Deranged Rationale

The Economy of Violence
& Designing for Destruction

The agreement signed by the leaderships of Fatah and the Islamic Hamas group may mark a new era for Palestinians living in Gaza Strip. But as Israel decried its signature, invoking Hamas’s history of intolerance against it, such an accord may also precipitate another wave of bombings and destruction.
The many factors affecting that conflict, possibly aggravated by the killing of Osama bin-Laden by U.S. commandos, make virtually impossible to predict what will happen next. No one would be surprised by either course of action: a new era of peace and understanding between the two sides, or just the maintenance of its failed social and political status quo, marked by periods of extreme violence and carnage. Time will tell.
No one should be surprised either with the insights that a architect who works and teaches in Palestine and Tel Aviv has about that particular conflict. That’s the case of Eyal Weizman, who’s internationally known for both his talent as a designer and for his understanding of the confluence of politics and practicality in his chosen profession.
Some of the themes he discussed in a recent interview with Believer magazine’s Alex Carp are revealing in what they’re not the run-of-the-mill kind of talk many a celebrate architect is known for. It helps though that Weizman is a founding member of Decolonizing Architecture, a political activist studio in Bethlehem that operates in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He talks about the concept of proportionality, for example, which may be applied to the threshold for the number of civilian casualties in a conflict. The bargaining of the various sides involved, about how many should be an acceptable number in a particular context, is what’s otherwise known as the economy of violence. It’s all part of international humanitarian law and impacts the work of architects, engineers, and builders in what it requires from them to consider very practical factors.
For example, how much of that building should be destroyed? What is the minimum for a bomb to do that? As Weizman put it, if there was no threshold, a big-enough bomb would suffice, destroying the whole building. Instead, since there’s a basic requirement, there needs to be what he calls a design for the destruction, a prediction of what kind of ruin will be left after the bombing: two stories destroyed or only part of a story, and so on.
It’s a repulsive rationale but one that’s exercised very often by those who have to actually deal with destruction on a daily basis and plan for the reconstruction based on projections and estimations and calculations. Weizman should know. His work gravitates around the constantly changing landscape of the border territories between Israel and the Palestinians, due to political decisions, armed conflict, immigration flows and the ever-present, underlining issue of security from and to both sides.
It’s quite illuminating his observations about the wall in the West Bank, which he sees as “the master of Gaza.” Its role winds up being that of a filter to what’s allowed in and what’s not, from the number of calories that should be allotted to each man, woman and child living in the territory, how many megawatts of electricity, water, everything that goes through it to barely meet the needs of the Palestinians living in there.
It’s really sobering to picture that part of what the Israeli soldiers do everyday: sitting down and calculating the number of calories that should be authorized into Gaza. It hits anyone as a particularly unsavory snippet that instantaneously reflects the whole conflict in a nutshell, or rather, in a grain of wheat. It’s compacted villainy is what’s so miserable about those soldiers’ job: by how many different and petty ways we perfected our ability to inflict pain to each other in a continuous, methodical way.

For Weizman, that West Bank wall is like a membrane that regulates and controls people “by modulating flows, rather than being simply, in the medieval sense of the word, a fortification.” And it’d take an architect with a keen eye to the humanistic aspect of his profession to notice how it is so, rather than the builder, or the engineer, or the plumber, all important but merely technical components of the business of constructing places for the living and for the near dead.
“Construction and destruction are continuous with each other, complementary actions rearranging matter across the terrain,” the Israel-born Weizman says. “I don’t want to see them as separate kinds of orders. Both are the shaping of space. Force and power are translated into form—this is how I understand the power of architecture.”

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