Asher J Kohn imagined his city, he said, "out of the realization that the law had no response to drone warfare.” And so he came up with his concept of Shura City, ostensibly in the hope that by rendering drones less efficient for "apprehending" targets, we would be forced to return to utilizing police and the law.
It is a take on a "gated community" --and yet the gates are not to keep people out, but rather to render all the people living within its walls unidentifiable and anonymous. So in the same way that a medieval castle fortress was an architectural defence against 15th and 16th century artillery technology, so too does Shura City seek to use architecture as a defence.
This new-style defence, though, "is not defense-through-hardening, but defense-through-confusion."
His architctural plan has several features--all which are seen to enable this style of "defence-through-confusion." People dwell in Habitat '67-style stacked dwellings, which make mapping and the tracking of residents' movements difficult. There is a protective shared-roof covering to the community, which further protects against aerial tracking. The apartment-style dwellings make use of smart windows, which utilize technology to render the glass easy to see out but prevent peering in. Focusing on windows, which are, after all, one of the weak links in security against drones, he envisions something like the exquisitely intricate windows at the L’Institut du Monde Arabe, in Paris:
Patterned after amashrabiya, a feature of Arabic architecture that protects from glare and prying eyes. In Paris, the machines dilate and contract, forming new patterns and shut-ting down for closed exhibits. These are obviously good for keeping what’s inside from being known outside.
An alternative to patterned windows is changing color glass, which would also serve to allow light in while preventing easy identification or tracking of the residents from above. The windows in effect are contributing to bringing peopk out of a siege mentality. We read every so often of how it feels to be on the ground in pakistan and Yemen, where the drones seem ever present. Th psychological effects are profound, and Kohn's imaginary city is designed to undermine the rationale of the technology.
Would it work?
All-in-all, Kohn's "drone-proof" city is reminiscent of Foster's famous project in the desert of Abu Dhabi. Also designed from scratch and planned to be the world's first zero-carbon city, Masdar City employs many of the same architectural elements of Shura. However, in Masdar's case, these similar architectual elements are not planned for reasons of aerial defence but rather for ecological reasons.
Like in Shura, in Masdar citizens also dwell in gorgous stacked housing units surrounding covered plazas. The roofs of Masdar enable the regulation of temperature. Along with the shade city, transportation takes place below ground to create a truly walking city. And, while Shura has a lattice style roof based on NEY +Partner’s project for the Netherlands Maritime Museum, Masdar has gorgeous solar umbrella shades. Variations of towers (minarets) and wind-catchers (badgirs) are also used in both along the perimeters to both regulate temperature and undermine aerial heat-mapping.
Kohn's project just a proposal. Or a dazzling provocation. And, while it is bare-bones, still there are two things that I think could immediately be said about the implications of "defence-as-confusion."
First, it brings us back to a state where we are living with our fates tied together. Like in the ancient Chinese han (班) system, because an attacker would be forced to destroy the entire compound rather than only the militants, we would truly have to become our brother's keeper. This might be anathema to Libertarians and yet to those interested in getting back to more communitarian values, it is of interest--as it would theoretically encourage stronger communities. Whether for security or for ecology, it seems like we are just going to have to go back to a more community-oriented lifestyle.
Second, experts tell us (and indeed it is a no-brainer) that the arms race for this kind of cheap and low level technology will be such that it's only a matter of time before "everyone has drones." If this is the "next arms race," it will be a very different one fro the nuclear club --which so far has required governmental level initiation. Drones are a different kettle of fish; for in the words of the Brookings Institution expert Peter Singer:
This is a robotics revolution, but it's not just an American revolution -- everyone's involved, from Hezbollah to paparazzi.
It is, therefore, simply inevitable that we will have to alter the way we live, I think. Not just in terms of architecture but in terms of community and communal responsibility. If not for defence against drones, then for ecological reasons for sure.
I can't help but think of Rene Girard's words that, History is a test. And Mankind is failing it.
That about sums it up I guess...
Top art work comes from Biblioddysey's fabulous post: Feuerwerksbuch.