pt.'s 1, 2, 3.) to control Palestinian homeland in the West Bank. What should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the topic of a ‘military urbanism’, Weizman’s seminal work describes an evolution of land grab by Jewish settlers who took over the hilltops overlooking the Palestinian villages in illegal settlements that functioned as a sort of panoptic suburbia and elevated form of topographic control over the valleys and farmlands that are critical to a Palestinian livelihood.
Read it, check it out.
It gets into so much more than that: he makes explosive connections between Israeli ideologies of power and how they have been translated into planning based on notions of security and a military dissection of urban space.

Weizman’s research looks objectively through the prism of architecture to reveal a three dimensionality of frontier space in the West Bank, where the less than visible spectrum of a 'politics of space' imbricate the landscape through an architectural weaponry that deploys security barriers, military checkpoints, tunnel and air space, alternate forms of urban infrastructure, and military backed civilian settlements to enforce what he calls ‘the politics of separation’. The Israeli occupation is a flexible and non-linear form of fortification, a “deep space” topology of control fused into the ambiguous territory of the frontier, where contested space and property entitlement are underwritten by tactical modes of agricultural warfare, dominated by an asymmetric system of settlement outposts that serves as wedges between Palestinian villages, while the IDF exercises methodical campaigns of urbicide and demolition (or, a ‘design by destruction’) to continually carve up the West Bank into enclaves of control, to the point of the Palestianian landscape being coerced into an urban and architectural matrix of total population control. Through his depictions of the verticality and three-dimensional spatiality of a military controlled urban landscape, Weizman also produced an amazingly coherent set of maps of the West Bank in conjunction with B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which reveals in a frightening visual display, the invisible geosptial complexity that has shaped an urbanism of the Israel-Palestinian conflict over the last 20 years.

The bi-annual James Stirling Memorial Lectures on the City competition began in 2003 “to inaugurate a unique forum for the advancement of new critical perspectives on the role of urban design and urban architecture in the development of cities worldwide.” Weizman will present the Stirling Lecture in autumn 2006 at the CCA in Montreal, and at the London School of Economics in autumn 2007.

In this article from Canadian Architect, “Weizman's recent work analyzed the military's use of critical theory as an analogue to its use (and misuse) in architecture and urbanism. His proposal looks at the way contemporary warfare increasingly plays itself out within real as well as imaginary urban settings, through the destruction, construction, reorganization, and subversion of space, to show that the urban environment is understood by military strategists today not simply as the backdrop for conflict, nor as its mere consequence, but as a dynamic field locked in a feedback-based relationship with the diverse forces operating within it.

The Stirling Lecture will focus on the way Israeli, American, and British militaries, as well as NATO forces, are currently conceptualizing and operating within the urban domain. As urban warfare has come to resemble urban planning, military training programs have instituted theoretical research centres to study the complexity of cities, allowing the battleground to be reshaped to meet strategic objectives. The ultimate aim of Weizman's research is to deepen and extend our empirical knowledge of the theoretical framework contemporary militaries consider essential to the development of strategic policy and tactical operations, in order to sharpen potential critiques of these operations. An important component is Weizman's exploration of the history of strategic urban warfare, since many of the tactics celebrated as radically "new" have in fact been part and parcel of military operations in cities throughout history.

The project delves into themes such as how the ever-expanding urban domain is effectively being redesigned as the field of military operations in response to the development of "lethal" weapons of destruction; how language employed by the military to describe the city to themselves and to the general public reveals an evolving relationship between organized violence and the production of space; how new military tactics irreparably disrupt traditional distinctions between public and private space and the vital flows of goods and services guaranteed by conventional urban infrastructure; the urban and symbolic consequences of removing bombing targets such as historical or religious monuments, the fabric of urban neighbourhoods, and essential infrastructure; and how the replacement of existing systems of circulation with new ones enables military access not only for the protection of the city's inhabitants, but also for the purpose of controlling popular unrest.”

Eyal Weizman is also the Director of the practice-driven MA and PhD Programmes in Research Architecture for Goldsmiths College at the University of London, and keeps a sporadic blog on the university's site.

(Thanks to Mason White at Archinect for being the bearer of great news.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How weird and strange. It is if Eyal Weizman just discovered that the construction of the Democratic City was always contingent to the construction of a rational Theatre of War. It was like that since the begining of cities !!!
Read Virilio !!!
The real issue is not that Israel is using urban warfare, Saddam did it too. Hitler did it too by creating the Autobahn and the Atlantic Wall. The real problem is the disappearance of Public Space to Privatize crime organization : Kosovo, Somalia, Baghdad, South Philippines, Eurabia (the suburbs of all European cities)...
AH, again and again this self hatred against jewish that Hannah Harendt so often talked about...Self hatred that blinds Eyal Weizman from seing that Israel is not an exception...but just an exemple.

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi anonymous,
Care to repost - this time in English?

5:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at the lecture Eyal delivered at the LSE on this topic and was so enthralled. I am looking to do an essay on this issue relating to urban space and relating to circulation within cities. If you have any further reading suggestions I would greatly appreciate it!

Many thanks and great blog by the way. Keeop up the good work!

Best wishes


11:40 AM  

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