On Weaponized Architecture

I’ve been anticipating Leopold Lambert‘s Weaponized Architecture since I became aware of it last fall. After wrestling with Amazon pushing my order for three months, I finally bit the proverbial book bullet and ordered it from the United Kingdom. After a short time, it was in my hands, and I took time this past weekend to sit down and read the whole thing in  a go.

The argument of the book is simple: architecture is always political. The design and construction of things in the world are such that their very existence, and the way they frame space and possibility, has measurable political effects in the world. In this way, “weaponized architecture” describes a kind of architecture that takes this seriously and lends itself to application.

Lambert spends the first third of the book outlining a general theory of the politics of architecture. The second is a reading of the colonization and subjugation of Palestine by the state of Israel through the principles outlined in the first section. The third develops an architectural weapon that could be deployed in Palestine in order to resist the urbicidal methods of erasure that have been and are used to fragment and destroy the Palestinian people and their land.

Lambert is pulling very heavily from Deleuze and Guattari’s theories–he devotes an entire chapter to the ways in which striated and smooth space get deployed in everyday architectural realities. Since the “core” of the book is a reading of architectural violence being done is Palestine, Eyal Weizman’s work on the IDF’s wall-removal attack tactics shows up several times as well. Lambert doesn’t stick to theory, however, and interviews with Brian Finocki and Raja Shehadeh bring really ground the more theoretical aspects of the the book in contemporary art, architecture, and Israeli and international law.

The third section mostly abandons theory for speculative design praxis. What does it mean to turn architecture into a weapon? Lambert designs a resistant structure–the Qasr–that could be deployed in Palestine that would fight against both traditional apartment block architecture (we are warned that these can always become prisons in the first section) and the ways in which architecture can be absolutely erased and replaced by colonial structures.

The structure is camouflaged by appearing at a distance to be Bedouin tents–nonpermanent, ephemeral. Below there is an underground structure that pulls from Deleuze and Guattari’s (and Reza Negarestani’s) notion of the hole. This hole is reinforced with shotcrete, and it is modular enough that new alcoves and tunnels can be built to support extra inhabitants. 

The beauty of the design, though, is its life cycle. It is meant to be cleared out. The expectation is that, at some point, the IDF would find out about it. It would be deemed illegal, uninhabitable even though there are inhabitants. It would be deemed cost-ineffective to destroy, so it would be cordoned off, filled with dirt, but still there. The revolutionary potential lies there. Lambert writes

The Qasr’s ruin thus remains in the landscape. Time accelerates then the process of hybridization between the building’s material and the site’s earth, dust, rocks and wild vegetation. The Qasr seems, this way, to become a product of its territory in a strange inversion of claims. Children of Salfit find in it an unexpected ideal playground, both frightening and attractive. The ruin is visible from the city and everybody know it as the building that the Israeli’s did not succeed to erase. [159]

I’m done. Go buy the book.

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