An Unfamiliar Home
Aleppo and the plight of its people
Lamia AlMuhanna (MLA I AP ’20)
Ourfalian, George. “The Al Shaar neighborhood lies in ruins as Syrian pro-government troops advance through the Karm al Jabal district during theiroffensive to retake Aleppo”, December 5. Los Angeles Times
Time passes, the destruction continues, confusion and fear persist.
Syria today is a country that has been torn asunder. Racked by unrest and violence, the nation has become a flashpoint in international politics with no end in sight to a conflict that has defined the country over the past years. “Syria,” we are told, is “burning”, which in some respects is an accurate description of the state of affairs for the past seven years.
Moreover, as one of the flashpoints of the civil war, the city of Aleppo stands out in terms of the human and physical toll that has accompanied its destruction. It is, in every sense of the word, a ruined city.
The battle for control of Aleppo has been likened to the battle for Stalingrad during World War II, which left thousands dead and the city in ruins. As one of the last major strongholds in the resistance to Assad, Aleppo soon found itself under siege, resulting in an onslaught by forces loyal to the government, as well as the Russian military, which fully supported Assad’s characterization of the rebels as terrorists.
The consequences for the city were almost incomprehensible; leaving some sections of Aleppo totally destroyed and uninhabitable and rendering much of the ancient city unrecognizable to those who once lived there. Tens of thousands of residents fled before and during the siege, only to return to the city to find it a site of complete devastation, where all familiar landmarks had gone. Even today, nearly a year after the siege ended with Assad’s forces regaining control, when almost 300,000 displaced Aleppans have returned to the east of the city since the start of 2017, the humanitarian situation remains grave and the city remains a shell of what it once was. Aleppo is, quite simply, a traumatized city that no longer resembles what it once was.
Amidst this destruction, Aleppans struggle to find meaning, looking to memorialize what was lost while hoping to find meaning in the future.
The world is increasingly facing unforeseeable risks, from rising violence to social inequity. Such challenges have placed new demands on architecture, positioning mitigation and adaption at the fore.
In a post-war context where the landscape is marked by destruction, opportunities abound to create new meanings, new identities and new experiences. With these opportunities, however, comes the responsibility both to create an architecture that fulfills the hopeful expectations of the people and that replaces absence with abundance.
Of crucial importance is an appreciation of resilience that encompasses more than immunity to trauma and the ability to recover from chaotic events. Instead, resilience transcends survival, since the site itself will always exist, even after destruction, and depends on adaptation as its key measure.
Many significant changes will occur during the next century, and architecture that mitigates environmental, social and economic risks will play an important role in helping society adapt to the challenges that will arise.